Firsthand Report: Hidden Valley, PA - a New Beginning 15
Author thumbnail By Jim Kenney, DCSki Columnist

My family and I made our first ever visit to Hidden Valley ski area in the Laurel Highlands of western Pennsylvania on Saturday, January 19, 2008. We had a great time on good snow with manageable crowds serviced by a vibrant lift, lodge, and snowmaking infrastructure in full swing. As many regular DCSki readers know, Hidden Valley is under new ownership this season by the Pittsburgh-based Buncher Company. I can’t compare the “new” Hidden Valley with the old, but based on my wide ranging travels I can compare it to every other ski area in the mid-Atlantic and let me tell you, for families and weekenders it compares VERY FAVORABLY.

After a first glimpse at the steeper terrain facing the access road like Thunderbird and Cobra slopes, the second thing I noticed upon arrival was resort staff stationed all over the place. They were there to oversee the equipment drop-off zone and manage customer parking. They were courteously opening main lodge entrance doors and buzzing in and out of the guest services office. On the hill they were studiously assisting chair loadings and watching over lift lines, not that we ever waited more than a couple minutes in one all day long. This touch of class, service, and attention to detail did not go unnoticed by the women folk in my party either. I would hear more positive impressions in this vein from my wife and daughter as our day progressed.

View from the North Summit. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

However, my raison d’etre is skiing, so without much delay we headed out for a couple hours of family-friendly runs together. I guess I was expecting a very small mom and pop layout, but as we began to explore the terrain I was surprised by how many ski lifts were in operation at Hidden Valley including two triple chairs, one quad, and three doubles. A carpet lift serves the beginner area conveniently located next to the base lodge and there’s even a handle tow providing a fast surface connection with the quiet “backside” of the mountain. A satisfyingly high percentage of the 28 trails were open, spreading over 470 vertical feet of hillside sprinkled with vacation homes in a manner that reminded me of Bryce Mountain, VA.

We were also impressed with the quality of the skiing surface as we took our first runs down mellow trails like Continental and Rambler. Like virtually every trail on the mountain they were covered with fresh, nicely groomed man-made snow on Saturday, despite the fact that mixed frozen precipitation had splattered the Laurel Highlands a day or two before our visit. It wasn’t long before we hit the lengthy, lazy Voyager Run on the backside of the mountain. My easy skiing wife Kathy enjoyed it enough to request an encore. This trail pod, identified on maps as the North Summit Slopes, also includes some steeper runs like Comet, which my son and daughter schussed several times in succession as Mom and Dad dallied on Voyager.

The Emmegi Loading Conveyor on the Avalanche Quad Chair. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

The temperature was about 25-30 degrees on Saturday and the Hidden Valley snowmakers were busy with some of their equipment readying steeper, unopened runs in this vicinity called Charger and Outback. Of interest to lift junkies, the North Summit trail pod is served by the Avalanche quad chair with a people-mover/conveyor type loading platform. It’s a fixed grip lift, but with a comfort factor similar to a detached quad. Ideal for beginners and children, my wife deemed it a very civilized loading experience.

Road Runner Slope. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

I made it a point to ski pretty much every open run when my teenage son Vince and I paired-off to cover more ground. Hidden Valley’s sweet spot is family friendly terrain, not killer steeps. However, we managed to find some advanced fun on the front side of the mountain (the Valley Slopes). If short, but steep runs like Firebird and Thunderbird were left to grow bumps they’d be reminiscent of Liberty Mountain, PA’s Upper Strata and Eastwind. My favorite run of the day, however, was a narrower, easy black diamond with a lot of untracked snow on it called Road Runner. Vince and I did our best to cut up the soft, six inches of crud along the edge of Road Runner. This task was made easier by repeat rides up the empty Blizzard double chair lift it runs under.

During our visit I got a chance to talk with a couple of Buncher Company officials, the dynamic father and son combination of Bill Doring, executive vice president and treasurer, and William Doring, controller. These are the folks (along with all the Hidden Valley/Buncher team including VP Ed Very) that deserve great credit for the bold remake/renovation of the area. Both gentlemen were busy doing hands-on stuff on a busy MLK Holiday weekend, but from my brief chats with them their enthusiasm for the resort was obvious.

The Dorings have skiing in their blood and have been long-time home owners at Hidden Valley. They appear to be invested in this mountain in more ways than just financial. William was seen roaming all over the lodge and around lift loading areas. He gushed most proudly about a lengthy list of on-hill improvements this year such as 30 TechnoAlpin M18 Automatic Pole Mount Fan Snowmaking Guns, two new Pisten Bully groomers, new chairs on both triple chairlifts, the new Emmegi Loading Conveyor installed on the North Summit quad, a Zaugg Half Pipe Cutter, ten boxes and rails for Terrain Park, and a 60% upgrade of the rental inventory with hundreds of new Elan skis, Dalbello ski boots, Atomic snowboards, Salomon snowboard boots, and Boeri helmets. Talk about having your priorities straight!

The attractive main base lodge features several food service options and a clock tower with a portico that reminded me of Whitetail, PA. The Dorings are taking care of a lot of that less glamorous, but essential business off the slopes too, like new roofing, paint, carpets, signage, access road pavement, and handicap access. My daughter loved the jazzy music piped through an outside PA system on the grounds. My wife liked cloths in the cafeteria on tables inhabited by what appeared to be a young, well behaved crowd. Both wife and daughter noticed spotless Ladies Rooms with non-slip floor covers.

Watchful Eye of the Hidden Valley Ski Patrol. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

As we left Hidden Valley the chimes of the clock tower played us a 5 p.m. farewell and I think I finally got it. Now I understand why there has been so much DCSki Message Forum chatter on the rise and fall and rise of Hidden Valley. This place is too darn special to let go to the dogs! From what I’ve seen of this season’s “new beginning” under the Buncher Company that threat to a piece of Laurel Highlands Heaven has ceased to exist.

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About Jim Kenney

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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Reader Comments

snosnugums
January 23, 2008
Jim - nice report. Yes, it is a nice family ski area. Hopefully the trail expansion planned for 2009/2010 will add some more challenging terrain, the only thing missing from Hidden Valley.
As a resident, I cannot tell you how excited I am to see the positive happenings and all I can say to the Doring's is "thank you" and keep up the good work.
One very interesting prospect is Buncher operating Laurel Mountain next year. Supposedly season pass holders will be able to add LM to the mix with a small increase in the pass cost. Wouldn't that be awesome!
Connie Lawn
January 23, 2008
Your last two articles were terrific! (as they all are). Thank you for sharing them with us. Yours, Connie Lawn
Crush
January 23, 2008
this is a hoot if it is true ... the Emmegi pic .... i think we are the couple standing on the conveyor! Can't be sure because of the resolution, but if the woman on the left has red poles and the guy on the right has gray, that could be us!

Good article isn't that place nice!
Franz
January 23, 2008
I think Jim's article on his experience at Hidden Valley captured the essence of the resort very nicely. It has definitley regained its status as a great family destination. I think the planned expansion of the lodge as well as additional slopes will be real proof that this is a long term commitment to excellence. Hidden Valley has the opportunity to surpass neighboring 7 Springs as a much better overall family skiing experience!
TheFiolas
January 28, 2008
Right on point. What cannot be captured in a day visit is the community/family feel the resort has. As residents of nearly 4 years, we love it to the point of currently seeking to move our fulltime residence there. The already completed improvements plus, what wasn't mentioned, upcoming new lodge etc. will make even more of a difference. We are thankful for the new owners' efforts and vision for the future. Keep up the good work!
Craig Hunter
January 28, 2008
Great review, and I am happy to hear about a ski resort in the area that seems to understand what skiers want and care about the experience. Good for them -- I hope they have many happy and profitable years of business ahead.
Dave Roberts
February 3, 2008
I've been a homeowner at Hidden Valley for 20 years, and have watched the scandalous decline of this once-fine resort due to the neglect of Kettler Brothers and their failure to keep their obligations to the homeowners who bought from them--and to all resort visitors. In the last few years the decline had accelerated.

The Kettler story has a great ending, though--the low sale price for the resort justly penalized Kettler for their neglect.

Now, in just a few month, the Buncher Company has reestablished Hidden Valley as a great place to ski. And their plans going forward are even more impressive; we'll have a miniature Beaver Creek East to visit!

The resort staff is terrific; everywhere you go someone is saying hello to you. Their enthusiasm is obvious and contagious, and particularly noteworthy compared with the melancholy that Kettler employees showed.
JOE CITRO
February 4, 2008
YOU NEED MORE CHALLENGING SLOPES, THE SLOPES AT HIDDEN VALLEY HAVE NO THRILL
Crush
February 4, 2008
.. u don't have to scream! like i can still pass a hearing test!

that's a bad attitude - actually, if we all rate things that way the entire east coast except for some parts of killington would fall into the "no thrill" category.

hmmm i'm totally reminded of an old greg stump vid "license to thrill ..." yeah like your own personal thrill ... gonna fire that one up tonight i reckon ...
Anon
February 6, 2008
hmmm great article; however I believe you have left out a few key points.

What hidden valley has done is put a band-aid on bullet wound. The new snowmaking system was put in under a small time table with inadequate planning. Not to mention the snowmaking that is in place now was a poor investment for the money. The lift upgrade is minimal at best. If it was not for the lack of code in the state of Pennsylvania the lifts would never pass inspection. They are still a safety issue waiting to happen.
Last but not least employees, I guess the phrase you get what you pay for applies here.
Robert S.
February 6, 2008
I'm estatic to see all the improvements that were made (in record time).!! Hidden Valley was severly neglected for some years. The original family were just letting things go from bad to worse.!! I commend the Bunchers Group for a great purchase, and getting down to business.!! They are not done inproving, hell they just took over, and paid almost a million dollars in back taxes before even starting with renovation. Any property owners, or visitors should be very happy.!! Please, No negative responses are in order here.!! Keep up the GOOD WORK.!! Wish the winter snows were more accomdating.
cecefltrn
February 13, 2008
Over the past years, it was sad to watch Hidden Valley's decline from a once-great family resort to one in which filth and disdain for the customer prevailed. (One day, I asked the "customer service" desk for toilet paper for the ladies' room and was told that the maintenance man... the only one on duty for the entire resort... would "get to it when he could." This was at 9AM, mind you, at the BEGINNING of the ski day when all should have been ready for the guests!) Your article provides hope that Hidden Valley can flourish again, and I'll definitely be giving it a try this year! Thanks!
Hams
February 15, 2008
If you need steeper more advanced slopes you are on the wrong side of the country. what a goofy complaint. yea it would be nice if the Appalachians sprung up another 5K/ft over night but its not gonna happen so why bitch about something you cannot change. no where else in Pa is all that much different. Yea Elk has some nice slopes and Blue Knob too but all in all its all relative.

I say kudos to the new owners for taking the chance on a PA resort in the first place. concentrate on fixing the things you can like service, accommodations, lifts and snow making and they will come.
Hams
February 15, 2008
If you need steeper more advanced slopes you are on the wrong side of the country. what a goofy complaint. yea it would be nice if the Appalachians sprung up another 5K/ft over night but its not gonna happen so why bitch about something you cannot change. no where else in Pa is all that much different. Yea Elk has some nice slopes and Blue Knob too but all in all its all relative.

I say kudos to the new owners for taking the chance on a PA resort in the first place. concentrate on fixing the things you can like service, accommodations, lifts and snow making and they will come.
hv skier
October 14, 2010
That is agreat article! It was sad to see the resort in so much decline. to be honest with you if Buncher hadnt baught Hidden Valley I dought that HV would still be open.

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