Ski patrol members lament Laurel Mountain resort closing
By Richard Robbins
Sunday, December 4, 2005
Heather Rogers loves "old school" Laurel Mountain, the narrow, wooded, hard-luck ski resort 12 miles east of Ligonier that will be shuttered for the 2005-06 season.
Rogers, a member, with her husband Shawn, of the volunteer ski patrol at Laurel Mountain, said she follows every rumor about the resort's future. The signs, in the short term at least, are not promising.
"It's an awful feeling. We are so much like family," Rogers, 28, of Jenners Township, Somerset County, said of the resort's closing and its consequences.
Rogers mentioned, in addition to the ski patrol, the many others who have labored to make a go of the venerable slopes, first carved out of the mountainside by Richard King Mellon and friends in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Rogers said she had in mind the maintenance workers and the people who operate the restaurant, bar and lodging at Laurel Mountain. "We are all family," she said.
As a result of negotiations that became bogged down between Seven Springs Resort, which operated Laurel Mountain Ski Resort last year, and the Somerset Trust, the slopes' lessee, the ski patrol's 40-some members are expected to be scattered by the winter winds to other resorts, if for no other reason than to keep their rescue and skiing skills sharp.
However, hope springs eternal for Laurel Mountain.
Scott Graham, of Ligonier, ski patrol director, said the reopening of Laurel Mountain was "at the top of my wish list."
Graham, 55, goes back to what he calls "the old days" at Laurel Mountain. He helped patrol the slopes for several decades before transferring to Hidden Valley. He was back at Laurel Mountain last year.
Why the ski patrol?
"It's my love of skiing and the different dimensions" of the job, Graham said, including the ability, and obligation, to come to the aid of skiers hurt and in need.
"We get knee strains, some ankle strains," Graham said. "And we're seeing more and more shoulder and arm injuries."
Place the blame for the latter injuries on the popularity of snowboarding, Graham said.
"What do you do when you're going to fall (from a snowboard)? You put your arms out to brace your fall," he said.
Rogers feels blessed, as a ski patrol member, to have learned so much about administering first aid.
"Everyone should know something about first aid," she said.
Last year's most serious accident at Laurel Mountain involved a 10-year-old, Rogers said. Injured at the bottom of one of the slopes, the youngster was stabilized by ski patrol members including Rogers.
Stabilization is one of the mainstays of ski slope first aid, she said.
Jim Darr, 51, of Ligonier, has been a member of one ski patrol or another since 1983. Like all ski patrollers, Darr is CPR-certified. He also knows how to set a splint and stop serious bleeding.
"Every year, you go through a refresher course," Darr said. The course is a requirement of ski patrol's governing body, the National Ski Patrol, headquartered in Lakewood, Colo.
Darr and Graham said recruiting ski patrol members poses a challenge because skiers, like most people, are caught up in so many things, they find it hard to devote time to ski patrol activities.
"It's like the fire department, where it's hard to get people to belong," Graham said. "The same is true of the ski patrol."
Especially noteworthy is the comparatively few 20- to 30-year-old ski patrollers.
Darr said a surprising number of 40- to 50-year-olds are involved, perhaps for the second time. Many quit once to raise their families. With their children grown or out of the house, they have returned, Darr said.
Heather and Shawn Rogers are something of an exception to the rule.
"My husband got involved before I did," Heather Rogers said. But once their son, Tyler, now 10, became old enough, both hit the slopes as part of the ski patrol corps at Laurel Mountain.
Last year, the Rogerses alternated between Fridays and Saturdays on the slopes. Tyler was with one of his parents on most ski patrol nights.
Heather Rogers said she hopes aiding skiers is in Tyler's future.
Will Laurel Mountain be active when Tyler is ready?
His mother said she hopes so.
"Laurel Mountain is home to us," said Rogers, not least because she and her family live in Laurel Mountain Borough, a few miles from the slopes.
For pure skiing, what makes Laurel Mountain so attractive are its narrow slopes. In addition, there is Lower Wild Cat slope, which is reported to be the steepest in Western Pennsylvania, Rogers said.
Graham called Laurel Mountain "a special place" not just because of Lower Wild Cat but also because of its hassle-free atmosphere and its small-town ambience.
"I love Laurel Mountain," Darr said. "I love the skiing."