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Laurel Mountain, the Country Club of Pennsylvania Skiing
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JimK - DCSki Columnist
6 months ago

Laurel Mountain, the Country Club of Pennsylvania Skiing
by Jim Kenney

(All photos by Jim Kenney)

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 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 to 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.

Country club buddies pose beside Midway Cabin (circa 1940).

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Laurel Mountain is like the old days of skiing, only better!  While some of the evocative original trails and structures date back to the 1939/40 time frame, 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! 

Laurel Mountain powderfest.

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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 AM to 6:30 PM.  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. 

This mountain has the goods!

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.

Laurel Hill Crazie in Doc’s Glades.

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. 

Old tyme Lincoln Highway trail.

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.

All natural Dream Highway.

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.

Great views from the lodge.

Saturday featured superb mid-winter weather with the sun emerging after Friday’s snow storm.  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.

Up close on Lower Wildcat.

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.

Spring skiing on Broadway.

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.

Natural snow on Laurel Run trail

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.) 

Part of our Saturday gang at Laurel Mountain

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.

Link to Laurel Mountain website:  http://www.laurelmountainski.com/

6 months ago

Jim - great article. I couldn’t agree more. I had a blast skiing the natural snowi trails. And it was certainly nice meeting you in-person as well as the other group members who I previously only met on-line. I hope we can make this a yearly event.

6 months ago

Nice article, Jim. I was so stoke to be able to share my home hill when conditions were so good. I know it’s not 2 feet of Western powder or even Sierra cement but for the Mid-Atlantic it was damn good. I too enjoyed meeting people with whom I’ve only shared online talk. There is a vibe at Laurel that I hope never goes away, sort of like the old TV show Cheers, where everybody knows your name. To further the golf analogy, I hope we continue to feel like a country club after we attract public golf course crowds because one day the rest of the snowsport public will discover our mountain.  Prost!

6 months ago

Great read.  Wish I could have been there.  Does the midway cabin have any services, or is it just there for nostalgia now?

Lots of lodging options on the east side of Johnstown too - just 10 minutes up 219 N.

JimK - DCSki Columnist
6 months ago

Midway is inactive now, but LHC and his buddies have a plan to try to get it reopened as a warm-up hut and brown bagger spot.  It’s a pretty large structure actually and served as the main ski lodge back in the day.

6 months ago

@JimK - Thanks for the write up.  Good read as always, perfect timing as my friends and I will be heading to Laurel the coming President’s Day weekend.  Hope condition will be good.

6 months ago

@fosphenytoin, Did you make it to Laurel? Presidents Weekend was good groomer day as I recall.

I just got back from Laurel after yesterday’s 8 inch snow compacted by an afternoon of light rain and sleet. By mid morning today the sun was shining, blue skies overhead and the place all to myself, it seemed.  I’ve got to slow down and remember that my phone is also a camera. Goes to show how old I am when a phone’s most used app is an afterthought to me. It turned out to be a great spring day with upper Snow Bowl, Kitty Cats, and Laurel Run unofficially open. I’m not sure if Wildcat were groomed but I got there mid-morning there was soft cottage cheese on Lower that made turning easy but slow. We never really had much corn. The wet snow from the night before never set up firm. The untracked, which we skied most of the day, had a heavy frosting quality, thicker than butter, much more body but very easy to turn on my 90 mm boards. I maybe skied the easy blues and green once apiece instead doing a rotation of Snow Bowl, Kitty Cats, and Upper WC all ending in a sweet drop on Lower. I skied that rotation until my legs were jelly and the natural snow really began to suck my skis off. Life is good.

6 months ago

Laurel Hill Crazie wrote:

@fosphenytoin, Did you make it to Laurel? Presidents Weekend was good groomer day as I recall.

I just got back from Laurel after yesterday’s 8 inch snow compacted by an afternoon of light rain and sleet. By mid morning today the sun was shining, blue skies overhead and the place all to myself, it seemed.  I’ve got to slow down and remember that my phone is also a camera. Goes to show how old I am when a phone’s most used app is an afterthought to me. It turned out to be a great spring day with upper Snow Bowl, Kitty Cats, and Laurel Run unofficially open. I’m not sure if Wildcat were groomed but I got there mid-morning there was soft cottage cheese on Lower that made turning easy but slow. We never really had much corn. The wet snow from the night before never set up firm. The untracked, which we skied most of the day, had a heavy frosting quality, thicker than butter, much more body but very easy to turn on my 90 mm boards. I maybe skied the easy blues and green once apiece instead doing a rotation of Snow Bowl, Kitty Cats, and Upper WC all ending in a sweet drop on Lower. I skied that rotation until my legs were jelly and the natural snow really began to suck my skis off. Life is good.

Yes, I did.  I went with my 2 friends last Saturday.  We did a western PA ski safair trip over Presdient’s day weekend.  Sat - Laurel, Sunday - 7 Springs, Monday - Blue Knob.  

We arrived to Laurel around 11:30, drove from Rockville, MD. Condition was decent.  My friends liked the upper wildcat (single black?) and I did few laps on lower wildcat (double black?) Lower wildcat was bit icy.  The Sat. that we went, none of the trials you mentioned (Laurel run, kitty cats and snow bowl) were open.  

It was funny that one of my friends, she decided to bail on lower wildcat when she saw it was bit steep, Thankful to “Last Chance”, she was able to bail the last minute.  I saw 2 skeirs had a total yard sale on lower wildcat.

I really liked the lodge at Laurel, very new, clean, and classy.  It was a night and day comparsion to the lodge in BK and 7 Springs.  

I saw midway cabin, I remembered JimK’s or yours (?) post about they are hoping to open that someday, for people who brown bag their lunch?  

I can see Laurel has more interesting terrains if there’d be more snow, or more snow making?  It was a great day of skiing though, not crowded at all.  The drive was not bad and very managable (compared to Blue Knob).  

Question:

I did not realize the mountain only has 1 lift. What do they do if it breaks down?  

6 months ago

fosphenytoin wrote:

Question:

I did not realize the mountain only has 1 lift. What do they do if it breaks down?  

The lift is only 3 years old but if it breaks down I would imagine that all would get a snowmobile ride back to the top after lift evacuation. Then the place would close until the lift is repaired.

5 months ago
Laurel early this morning was groomer heaven and just when the hard pack was getting polished, the snow came and softened it all up. Proto bumps were forming on skiers right on Lower when I quit near 5 o’clock. Outlaws were riding the perimeter in the dusk. It should be a natural day tomorrow.
5 months ago

Conditions were great today at LM. It was my friend, Chris’s first time at LM and he very much enjoyed it. I hope you get enough snow to re-open the natural ski trails. Nice seeing you today.

5 months ago

Snowsmith, it was great to run into you. Just as you were leaving the outlaws arrived and began to corral some freshies on those trails you said needed names. Alas, I was only in on a few of those posses. We rode the velvet under upper lift line otherwise known as Snow Bowl. I was not on the Dream team that afternoon.  This was all prelude to what we had today.

Do you remember what it as like the weekend of the Gathering? Well, Lincoln Highway was not open and Doc’s was sketchy but Snow Bowl, the Kitty Cats, Laurel Run, and Dream were all skiing fine.

I was skiing Lower Wildcat all day yesterday. I skied it only once today. Lower was ungroomed from yesterday’s snowfall so it was covered with soft western style proto bumps. The steepest faces were polished but softies were just a pivot slip away.

The fun was in the fresh snow on the upper mountain. I saved my legs by traversing the Slot down to Rocky Corner on the Dream. The nice thing about Dream today was that is had not been skied on after a 4 inch snowfall covered the frozen base so no ruts in the ice from early poachers, then yesterday we got another 4 over that. The powder was slow but very compliant, smooth. I hope there’s some leftovers for tomorrow.

5 months ago
What is the status of the lease air compressors?
5 months ago

msprings wrote:

What is the status of the lease air compressors?

They are done making snow but the bases are deep and not going anywhere this week. I have no doubt that Laurel will run out of skiers before they run out of snow.

5 months ago

I and my friend Chris very much enjoyed our Sunday ski day at LM. Conditions were great. HV left some ungroomed trails for Monday which turned out to be an epic ski day. The weather pattern starting Next Sunday will unfortunately return to the rainy pattern that has dogged us for a long time, so forecasters say. I hope they are wrong. 

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