Warm weather since Thanksgiving has put work to revamp the long-defunct Laurel Mountain Ski Resort far ahead of schedule.
“This weather, it certainly has not been good for skiing, but it is great for those in construction,” said state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spokesman Terry Brady. “And that’s what we’ve seen at Laurel Mountain ski area. The engineers and construction representatives met Wednesday on the project, and the word is they’re already 30 percent complete with all the work there.”
In September, the DCNR awarded contracts for general and electrical construction work for the renovation project on the Ligonier Township slopes. The resort, which is along the border of Westmoreland and Somerset counties, was closed after the 2004-05 season.
Officials hope to reopen it next year.
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 projected completion by September, but work has progressed far ahead of schedule because of the agreeable weather, Brady said.
The renovation work includes:
• Demolition and replacement of the chairlift.
• Site clearing and tree removal.
• Improvements to snow-making water storage, pumping and distribution.
• Upgrades to electrical service.
• Grading of ski trails.
The electrical work includes installing exhaust fans, upgrading the electrical system and work on a ski lift and trail lighting.
Laurel Mountain 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.
The resort, which has one of the largest vertical drops in the state, closed from 1989 to 1999, then reopened and closed several times between 1999 and 2005 because of mild winters and financial problems.
The owners of nearby Seven Springs Mountain Resort, which purchased Hidden Valley Resort in Somerset County in October 2013, signed a 10-year lease with the state in 2008 to operate the slopes at Laurel Mountain.
“Obviously, we’re excited about the progress made there and are very appreciative,” said Alex Moser, marketing director for Seven Springs and Hidden Valley. “We’ve done a lot of collaborative work there with Ligonier Construction and with the state.”
When Laurel Mountain ski area last operated, the water retention pond had a 15 million-gallon capacity that is insufficient by today’s standards for snowmaking. Moser said the new pond will have a 27 million-gallon capacity.
Moser said plans are to market Laurel Mountain with Seven Springs and Hidden Valley.
“We’re really excited about it … possibly packaging a single Highlands Pass to be good at all three resorts,” he said. “That kind of opportunity for skiers — using one pass that is good at three resorts — is only presently available in New England and at some resorts out west.”
Moser said Laurel Mountain’s future is bright.
“We’re … really passionate about building on the opportunities that will be there,” he said. “Can you imagine? People knowing they can ski at three resorts could now decide to book trips for three days instead of two. That would mean more business for the hotels and restaurants throughout this region.”
Brady and Moser noted that while they are pleased about the progress made at Laurel Mountain, they are hopeful cold winter weather arrives in the area soon to boost business at the slopes that are open.
“The previous three years, our opening day of ski season was the day after Thanksgiving,” Moser said, noting that the resorts’ first day this year was Wednesday. “We’re looking forward to snow.”
Paul Peirce is a reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 724-850-2860.