So you’re a savvy Mid-Atlantic ski enthusiast and have made the resort rounds a time or two. Where do you go next in our local region to get some novel skiing-kicks?
Here’s a fine suggestion: circle back to the roots of the sport and make a visit to the historic and unspoiled Laurel Mountain Ski Area in Western, Pennsylvania. Laurel Mountain is a place where the skiing is great and the people are even better.
I made an excellent three-day visit to Laurel Mountain Ski Area from February 1-3, 2019 in great conditions, skiing fun terrain, for a bargain price, and with few crowds. That’s what I call a grand slam ski experience at the height of ski season. Further, the place feels like an exclusive country club where everyone greets you like you’re their favorite playing partner. This privilege extends to free parking just steps from the lodge, even on prime Saturday mornings.
Laurel Mountain is like the old days of skiing, only better! While some of the evocative original trails and structures date back to around 1939/1940, there’s a new quad chair that never gets a serious lift line. The mountain features a beautifully updated little summit lodge that is one of the nicest and most scenic in the entire region.
To its credit, Laurel Mountain is not all hugs and kisses. The lengthy steep section of Lower Wildcat trail represents one of the best black diamond challenges this side of New England. There is also an extensive network of impressive glades that can be skied when Mother Nature cooperates. Am I gushing? You bet!
I made the approximately three-hour drive from the Washington, D.C. area on Friday morning in light snow and skied from about 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The snowflakes continued all day, totaling about six new inches. These were the best ski conditions I’d experienced in my three visits to Laurel Mountain, all since it reopened for the winter of 2016-2017.
I skied runs and glades I’d never been on before. The ski area has some fine, conventionally wide trails supported by snowmaking infrastructure, but also some really interesting old time, all-natural, narrow and curvy trails. When Laurel Mountain is firing on all cylinders, as I experienced it, there is plenty of variety to keep an advanced snow rider entertained, including exacting tree skiing.
The new snow on Friday made it a great day for skiing the all-natural trails and glades at Laurel Mountain. I made first-ever-for-me runs on Dream Highway, Lincoln Highway, portions of the steep lift line, and several glades. The day of mostly off-piste skiing was a blast and gave me some nice practice on ungroomed terrain before I head west later this winter.
Over the weekend I connected with long-time DCSki.com forum member Rob Davis (AKA Laurel Hill Crazie) and other locals for a fine dose of Western Pennsylvania camaraderie. Rob (a Laurel Mountain pass holder) and I combined to organize a Mid-Atlantic gathering of DCSki.com members and Friends of Laurel Mountain Facebookers for a “Support Laurel Mountain” weekend. By Saturday we were joined on the slopes by a couple dozen friends and I believe the weekend total exceeded 30 different participants originating from PA, WV, MD, OH, VA, and NC. It was an example of the geographically diverse draw of online skier communities and should help spread the word far and wide on the delights of Laurel Mountain.
Saturday was a relatively busy day at Laurel Mountain, but nothing compared to the traffic at higher profile ski resorts on peak days. Everyone still parked a short walk from the lodge and lift lines never exceeded about 20 people, and were frequently ski-on. Socializing with new and old friends was fun and we easily found super-scenic table space on the upper floor of the lodge for group meals at lunch time. Group participants also enjoyed the lively and atmospheric Wildcat Lounge serving drinks and food on the lower level of the lodge.
Saturday featured superb mid-winter weather with the sun emerging after Friday’s snowstorm. Day time temps remained close to the freezing mark to preserve snow quality. Lower Wildcat, the signature black diamond trail at Laurel Mountain, is one of the longer steep pitches in the Mid-Atlantic. It firmed-up in the late afternoon and presented a very serious challenge for high speed carvers.
By Sunday the daytime temps cracked 40 degrees and trail surfaces took on a spring-like softness. Folks took to wearing t-shirts on the slopes. Natural snow trails suffered, but the runs bolstered by man-made snow still skied very well. In fact, Lower Wildcat became much friendlier as it softened. Broadway (Blue Square) and Innsbruck (Green Circle) provided easier alternatives to recuperate between laps on Wildcat.
Sarah Brown, the enthusiastic operations manager at Laurel Mountain was very good to our Support Laurel Mountain group and offered discounted open-to-close lift tickets at $41 for each of the three days of our event. I found an even better deal for those willing to commit for three days, the $104 weekend special ticket, good from Friday morning to Sunday night. This amazing deal is available to the general public throughout the winter and includes a child (ages 6-11) version for $84.
There is no lodging at the mountain, consistent with the light traffic this ski area receives. But rustic cabins are available to rent in nearby locations including beautiful Linn Run State Park. There is also a scattered array of local motels such as the Ramada Inn of Ligonier and a gaggle of chain motels 30 minutes away in Somerset and Donegal, PA. AirBnB and VRBO are also options for finding lodging near Laurel Mountain.
What a weekend! I experienced a trifecta of fine ski conditions during my visit; powder Friday, bluebird Saturday, and spring skiing on Sunday. The opportunity to ski natural snow-only trails provided gnarly terrain variety and really had our group of hard-chargers stoked about the mountain. (Please management — buy Laurel Mountain a few more snow guns to open all terrain more frequently.)
It was awesome to see this historic and friendly ski area in full bloom, yet without giant mobs. The regulars said it might have been the best weekend in the three seasons since the ski area reopened. While a number of other mid-Atlantic resorts were slammed over the same weekend, our gang was hobnobbing at Laurel Mountain, the country club of Pennsylvania skiing.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.
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