By Rob Davis
This article first posted on 8/12/2011.
Updated and edited on February 4, 2015 and March 20, 2015. Updated information in bold.
Laurel Mountain ski area is a Pennsylvania State Park comprising over 400 acres approximately 70 mile east of Pittsburgh on the Laurel Ridge.The ski area consists of about 80 acres of cut trails, about 30 acres with snowmaking, a fixed grip quad chairlift, a fixed grip double chair, 2 rope tows, a lodge building, and a maintenance building. The lodge which sits at the 2900 foot summit provides food service and rental facilities as well as ticket sales, snow sports school and administrative offices. In 2008 the Pennsylvania legislature approved funding Laurel Mountain's rebuild and allocated $6.5 million after a due diligence study by the Jack Johnson Company of Park City, Utah concluded that the resort could be run profitably with proper investment. The funding came from the state's capital projects budget and was released by former Governor Ed Rendell. The Jack Johnson report recommends that approximately $8 million be spent on upgrades to Laurel's infrastructure.
Nearby Seven Springs Mountain Resort bought the existing privately owned assets on the mountain in November 2008 and entered into a 10 year lease with the State to run the ski operation. The extent of their capital contribution is not known at this time. It is reported that Seven Springs officials are involved in the current redesign. Seven Springs operated the ski area for one season in 2004 after the previous concessionaire was foreclosed.The project went through the design and permit process and appeared ready to be put to bid with an anticipated open date of winter 2014/2015, however, the design phase of the project was reopened due to Seven Springs concerns over the placement of the tubing hill and plans to upgrade the new lift installation from a triple to a quad chair. At that time DCNR spokesperson Chris Novak said the department and Seven Springs "have agreed on the revised scope of design for Laurel Mountain [that] no longer includes the snow tubing runs. "Now we are headed back to the Department of General Services to complete the redesign process, after which the project would go to bid. Time frames are not certain at this point."
Update 3/20//2015: The redesign has been completed but once again the bid posting was pushed back from its late February/early March anticipated posting. Most recent published reports quote Troy Thompson, spokesman for the PA State agency responsible for design and bidding this project, saying that the design was under review to ensure the the project would fall within budget. A third party consultant experienced in ski lift construction has been hired to conduct the review. Mr. Thompson would not say who was contracted or when the review will be completed. Details can be found in this Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article by Nicole Chenoweth: Bidding Process Delayed. In another story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, snow sport columnist Larry Walsh stated that the goal now is to have the project completed by Thanksgiving 2016. He did not cite his source for this information. Larry's article can be read here: Laurel Mountain Plans Moving Forward? Mr. Nutting said that he would host a private meeting with Laurel Mountain supporters, his staff and the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA state parks) to provide the latest information on the project.
Update: The State will replace the double chair with a fixed grip quad which will then be realigned. The bottom load station will be moved out of the "hole" the double now loads from toward Dream Highway to the front of the old warming hut at the bottom of Wildcat. The warming hut will be removed. The load station appears to be low enough on the mountain to enable skiers on Dream Highway to load the chair. The top bull wheel will be at the top of the old tubing hill. I'm not sure what type of regrading will be done to the old tubing runs. I heard at one time that the space will be used for a terrain park.
Most of the trail work will be done to Innsbruck and Deer Path (Crossover to you old timers). Innsbruck's entrance will be relocated and will be close to its original start to skier's left of the start of Upper Broadway below the Tamecat beginner's slope. It will be widen its entire length. The top 2 switchbacks will be removed and the trail intersections with Lincoln Highway, under the old quad, will be minimized but will still exit onto Lower Broadway just above the Midway Cabin.
The very bottom of Lower Broadway, the last steeper pitch before it empties on to Deer Path will be regraded and Deer Path's entire length will be widened including across the very bottom of Lower Wildcat to the new chair's load station all with the goal of providing a top to bottom novice trail. Snowmaking and lighting will be installed on the entire length.
Broadway will also be widen with the most significant work being done at the bottom of the first steep pitch on Upper Broadway where the old half pipe emerges and Lynx on skier's right begins. This section of Broadway is locally know as the chute. The whole tree triangle that is now bordered by Broadway, Lynx, and Last Chance will be removed. I'm sure the idea here is to eliminate the narrow chute and make the trail easier for the low intermediate/novice to negotiate.
Dream Highway, Hegan's Cut, Laurel Run and Snow Bowl will not see any improvements.
The snowmaking ponds near Midway Cabin and the two smaller of the 3 ponds at the top of the mountain will be expanded.
The quad installed by the previous concessionaire will not be put into operation. The chair is no longer working thanks to copper thieves. This chair is owned by Seven Springs and is not eligible for state funding for repairs.
Laurel Mountain was originally designed by skiing legend Hannes Schneider. Laurel's founder, financier Richard King Mellon, contacted Harvey Gibson of New York's Manufacturers Trust Company and owner of Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway, NH for help in designing a ski area. Gibson had just secured the release of Schneider from Nazi arrest the year before. Hannes was a renowned ski instructor and developed the Arlberg Method which is recognized as the forerunner of modern alpine ski technique. Beginning in the 1930s alpine skiing in the US was heavily influenced by Austrian ski instructors trained by Schneider. Hannes was arrested by the Nazis because of his opposition to the annexation of Austria. Gibson sent Schneider to Ligonier and in the winter of 1939 the plan for Laurel Mountain Slopes was begun.
Laurel was a noted destination during the 40's and 50's and was served by ski trains from the Pittsburgh and Cleveland area. Laurel's ski conditions were often reported in the New York Times along with other larger Eastern resorts. Laurel was the first Pennsylvania ski resort to install commercially successful snowmaking and the first to use snow grooming machines. The resort enjoyed its heyday under the direction of 10th Mountain vet Ralph "Doc" DesRoches during the 1950s. Doc became the CEO of the trade association Ski Industries of America and was key to that organization's success. DesRoches was also instrumental in funding the US Ski Team which went on to win the first Olympic Alpine skiing medals for The US Men's team.
Laurel remains much as it was in Doc's day. There is no private lodging on the mountain, only the ski lodges and maintenance buildings. Midway Cabin, Laurel's first lodge built in 1940, still stands and is located on Lower Broadway, the first trail cut by Schneider. The main lodge, Laurel Lodge, sits at the summit commanding panoramic views of the Ligonier Valley. The trails are classic old school hugging the contours of the mountain offering the skier the experience of skiing through the forest. Lower Wildcat, named for the tributary of Rolling Rock Creek at the bottom of the trail, was cut before World War 2. It is the steepest trail on the Laurel Ridge also the home ridge of Seven Springs and Hidden Valley.