On August 20, 2008, Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs Resort announced that it had entered into an agreement with the Somserset Trust Company to revive Laurel Mountain, a defunct ski area located on state park land in Ligonier, Pennsyvania. Laurel Mountain has a storied, “on and off again” history, and was last open for skiing during the 2004-2005 winter season. On November 26, Seven Springs closed on its agreement with the Somerset Trust Company and purchased the ski assets at Laurel Mountain State Park. According to Seven Springs, this represents the next step in the local community’s push to revitalize skiing operations at Laurel Mountain.
“This is another positive step forward in the process of reopening the ski area to local skiers and visitors to the region,” said Bob Nutting, Chairman at Seven Springs.
“There is still much work to be done to fulfill the vision of many local community leaders of reestablishing Laurel Mountain Ski Area as a community asset that will bring with it new jobs and activity,” he added. “We will not stop working hard toward this goal until the first skier takes the first run down Lower Wild Cat, the steepest slope in the Commonwealth.”
All parties involved are hoping for a cash infusion from the state of Pennsylvania to help fund revitalization efforts. Community leaders have lobbied Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell for state funds to inject into the ski area, and in August, 2008, Governor Rendell relayed his informal intention to provide up to $6.5 million in funding for infrastructure improvements. A global economic slowdown since then has tightened state budgets, but according to Seven Springs, Governor Rendell’s office is still considering providing funding to renovate and improve the Laurel Mountain ski area.
The ski area itself is located on state park lands, which are managed by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
“DCNR is extremely pleased to once again have an operator at Laurel Mountain State Park Ski Area,” said John Norbeck, Bureau of State Parks Director. “Seven Springs knows the mountain and runs a class operation and we are excited to work with them to craft an agreement that will meet the needs of our neighbors, the community and the recreating public to bring active winter sports back to Laurel Mountain in a sustainable way and to add to the local economy.”
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. The transfer of assets to Seven Springs in late November shows continued momentum to re-open Laurel Mountain.
“Somerset Trust Company looks forward to the reopening of the skiing area at Laurel Mountain State Park, a valuable tourist destination in our region, and to the jobs that will be created at a time when the local area needs these new opportunities,” said Henry Cook, President of Somerset Trust Company.
Eric Mauck, CEO of Seven Springs, is enthusiastic about the prospects of re-opening Laurel Mountain but cautions that community support is still needed.
“We look forward to partnering with DCNR and the State to greatly enhance the skiing infrastructure at Laurel Mountain and create a great recreation opportunity for the community,” said Mauck. “While we remain increasingly optimistic, we need their continued support to move this project forward. We have a great amount of faith that all parties will come together to get it done.”
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.