The roller coaster history of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Mountain Resort is about to take another turn. An expected cash infusion from the state of Pennsylvania and an agreement by nearby Seven Springs Resort may provide the catalyst to re-open Laurel Mountain, although it is not clear whether the steps necessary to re-open the area will be completed this year.
Located on state park land in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, Laurel Mountain has not been in operation since the 2004-2005 winter season. Its recent history can best be described as “on again, off again” due to a combination of factors including mild winters and even personal tragedy.
Laurel Mountain has a rich history, tracing its origins to the mid-1930’s. Laurel was first operated as a private resort by the Mellon family, but the ski area was opened to the public in 1958. In 1962, the ski area was turned over to the state of Pennsylvania, and various concessionaires operated the resort until March of 1989, when the resort was forced to shut down due to mild winters and a constrained snowmaking water supply.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. In 1998, a group of individuals with a love for the mountain joined together to form the Laurel Mountain Ski Company. They submitted a proposal to the State of Pennsylvania to re-open the ski area. The State accepted the proposal, providing a grant and loan to help fund the startup costs, and allowing the Laurel Mountain Ski Company to sign a 35-year lease on the property.
This led to a flurry of activity in late 1999 to prepare for re-opening in time for the 1999-2000 winter season. Enhancements included a rebuilt lodge, new and upgraded lifts, a tubing park, a snowboard halfpipe and terrain park, new trails, enhanced snowmaking, and lighting. With paint practically still drying, the lifts began running that winter and a new generation of skiers was able to discover the beloved slopes of Laurel Mountain.
Mild winters followed, however, and with reduced skier days and high startup costs, the Laurel Mountain Ski Company was never able to turn red ink into black ink. After a much-heralded re-opening, Laurel Mountain soon was forced to shutter its slopes once again, after several struggling seasons.
In the Fall of 2003, Laurel Mountain was placed on the auction block. Virginia-based HomeSpan Financial Group began to purchase the resort in November of 2003, hoping to open Laurel that winter, but tragedy struck when the president of HomeSpan suddenly died. Without him at the helm, the purchase fell through, and Laurel Mountain remained closed for that winter.
Efforts to find a buyer continued throughout 2004. Then, in October 2004, nearby Seven Springs Resort announced that it had reached an agreement to operate Laurel Mountain, under the name The Springs at Laurel Mountain, for the 2004-2005 winter season.
Skiers were once again able to visit Laurel Mountain that winter, but after one season, the ski area once again shut down. In 2005, Seven Springs announced that while Laurel Mountain would be closed for the 2005-2006 winter season, it hoped to study improvements that could allow the resort to re-open for the 2006-2007 season. But Seven Springs itself changed hands in the summer of 2006, and that tabled any plans.
Laurel Mountain has remained on the market for the past several years, with assets under the ownership of the Somerset Trust Company. During 2008, the future of Laurel Mountain seemed to reach a tipping point. Stakeholders began lobbying Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell for state funds to inject into the ski area. With the infusion of funding, the hope was that a local ski area operator - such as the Buncher Group, which purchased nearby Hidden Valley Resort in 2007, would step in and also operate Laurel Mountain.
In August, 2008, Governor Rendell relayed his intention to provide up to $6.5 million in funding for infrastructure improvements to the ski area and to enable a company to step in and lease and operate the area.
On August 20, 2008, Seven Springs Resort announced that it had entered into an agreement with the Somerset Trust Company to revive Laurel Mountain. There are still many dots that must be connected for the slopes to re-open, and the timing of the re-opening remains unclear. However, for the first time in several years, there seems to be a real chance that snowguns will once again begin firing at Laurel Mountain.
“So many people have been actively involved in trying to reopen the resort to local skiers and visitors to the region, from the board members of Somerset Trust and the local community leaders to Governor Rendell’s office and State legislators,” said Bob Nutting, Chairman of Seven Springs.
“We are pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this project. We look forward to partnering with the Pennsylvanie Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the State to greatly enhance the infrastructure of the resort and create a great recreation opportunity for the community. Their collective support is crucial to this project,” he added.
“Somerset Trust Company is very pleased to have a quality ski resort operator ready to reopen Laurel Mountain,” said Jeff Cook, Executive Vice President of the Somerset Trust Company.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.