Pros: Good snowmaking, One of the steepest trails in PA ready opening day, Nice lodge, good food, nice selection in the bar. Scenic, long, tall trails.
Cons: Only half of the terrain covered (but what a half!). Limited to upper mountain beginners trail and handle tow for first timers.
Laurel has long been my favorite ski area in Western PA. It is small, 75 acres total in cut trails, 35 acres covered in a modern, efficient snowmaking system that had one of the steepest trails in the Mid-A ready on opening day. Please note I call Laurel a ski area, not a ski resort. It is a true skier/rider's hill. No onsite lodging, no tubing hill, no video arcade. Also, no terrain park yet but I think they will build a small park. Laurel Mountain is in fact a Pennsylvania state park and the bulk of the skiing infrastructure was funded by PA tax money. A big part of the appeal to me is the lack of resort amenities beyond the basic. Laurel is a place were enthusiasts come to ski and ride in a natural environment. Laurel, like most ski areas, is best with natural cover, Laurel more so. When fully open Laurel offers some of the best advanced terrain in the state, that's why I rated terrain on the high side. I will concede that Blue Knob's Extrovert is a more difficult trail to ski due to its intersecting trails and the inability to groom but Lower Wildcat is just as steep but is groomed. If you look at Laurel's Trail map you will see a lot of undeveloped terrain between the trails. I'll leave it to your imagination what might be found there. Just make sure there is good natural coverage before you explore and remember it has been a decade since Laurel was last open. Please obey closure signs.
The operation is leased to nearby Seven Springs Mountain Resort, PA's largest ski resort and a resort in every sense with more amenities than most. Laurel is about 40 minute drive from Seven Springs. You can buy a Laurel lift ticket or a 3 resort pass called the Highland Ticket that will get you access to Laurel, Seven Springs nearby Hidden Valley which is also owned by Seven Springs. The Highland Ticket is a full weekend pass beginning Friday at 9 am, or for less money, 4 pm and goes to close on Sunday night. That gives you 79 slopes and trails, over 465 acres of skiing (HV & 7S have 90%+ snowmaking), 9 terrain parks (rated as one of the best in the nation) with over 100 features. Here's a link for price details: http://www.laurelmountainski.com/ski-ride/schedule-rates/
Laurel is located on the Laurel Ridge between Ligonier on the west and Jennerstown to the east. It is accessible from the same I 76/70 PA turnpike exits as Seven Springs but a slightly longer drive from the Somerset or Dongeal exits.
Laurel was built prior to WW 2 and designed by Hannes Schneider the year after his 1939 arrival in the US. Schneider developed the Arlberg Technique which is the basis for modern ski teaching. His contributions to the sport can be found here: http://www.epicski.com/a/a-brief-history-of-alpine-skiing. The lodge, which sits at the top of the mountain along with parking, was totally refurbished with carpeting, new tables, and adorned with historic photos and equipment from Laurel's heyday back in the 1940s and 1950s. Basic food service is available upstairs, nice portions, better than average and not totally unreasonable prices. Downstairs in the Wildcat Lounge is a full service bar and the food selection is a little more upscale. There is usually live music in the bar so I did give a slight nightlife rating. Both floors offer a nice view of the Ligonier Valley.
So what does 35 acres of snowmaking mean? Well, as I stated above there is one of the steepest slopes in the region, groomed so it is skiable by more aspiring experts and about 2000 feet in length. Two intermediate trails in Broadway and Deer Path and upper novice/low intermediate Innsbruck, Both Innsbruck and Broadway empty on Deer Path and when combined with either you will be gliding for about a mile and a half. All trail utilize Laurel 760 vertical foot drop. There is also Tamecat, the beginner hill and a few over side trails and connectors. Half of Laurel's terrain must depend on natural snowfall.
If you looking for long rambling trails or a steep expert pitch and a throwback vibe in a less commercial setting then give Laurel a try.