Western PA Pioneer Area Comes Back To Full Operation.

Fun Fact: Legendary Hannes Schneider designed the trails at Laurel at around the same time he created Cranmore.
Credit: Laurel Mountain

There has been a lot written about the lost ski areas.  For one reason or another, ski areas sometimes are unable to meet the financial or operational requirements and end up closing the lifts.  They fall into disrepair and end up on a list of lost ski areas forever.  But, there is an exception whose light is burning bright this winter.  Laurel Mountain in the Laurel  Highlands of Western  Pennsylvania will once again be spinning the lifts thanks to a grant from the State of Pennsylvania and the financial and operational input of the major ski area in the region—Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

Laurel’s origins date back to 1939 when Pittsburgh financier Richard King Mellon began to plan a ski area for the enjoyment of the members of the  prestigious Rolling Rock Club.  In alliance with Harvey Gibson who was chairman of Manufacturer’s Trust Company and owner of Cranmore Mountain in New Hampshire, they began building the ski area on the western flank of the Laurel Ridge near Ligonier, Pa.  The design of the mountain was created by the world famous Hannes Schneider who was the inventor of the Arlberg method of ski teaching which is the basis of modern alpine technique.  Schneider was brought to the U.S. by Harvey Gibson and the legendary Austrian ski instructor hiked the Laurel Ridge and designed the trails and the signature Wildcat run which is the steepest run in Pennsylvania.

Soon after World War II, the private resort was opened to the public.  “Ski tow” tickets were $1.25 per day to ride the surface lifts.  Private lessons were $5.00 per hour with instructors trained by the famous mountaineer  Ralph “Doc” DesRoches, a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division and eventual major patron of the US Ski Team. Laurel grew with the post war boom and in 1947, a new lodge was built at the mountain summit. Laurel was soon the home of the Pennsylvania State Ski Championship founded by Edna and Max Dercum of Penn State University where Max was a professor of forestry.

In 1955, a new lift, perhaps the only one of its kind—a Constam T-bar— became the first top to bottom lift eliminating the need for three rope tows to get to the summit.  In 1956, Laurel was among the first ski resorts to install large scale snowmaking.  In 1963, R.K. Mellon and his sister Sarah Scaife gave the ski area to the State of Pennsylvania which began a new era with Poma lifts replacing rope tows and lights for night skiing.  The first chairlift at Laurel was installed in 1968.  After a number of years of state ownership and mounting competition from Seven Springs and Hidden Valley, Laurel fell to financial troubles and had many years of start/stop operation.  In 2004, Seven Springs entered into an agreement to run Laurel Mountain, but, with many improvements deemed necessary, the resort was once again closed.

Seven Springs eventually purchased the assets of Laurel Mountain and soon began to chart a course for operation once again with SE Group as the primary consultant.  With revitalized snowmaking by HKD, reconstruction of the lodge in 2015-2016, and official groundbreaking for a new quad chairlift, the plan for opening for the 2016-2017 ski season was finally a reality.

Laurel is a gem to the local community. The 1000+ members of the web-based group Friends of Laurel Mountain had a lot of influence in the progress of the construction. It is with great pride that the residents of Ligonier and the ski community in general in Western Pennsylvania welcome the historic Laurel Mountain back to the list of operating ski areas in the U.S

Location:

US 30 East, just outside of historic Ligonier, Pa.  Approximately a one and a half-hour drive east of Pittsburgh.

Trail Map: Click here.

Hours of Operation and Ticket Prices:

Sunday –Wednesday- 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM  Tickets $38.00

Thursday-Sunday- 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM – Tickets $53.00

Holidays- $58.00

Preferred Lodging:

Ligonier Country Inn

Call for reservations: 800-916-4339

Dining:

There are many dining establishments in the town of Ligonier including the Ligonier Tavern, my favorite,  just off the town square.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar Jim Kennicott says:

    For me Laurel in the 1950s and 60s represented the first lift-serviced skiing; first rope tow; first T-Bar; first ski race (of many); first ski lesson I taught in North America. Mostly I remember the great people there, especially Doc DesRoches, Gordy Richardson and Lenny Bughman.

  2. Avatar Mark Hutchinson says:

    Its great to see a “lost ski area” come back to life! And bigger is not always better! I love skiing a small ski area with a group of good friends! I bet the snow is wonderful with those new HKD guns!

  3. Avatar Kelli Majiros says:

    So happy to see this even though I have left the area. There’s spectacular cross-country skiing less than a mile beyond the entrance too! Add a visit to the Laurel Mountain warming hut and meet all the wonderful volunteers working and patrolling the trails there.

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