Laurel Mountain Trails (Long)
February 7, 2005
This is part two of my visit to The Springs at Laurel Mountain.
Unfortunately, there are only three (or four) main paths down the mountain that have snowmaking on them. There is a flat, but narrow beginner trail called Innsbruck. Innsbruck meanders its way through the woods like a slow moving river. The conditions on Innsbruck were a bit tough for beginners, and some beginners might find the trail uncomfortably narrow. (I believe only the upper half of Innsbruck has snowmaking on it.) For the more confident novices, Innsbruck offers a rare a sense of adventure discovering what is around the next bend in the trail.
There is a separate area near the lodge for newbies.
There is a main intermediate path down the mountain: Upper Broadway to The Chute to Lower Broadway. This intermediate path is less steep than any of the blues at Whitetail, though The Chute, as it's name implies, is fairly narrow. Snow conditions were very nice on this route and there were some fun little rolls as the trail makes its way through the woods. Intermediates could also head down Upper Wildcat (labeled a single diamond but it's really a blue square), and then take a traverse to Lower Broadway. Just don't mistakenly go down Lower Wildcat!
When there is sufficient natural snow, there is an outstanding addition to the intermediate terrain: Dream Highway. (There is currently no snow making on the trail.) Dream Highway winds and dips it's way down the hill through the trees, like a classic New England trail. It is similar in nature to Stembogen Trail at Blue Knob, though Laurel Mountain's version is a bit steeper and narrower. The coverage on Dream Highway was pretty decent on the upper part, but the very last run-out was sparsely covered. Although I love the variability of skiing natural snow, this was not a trail to take if you were paranoid about your equipment bottoms. Fortunately, I escaped with only a few dings on my bases and edges.
From the intermediate terrain, there is a big jump in difficulty to the main expert path down the mountain (Upper Wildcat to Lower Wildcat.) This is a serious gap in the terrain offerings at Laurel Mountain. Lower Wildcat is one of the premiere advanced slopes in the Mid-Atlantic; upper-level skiers will most likely ski it most of the day. It is steep, fairly wide, and has respectable vertical (longer than the headwalls at the Snowtime resorts.) Lower Wildcat is steep enough and long enough to get me to think that should I fall, I could slide a bit. From what I gather, at least half of Lower Wildcat is generally groomed, with the other half left to bump up. On this Saturday, it was all groomed overnight (to the dismay of several ski instructors I talked to), but a nice challenging bump line formed to skier's right by the end of the day. The bumps extended a bit into some brush at the edge of the trail, adding to the challenge if you desired. Lower Wildcat is a legitimately steep bump run; not too many of those locally.
There were a couple of mild snow making swales in the middle of Lower Wildcat to add some variety, but overall the groomed section was pretty uniform. If you are on your game, you could do GS turns down the groomed section. There were a couple of icy spots that you had to worry about, but most of the trail had nice snow on it. Due to the lack of terrain, Lower Wildcat gets a lot of traffic and can get skied off, though it was never crowded.
Since Lower Wildcat was groomed and the available terrain at Laurel Mountain is limited, there were plenty intermediate to upper-intermediate skiers going down it. Surprisingly, most went down it pretty well, surviving with conservative skidded turns. I did see one or two yard sales and a couple of skiers separated from their equipment by 20-30 feet. Doh!
When it is open (seemingly rare nowadays), Extrovert at Blue Knob is a much tougher trail and has more interesting lines than Lower Wildcat. This is mostly due to the grooming of Lower Wildcat. Still, Lower Wildcat alone is worthy of a trip. Note to self: remember this trail for spring skiing.
After a few runs down the mountain, I bypassed Upper Wildcat and skied Laurel Run, a somewhat hidden natural snow gem. By tentatively venturing further to skier's right each successive run, I caught several runs of untouched natural pow at the top with chowder on the rest of the trail. Since it had been days since it had last snowed, that was a treat. Sweet! I'll admit to being a bit wary about discovering any hidden treasures, but none were found. To add to the fun, some future civil engineers built a kicker on Laurel Run.
If Seven Springs continues it's operation of Laurel Mountain (which I hope it does), there are some investments which could be made to dramatically increase the quality of the sliding experience. The most important improvement would be the addition of snowmaking on Dream Highway and improved snowmaking on Innsbruck. Keep Laurel run free of snowmaking! It's nice to have the occasional advanced trail where you can ski only what nature provided. Several intermediate and single black trails can be cut between Lower Wildcat and Lower Broadway to increase the amount of terrain. For the tree lovers among us, there are several lightly treed sections needing to be cleared of debris to become skiable again. Though the current offering at Laurel Mountain is limited, the mountain has a lot of terrain potential. Let's hope it reaches it.
Nice report John. There is one more top to bottom trail, Lincoln Highway. It runs under the quad. They had a couple of sections of it roped off on Saturday. It's not steep but I still find it interesting when you can run the whole trail.The trails to the skier's right of Laurel Run are pretty cool too.
None of the trails you've mentioned have snowmaking on them, correct? I agree that they looked interesting, especially the trails to skier's right of Laurel Run. I was having such a good time on Laurel Run that I didn't give them a try.
Great reporting JohnL!
You may have missed this one but there is a little chute off of Innsbruck that you can ski. It's no steeper than Innsbruck and might be a bit skinnier but it's not on the map and kind of fun... adds to that mystique that Innsbruck has of "what's around the next turn?"
I really enjoy Broadway. You're right that it's not as steep as Whitetail but the way it rambles and rolls through the woods is classic. You can also hook right at the bottom and ski down to the double, and stare up at all those nice, steep forests above you and dream of another Wildcat.
Glad you mentioned too the snow coverage on Dream Highway. I was out there two winters ago, the snow coverage was EXCELLENT, and still Dream Highway was sketchy down at the bottom. I think some of this has to do with elevation change, but it might also have to do with intermediates bailing from Lower Wildcat and using that run instead. It's hard to keep snow on a run when skier traffic increases (hence the need for snowmaking, at least on the lower part, as you mentioned).
Oh and the next time you go, if there's enough natural snow, you've gotta hit the woods at the top of Laurel. What woods, you ask? Almost any of them. There are trails and glades in almost every patch of trees above the drop off on Wildcat. Absolute blast to ski through those over, and over, and over again.
Plus since they're at the top of the mountain they have GREAT snow coverage.
Yeah, I agree, the place is a hidden gem, but until they get a few more runs in it's probably worth a day on a ski trip and not much more.
Sounds great. I will be taking a group of 4 skiing soon, and one is a novice without equipment. Do they have equipment for rent?
More importantly, is there a bar at the lodge?
I've been wanting to try Laurel for 20 yrs.
Yep, those are all natural snow only. Maybe with 7Springs' money they can have snowmaking on some of them.
I agree about Broadway. Just about every trail at Laurel has been cut in an interesting manner. Ironically, Lower Wildcat may be the main exception, since it's pretty much one big slope. The far right hand section of Lower Wildcat has some variation to it.
Yes to both. I wouldn't expect a huge variety of equipment or upper-end rental equipment. I poked my head into the bar (Wildcat Lounge?) and it looked fairly decent for being at a small ski area. I didn't do any apres ski since it had already started to snow and I had a longish drive back to DC.
Well Madeline and I hit up Laurel for the first time on Super bowl Sunday. This thread was the "stick that broke the camel's back" and got us out our rut of just going to white tail. So thanks John!
We arrived around 9:30 AM. Before 1 PM the slopes were totally uncrowned, and snow conditions were excellent even with the temps topping 50F by mid-afternoon. The first run out of the car was right down Wildcat upper and lower. The snow on wildcat was in great shape and apparently had not been groomed that morning. I liked the trail so much and skied it so many times that by the end of the day Madeline had coined a new nick name for me "Wild Cat".
As the day progressed I noticed that trails such as wildcat, laurel, snow bowl and dream highway actually hold snow very well due to northern exposure and protections from the other ridge across the valley. The upper sections (due to sun) and the lower sections (due to elevation) were the sloppiest of those trails. There was no ice at all on any of these slopes.
One very nice terrain feature I found was the entry to laurel run from the trail labeled ski top. Laurel basically starts off with about a 20 foot steep drop at that upper section. If you carry a little speed down "ski top" you can cut the switch back and get some nice air off that entry.
The terrain park is also placed very well on the hill. And virtually all of the windy blue and green trails (dream highway, deer path, etc...) have cuts in the switchbacks that lead to other little jumps and terrain features.
The best bump line on lower wild cat that I found was all the way on skier's right. It is very steep and begins near some woody vegetation and brush. However because of the way the trail is cut at the top and lift placement at the bottom you can only ski this line for a few hundred feet of vertical. Lower Wildcat as John said is one of the few steep bumps runs in the area. And there is enough terrain on that trail alone for quite a few runs with out boredom. The total vertical of this trail (counting the upper section) is on par with the expert's choice area of white tail and is more fun and more challenging.
Broadway / Chute was Madeline's favorite trail at Laurel. I like the way that you can take detour from the trail veer into the terrain park and then veer back onto the trail. I find this to be a pretty neat use of the park. Chute also has a nice option if you veer off the embankment on skier's right. However I didn't actually do this as the cover was pretty bad on that section. I can tell however that it s a popular "short-cut".
I find it ironic that despite mud, icy cover and having the worst conditions on the hill the green run Innsbruck was open throughout the day. I suppose there is some pressure to keep a green run open. I honestly think anyone would have better luck on Broadway. Other natural snow trails such as Lincoln Highway, and others were not opened that day either. All the natural snow trails besides snow bowl and laurel run closed early because of poor cover. The dependence on natural snow is defiantly a questionable call especially on the lower mountain trails or those like Lincoln that get direct sun. However I don't think that improved snow making will be that great unless they also put at least a triple lift in where the double currently is. If you add snow making people will come.
There is a ton of potential for upper mountain blue/black glades that runs between Lincoln and Broadway. All they need to do is clear out some dead wood that has fallen in there.
We ate lunch at the pub. Over-all the lodge was nice and cozy. I could tell it was recently renovated. And the food, atmosphere, and service in the pub were very good and exceeded my expectations. This is a great day trip. The prices were very cheap for full service dining compared to the typical self serve / cafeteria style at most regional areas with similar prices. The trails and atmosphere are such a welcome change from other area resorts that I have a hard time not recommending a side trip to laurel for anyone spending a weekend at 7S or near by area.
I have finally found a ski area that can fill the void currently left by Blue Knob. Laurel is now my Blue Knob stand in until those guys get their act together and actually open their signature trail.
Glad you liked Laurel Mtn - I had a lot of fun there. So the pressure's off me for giving it a thumbs up. Or at least the blame can now be shared.
The website advertised a mini Mardi Gras celebration complete with beads. Did that happen or was it very low key?
You posted some nice additional info. Great points about the snow protection aspects of Laurel Mtn. It's pretty amazing that we can ski natural snow trails in this poor year for snowfall. (Fortunately, there have been plenty of cold periods for snowmaking.)
A week ago, that little lip at the top of Laurel Run was indeed a lot of fun. There was one exposed rock under the lip, so as long as you missed it, life was good.
I also noticed that drop-off to the right of Chute. I suspected that there was a hidden treasure or two in there, so I didn't take it. With a bit more snow, it looked like it could be fun.
The day I was there, the bump line started at the flatter section of Upper Wildcat, right where Laurel Run ended. You were able to get some rhythm going before hitting the steeper bumps. Since I believe the full 900' vertical of Laurel is found on the Wildcats, I'd say the vertical is several hundred feet more than that on the Expert's Choice lift at Whitetail.
The great thing about Laurel Mountain is that we can actually talk about some interesting terrain features we found. It's not a cookie-cutter mountain.
I actually took the short cut off of Chute trail, it was called Megan's Cut. It was a fun trail, and looked like worse cover than it was, the snow was brown, but no hidden dangers that I came across like rocks or twigs to damage my bases. It merged with the green trail called Deer Trail or Deer Run, which takes you right to the double lift.
I suggest that others try this area too.
The Mardi grass thing was cool, but low key. I only found out about it when we got there. They offered beads when I bought my lift ticket. The pub was decorated and I think they had a drink special. Before 1PM there was hardly anyone there. After 1 PM the crowds increased, and I mean slightly. The party kids arrived for Mardi Grass and the $25 1-9pm lift ticket, the usual suspects (pre-teen and other youth). A lot of moms and dad's with funny hats. Many of the ski instructors were college age and younger were wearing cowboy outfits. I assume this was a costume.
I was also amazed by the snow quality. I think another reason for the lasting natural snow is the lack of skier traffic on those slopes. I hardly saw anyone else go down snow bowl or even Laurel Run. Natural can last a long while if no one skis it. The overwhelming majority of traffic was on Broadway. Its a family mountain.
But even the families are cool it seems. I really like their policy of building or at least not removing, all the various hits, jumps, and snow features on the sides of trails. I swear some areas will put a rope around them or tear 'em down. Any unauthorized fun is severly punsihed.
The best part of the hill is the intertesting and fun trail layout. Just to get the heart pumping after a nice easy stroll in the powder, there is an optional 20ft section 70 degree pitch at the bottom of the blue square snow bowl trail. I think some devilish person threw that in there just to discourage the newbies from poaching. Not to mention you are right under the double lift to add to the pressure.
It seems that the hill was planned with love and care by a person who actually slides down a hill on something rather than a business man looking to cram the maximum amount of skiers into the smallest amount of acreage. I would love to find out more about this history of the mountain. Who built it and designed the trails?
Yea, I totally forgot about that trail. It was opened all day too right?
I was talking about the side of the chute trail. If you look down from the top you can see only the lip and the green trail below. However from the bottom you can see its actually a steep
ski able section. If you ski over the lip, it will put you out right onto a green toward the Megan's cut trail you mentioned (the part I am talking about is just above Meagan's cut). I actually noticed it from the green trial below and it looked like more than a few had skied it before and judging from the rocks at the bottom at least a few regretted it.
Everytime I ski here it crosses my mind that this is basically the same trail layout as when my father skied here in the 50's. I suspect that most if not all of the main trails were cut by hand and designed to follow the natural contours of the terrain. This area is an interesting hike in the summer as there are lots of interesting artifacts (old lift towers, stone walls etc) to be found in the area.
This terrain with 100% snowmaking would be awesome however, it may get so crowded that I may have to wait more than 30 seconds to get on the lift.