Wow, I just can't be objective about this and write a newsy report. I'll post some links to tell the news stuff and instead just talk about the emotional impact of this event for me. Laurel is and will always be my home hill and as all of you know, that home hill feeling is so vital a connection to the heart of who we are as skiers. It is that almost indefinable connection woven by terrain, accomplishment and camaraderie experienced on the path to proficiency and a sense of community the outdoor experience engenders. The basic fabric of that home hill feel is the friendships and adventures shared as you unlock the secrets of the mountain and laugh over mishaps and conquest. If you are a life long devotee then the binds strengthen as your family grows and your relive the experience through your children. If you are very lucky your skiing parents get to see their grandchildren's excitement. Your home hill will forever define and elevate your experience as a skier.
I think that for those of us who see ourselves as skiers we will all say a ski area's terrain plays a large part of that connection. When I discovered Laurel in the mid-1970's I was just rediscovering a sport I was introduced to 10 years earlier. Laurel was not an easy mountain for a novice. Oh, there is good learning terrain, short and tilted just enough. That was it. Even the mile long easiest trail was narrow with hair pin turns to ease the pitch and no snowmaking. It spilled out at the old lodge where once a series of rope tows and a poma lift hauled you back to the top but those were no longer operational. The route down to the sole double chair was a ledge of a nearly straight roadway that traversed the mountain's lower face. The trail was usually icy washboards strewn with every other skier on the mountain. On your right a hillside too steep to turn into and a steep drop into the trees on your left. Then, 200 vertical and over 2,300 feet later, you are spit out to the chairlift loading bowl which is just as icy and steeper to boot. The carnage could be fierce on the weekends.
After you settle into the lift queue you finally have time to look up and see something you've not seen before on the Laurel Ridge. A steep snow covered face, steeper than anything else around. The backs of the bumps on the steepest face just dropped off two feet or more down to the top of the next one, all cut upon snowmaking whales shaped by machine made snow and prevailing winds, never to see a groomer's blade. If I could ever ski that, I thought, that would be something. This was the slope to truly take your measure. This was Lower Wildcat. I'm not going to cite degrees or percent grade. That alone does not tell the tale of this signature run. All I will say right now about Wildcat is that it will test your capabilities and show you the promise of what ski terrain can really be beyond these gentle mountains.
Like any romanticized and idyllic ski area, there is more to the skiing than the trails on the map and that is literally true at Laurel but let's run with that metaphor and try to define a part of the lore. There is a sense of history here, very tangible because really not much has changed since the 1940s when Laurel began prewar and then flourished post war up to the Vietnam era, to use war as a timeline.. It was raw, bare bones and basic when I found it. The original lodge still stands, tiny by today's standards but few modern base lodges can match the authenticity of Midway Cabin's huge stone fireplaces that flank the main floor. You enter the area at the summit, pass a stone hexagon shaped gatehouse the date 1941 carved above a window.The half mile drive back to the ski area is flanked by nothing but trees and the telephone poles along the road. There are no vacation homes, condos, no ski shops or t-shirt shops, no bars or restaurants, just trees and telephone poles. As you approach the side of the ridge you pass the chair and catch a glimpse of the valley below, you know you are on a mountain. At the edge of the ski terrain is the Laurel Lodge, a modern structure whose glass front and prowed roof face that panoramic view. The beginner's learning slopes are right outside the door. The rest of the trails start just below the rope tow. The only structures within this state park serve the ski area operation. This is outdoor winter recreation same as it was on opening day 76 years ago.
Next season the beginner trail described above, Innsbruck, will be totally reworked, snowmaking included. So will the run down to the new chair, Deer Path which will be widened and contoured to make more novice friendly. Work will be done on Broadway, Laurel's first trail, mostly widening with some recontouring.The new lift is a fixed grip quad but it should exceed the capacity of the 2 lifts it replaces.The water holding capacity for snowmaking will nearly double but still only roughly half of the terrain will be covered. That means that over 30 acres of intermediate and expert terrain will rely on natural snow.
Here are some links for details about the ceremony: