I skied Laurel Mountain (currently called The Springs at Laurel Mountain) for the first time on Saturday, January 29. On the same day that Whitetail, Liberty and Roundtop were overcrowded, my investment in the extra drive time rewarded me with uncrowded slopes and minimal lift lines, inexpensive skiing, a friendly atmosphere, scenic surroundings, several natural snow fresh tracks, and the challenge of skiing Lower Wildcat. Laurel Mountain is not for everyone, given the greater drive time, limited number of trails, and minimal après ski.
As has been reported on DCSki, Laurel Mountain has had a troubled recent history. ( DCSki News
) After being closed last ski season, Seven Springs Mountain Resort is operating Laurel Mountain for the 2004-05 season under an agreement reached with Somerset Trust Company (the resort owner) and Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR.) DCNR owns much (if not all) of the land adjoining the resort. The main thing is that Laurel Mountain is open for skiing, snowboarding and tubing this winter. Note: the slopes are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and tubing is only offered on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and selected holidays.
Laurel Mountain is a long day trip from the DC metro area (it's near Seven Springs), but it is a short trip for those living in Western Pennsylvania or for those staying at the larger nearby resorts. It took me just a shade over three hours non-stop to go from Annandale, VA to Laurel Mountain and three and a half hours on the return (at night with snow falling.)
Since Laurel Mountain is west of the infamous Allegheny front, it receives a lot of snowfall by Mid-Atlantic standards. The average annual snowfall figures I've seen have varied tremendously, but a good guesstimate is that Laurel Mountain receives a bit more snowfall than Seven Springs. (The mountain top elevation is 2800 feet.) Even in this poor winter for natural snow, on Saturday I skied several trails having zero snowmaking capability.
The Springs at Laurel Mountain is a scenic ski resort: it is located within 493 acres of Laurel Mountain state park. There is minimal housing development in the adjacent area and there is but a single lodge at the ski area itself. If you are seeking a return to the sport's natural roots, while bypassing the hustle and bustle of destination resorts such as Wisp and Seven Springs, Laurel Mountain is for you.
Like many other Mid-Atlantic resorts, Laurel Mountain is an upside-down area with the lodge at the summit. As a result, there are spectacular views of the Laurel Highlands through the numerous windows of the lodge. Though a bit small, the lodge is quite functional and is attractively constructed using light wood. The building feels more like a country cabin than a ski lodge. But the vintage 70's era tables and chairs remind you that you are not in the lap of luxury, you are there for outdoor sport.
In this era of expensive recreation, The Springs at Laurel Mountain is the rare affordable place for families to ski, snowboard and go snow tubing. I saw a much higher percentage of families with young children than at other Mid-Atlantic areas. The primary weekend ticket for adults is only 34 dollars (9 AM to 6 PM.) Several of the slopes are lit for night skiing and other ticket options are available. Snow tubing is 10 dollars per adult for a two-hour session, 8 dollars for children 4-11 years old. The basic cafeteria food is more value priced than other areas; I paid 8 dollars for a cheeseburger, fries and soda.
I hate to admit it, but the snow-tubing park looked worthy of a try as I skied by the park numerous times on an icy traverse. Although I picked up some speed on the traverse, tubers routinely zipped by me, often going backwards over some whoop-de-doos. Nothing like getting shown up by someone under the age of ten. Several young'uns didn't even have to pay to have fun. Near the lodge, a huge mound of snow piled up by the snowmakers was converted into an impromptu climbing wall and snow slide by a bunch of squealing rugrats. I saw a former rugrat or two joining in on the fun.
For the bargain lift tickets, you get 900 feet of vertical, generally excellent snow conditions, one of the most challenging trails in the Mid-Atlantic (Lower Wildcat), several intermediate trails which wind through the trees, uncrowded slopes and practically no lift lines. (On Saturday, there were normally 2-4 groups waiting in front of me with at most 10 during the entire day.) The people I met were very friendly and seemed proud of the mountain. Tons of Da Stillers clothing displayed. What you won't get at Laurel Mountain is high-speed lifts (the Wildcat lift ride was ~8 minutes long for ~900 feet of vertical), snowmaking on several intermediate trails, or a large number of trails.
I'll describe the trails at Laurel Mountain in a separate post.