Laurel Mountain Ski Resort readies for another run
The 1968-69 ski pass to Laurel Mountain Ski Resort in Ligonier Township isn’t Linda McKenna Boxx’s most valuable wardrobe accessory.
But she felt it appropriate to pin on her vintage pass Tuesday to witness a formal ground-breaking to reopen the resort.
“My family spent a lot of weekends up here in the winter. It was fun,” said Boxx, a Latrobe philanthropist and Western Pennsylvania recreation advocate.
“This project is really important and good news for this area,” she said.
Boxx was a spectator among dozens of state, local and business leaders gathered at the resort atop Laurel Mountain, along Westmoreland’s border with Somerset County, to break ground for the project that is being infused with $6.5 million in state funds.
Cindy Adams Dunn, state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary, said officials plan for the improvements to be completed in time to open in the fall.
Dunn said state officials likely wouldn’t have funded the project without the public/private partnership with nearby Seven Springs Mountain Resort.
“This is an ideal partnership, with Seven Springs bringing its proven expertise in winter sports to Laurel Mountain, and the Bureau of State committed to re-establishing the park as one of the Laurel Highlands’ many jewels,” Dunn said.
Dunn, whose family is from the Johnstown area, said reopening the slopes is part of “the puzzle” to promoting tourism, which creates jobs throughout the Laurel Highlands region.
“Not only will this opening pump new vitality into area and snow sports, it will bring new visitors and customers to the areas and businesses you represent,” she said.
The resort has one of the largest vertical drops in the state.
Seven Springs Chairman Robert Nutting noted he once skied the slope with his eldest daughter before its closure after the 2004-05 season. He hopes to return with family members to ski the renowned “Lower Wildcat Slope” this year.
“We’re excited and enthusiastic about the property,” Nutting said.
The ski resort opened in 1939 for Rolling Rock Club members. In 1964, the property was gifted to the state with the stipulation that no summer activities would occur there and no lodging would be constructed.
It closed from 1989 to 1999, then reopened and closed several times between 1999 and 2005 because of mild winters and financial problems.
Seven Springs, which purchased Hidden Valley Resort in Somerset County in October 2013, signed a 10-year lease with the state in 2008 to operate the Laurel Mountain slopes.
Bureau of State Parks Director John Hallas, whose office oversees 120 parks, said state officials believe three major improvements in the ongoing project will make Laurel Mountain more successful than previous attempts.
They include a modern ski lift, significant improvements to the trails and nearly double the snow-making capacity with a new pond with a 27 million-gallon capacity.
Hallas noted that in December, DCNR awarded contracts for general and electrical construction work for the renovations.
Ligonier Construction Co. in Laughlintown was awarded the $5.158 million general construction contract. Merit Electrical Group in Oakmont received a $369,800 contract.
Both contracts project completion by September, but work has progressed far ahead of schedule because of the mild weather, Hallas said.
He said the mild winter before January enabled contractors to get a head start. Work is about 34 percent completed, he said.
Other aspects of the project are site clearing and tree removal; electrical service upgrades, including installing exhaust fans; and work on a ski lift and trail lighting.
Ligonier Mayor Ormond “Butch” Bellas and Ligonier Township Manager Terry Carcella hailed the jobs the reopening will bring in the area.
Bellas, 71, said his family learned to ski on the slopes during the 1970s, and he worked on ski patrol there from 1999 until 2002.
“It’s certainly a happy day. It will really be wonderful for this whole region,” Bellas said.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or [email protected]