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Laurel Mountain, PA - The Legend Returns!
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Updated 4 months ago
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4 months ago

Laurel Mountain, PA - The Legend Returns!

By Jim Kenney

I just experienced an outstanding weekend in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania with great ski friends and good snow. On Friday, February 10, 2017 I skied for the first time ever at the resurrected ski area of Laurel Mountain in cold, powdery ski conditions. After being shuttered for the last 11 years it was totally awesome to see this historic and beautiful ski area returned from the list of the lost. It’s a scenic throwback that feels like your own private ski area because of low crowds, a tastefully updated lodge, and the intimate Wildcat lounge/bar.

Friends outside the Laurel Mountain Lodge, photo by Jim Kenney

Then on Saturday, February 11 I had an unabashedly fun time about 50 minutes south of Laurel Mountain at Seven Springs Resort. It’s the big, bustling resort we’ve all known for decades and has a stupendous variety of ski terrain for a mid-Atlantic ski area. The contrast with Laurel Mountain couldn’t be more stark, yet that is part of what makes the two a really fun combo. 

Frontside Seven Springs Resort, photo by Jim Kenney 


The resurrection of Laurel Mountain in the growth-challenged climate of the modern ski business is an amazing accomplishment and truly a labor of love by all involved. Its origins date back to the late 1930s. If the idea of old school skiing appeals to you, then you MUST check this place out. I arrived at 9:15 AM after a three hour drive from Northern Virginia and didn’t just get rock star parking, I got mega star, don’t need a last name, ski-in/ski-out, views-to-die-for parking about 50 feet from the spruced-up lodge and brand new quad chairlift. That parking spot brought a grin to my face that would be the first of many I’d flash during the day.

In center is Jim Darr veteran Laurel Mountain ski patroller.  He first skied the mountain in 1983.  My car is one of those parked directly behind us:-)  Photo by Jim Kenney

Within minutes I was on a first name basis with a friendly ski school instructor (Randy) I met while booting-up in the main lodge facility located on the summit. Then I bumped into a gang of DCSki friends, some by total serendipity also visiting Laurel Mountain for the first time. Later I’d get to meet several senior ski patrollers including Butch Bellas the mayor of nearby Ligonier, PA. Laurel Mountain has the feeling of a private club in the best possible way. Back in the day making tracks here was reserved for the entitled members of the wealthy Mellon family, now it’s frequented by devoted locals from throughout western Pennsylvania who don’t mind sharing their prized recreational asset with all-comers. 

In the rustic Wildcat Lounge with left  Butch Bellas, Laurel Mountain ski patroller and mayor of nearby Ligonier, PA and right Rob Davis, de facto historian of Laurel Mountain. WARNING: serious sandwich about to be consumed in lower right quadrant! Photo by Jim Kenney



For all its charm and intimacy the ski terrain at Laurel Mountain is nothing to sneeze at.  The vertical drop is 761’ from a 2,766’ summit and there are 20 slopes and trails and several nice glades spread across110 skiable acres of terrain. The crown jewel of Laurel Mountain is Wildcat trail.  The bottom portion of which contains a lengthy, drop-off among the steepest in the mid-Atlantic that will test the best snow riders especially on the frequent occasions when it is left to sprout bumps.  On the day of my visit the snowguns were blasting and much of the mountain was open despite our very fickle winter of 2017. 

Rob Davis on Wildcat trail, photo by Jim Kenney 

The ski area features a modern snowmaking system and a new top-to-bottom fixed grip quad chairlift.  This was part of a recent $6.5 million revitalization orchestrated by the team of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Bob Nutting, Chairman of Seven Springs Resort.  While the efforts to reopen Laurel Mountain took a long and circuitous route, no one can argue with the wonderful results!  And for those who want to try the Highlands pass all three nearby ski areas, Laurel Mountain, Seven Springs and Hidden Valley within a 30 mile radius can be skied in one weekend from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon for a little more than $150.

Beautiful Innsbruck trail at Laurel Mountain, photo by Jim Kenney

After a really special day at Laurel Mountain I spent the night in one of the numerous inexpensive motels in centrally located Somerset, PA and skied at Seven Springs on Saturday, February 11.  Seven Springs has big weekend crowds, satellite parking lots, a cavernous base lodge teeming with guests, but it is also a very well run operation with 33 slopes and trails, 285 skiable acres, ten chairlifts including two high speed six-packs, the enormous Spot Park and Superpipe, and multiple smaller terrain parks.  On the Saturday of my visit for every crowded lift there was one without a lift line if you knew where to look.  Seven Springs also has a range of great food service facilities and the Foggy Goggle, one of the biggest and liveliest slopeside bar/restaurants in the Eastern US.

Apres ski at the Foggy Goggle, Seven Springs Resort, photo by Jim Kenney

Once you start riding lifts you’ll realize that Seven Springs is BIG especially in a horizontal sense.  The vertical drop is actually slightly smaller than Laurel Mountain, but there is great terrain variety including super wide slopes like the North Face, fun curvy trails like Yodeler, and dang good bump runs like Goosebumps. Even strong snowriders can spend an entire day of active skiing here and not get bored.  Conditions on Saturday were somewhat spring-like, but I had a blast on the soft snow and I didn’t quit until 4:30PM.  The world famous Seven Springs snowmaking infrastructure has the resort in very good shape through this annoying winter of warm and cold temperature variations.

The North Face, photo by Jim Kenney

At one point we came across a ski instructor clinic taking place on the moguls of Goosebumps trail;  that is, instructors teaching other instructors how to better teach regular folks how to ski bumps.  The clinic was led by Eric Lipton a PSIA-AASI Alpine Team member and one of the premier ski instructors in the US.  My awkward description of the purpose of the clinic totally evaporates when you watch Eric ski bumps like flowing water!  His very presence at Seven Springs symbolizes the prestige, drawing power, and vitality of the resort.

Eric Lipton; does hovering above them count as bump skiing?  Photo by Jim Kenney

This trip to Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands was a real grounding experience for me, reminding me of my skiing roots.  I’ve been dazzled by some terrific trips in recent years to western US locations, but there is skiing magic right here in the mid-Atlantic.  You can enjoy a heck of a weekend trifecta at Seven Springs, Laurel Mountain, and Hidden Valley.  There is the legendary Laurel Mountain, the non-stop action of Seven Springs, and next time maybe I’ll check out the family-friendly slopes of Hidden Valley.  The synergy of these ski mountains under the masterful management of Seven Springs Resort is an awesome thing to behold.

Laurel Mountain website:  http://www.7springs.com/

Seven Springs website:  http://www.laurelmountainski.com/

 

 

4 months ago

Thanks for reviewing my home resort!  7springs is great if you can catch it on a midweek day with awesome snow and no crowds. aurel mountain does feel like a throwback to the olden days of skiing. 

4 months ago

US Demo team member Robin Barnes was at Tline on Sunday teaching in the pouring rain.  Guess the team was doing a MA tour.

4 months ago

TomH wrote:

US Demo team member Robin Barnes was at Tline on Sunday teaching in the pouring rain.  Guess the team was doing a MA tour.

Poor gal, drew the short straw.  What does she teach?

4 months ago

Was a Laurel Mountain on Friday the same day as you guys.  I remember seeing your group out there, your coats are very distinctive.  Plus after a few hours there I felt like I’d seen everyone on the mountain repeatedly.

I was my first time there and I loved the place.  The snow was great (for this season) and the terrain was excellent.  I’d say the place is comparable to Blue Knob, except that it’s closer to me, and the runs aren’t as disjointed.  Blue Knob has Extrovert, but it’s been either icy bumps, or closed for most of my visits.  

I can’t wait to see what Dream Highway is like when it’s opened.  I doubt it’ll be this year.  I noticed a half dozen blown down trees laying on the trail.  I talked to a resort employee and they said they’re installing snow makers on Dream Highway so it’ll be open next year.

Great place, I’ll definitely be back.

Pittsburghers.. how do you get there?  I took the turnpike to Donegal then went up 711 to 30.  It felt like backtracking.  I’ve also taken 30 straight through Greensburg in the past, which was a traffic nightmare.  After backpacking in the area this summer I took 30 and a backroad up to 22 to the turnpike.  What have people found to be the best?  I live in the North Hills.

4 months ago

Great to hear that they will be adding snowmaking and cleaning up Dream Highway. I’ve found the best way is to take Turnpike, 711, then 30. If the weather is good, there is a cutoff along 711 called Darlington Rector Road on the right side of 711 going north, it flows into PA 381 North, which puts you out on 30 near Ligonier Beach.

4 months ago

Great article. With the resort swap feature on the Snowshoe pass I am sure I will be doing the 7S/LM combo as well next season.

4 months ago

I too was there on Saturday Feb11. I lost my car keys on my first run down Wildcat but did not realize they departed from my parka pocket until 2 hours later. Being from the Baltimore area and not having any keys to access my Subaru is a very depressing proposition. I was extremely pissed off at myself. There were many skiers I rode the lift with offered their help. One skier even offered the use of his nearby house. After searching Wildcat six or seven times I gave up and called enterprise rent-a-car to get a car delivered to LM so I could drive 200 miles to get my spare key and drive the retun 200 miles to retrieve my car. The LM staff took my cell phone # in the event that someone found my keys. I kept checking in with the lost and found, lift operators and helpful skiers with no luck. Well, 5 minutes before the rental car was delivered, some angel found my keys on Lower Wildcat. I felt like I had just won the lottery. I haven’t been that happy since I lost my virginity. I went to the Wildcat Lounge to celebrate. I never did find out who the identity of the wonderful person who found my keys. I owe them, lunch, dinner, drinks….what ever. And my hats of to the LM staff who really cared and helped save my weekend. I’ll also add that the Wildcat Lounge is an awesome ski bar and the food is great. To that Good Samaritan ….. Thank you, thank you and thank you.

4 months ago

Awesome story Snowsmith!!  LHC lost his keys on Friday while we were skiing at LM, but a friendly ski patroler picked them almost immediately and LHC got them back shortly after. 

4 months ago

Is there a magnet that sucks keys from pockets at Laurel, or is the place so spectacular that one forgets common sense upon arrival!?

4 months ago

Great photos and report, JimK, as always.  As I said on Friday, we finally had a chance to ski together after several attempted rendezvous days in the Mid-A.  

And to turn around in the lodge and see not only you but also Rob?!?  What luck.  Everybody on this board needs a chance to meet Rob at Laurel Mountain and get his Official Historian’s Tour ;) of this appealing part of the Laurel Highlands.  I agree with JimK about everything Laurel, including the attractive, cofmortable lodge and lounge.  Fun to join up with Imp, Tunasomething, Mrs. Crazie and Mrs. Tuna during the day as well.  Wonderful ski area, beautiful day, and, most of all, great company.

Looking forward to the next one.

Woody

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