Infrastructure needs will keep Laurel Mountain ski resort closed
By Joe Napsha
Published: Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012
Downhill skiers who planned to hit the slopes at state-owned Laurel Mountain Ski Resort in Ligonier Township will have to wait another season.
The 64-acre facility within Laurel Mountain State Park, has been closed since 2005 as efforts to reopen it have floundered. The state said in May 2011 it expected to resume skiing operations for the 2012-13 season.
“The infrastructure in its current state is not adequate to support opening the ski area,” said Christina Novak, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The agency “continues to work with Seven Springs (Mountain Resort) to complete a project to improve the infrastructure at the park.”
Both the state and Seven Springs, which will operate the resort, “should be able to provide more information about the status this fall,” Novak said.
Seven Springs in Somerset County is “assessing all infrastructural needs to provide a safe and fun experience,” said Anna Weltz, a spokeswoman for the resort.
Ligonier Mayor Ormand “Butch” Bellas, who has been involved over several years in efforts to reopen those slopes, said it appears that the need for more electrical power to operate the resort is one reason for delaying the reopening.
An electrical upgrade might involve installing a higher voltage line to service the resort or electrical improvements, said Scott Surgeoner, a spokesman for West Penn Power's parent company, FirstEnergy Corp., based in Akron, Ohio. West Penn Power has been in been discussions with Seven Springs and the state on the issue, Surgeoner said.
“Hopefully, we will be able to reach an agreement and get moving again in the next couple of days,” Surgeoner said.
Bellas said he believes it has not reopened because the state's General Services Administration and Greensburg-based West Penn Power have not agreed on whether the state or the utility should pay to install a new line to provide additional power.
A General Services Administration spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Seven Springs last ran the ski area, known as The Springs at Laurel Mountain, for Somerset Trust Co. during the 2004-05 season. Laurel Mountain Ski Co. had operated the ski resort from 1998 until 2003, when Somerset Trust foreclosed on a $1 million loan owed by Laurel Mountain Ski owner George Mowl.
The state had designated $6.5 million four years ago for renovations, but no infrastructure improvements have been made, Novak said.
“There is money committed for this project, so the amount of time it has taken for this project is not related to any budget issues,” Novak said.
The state said last year it would create more water storage for snow-making, refurbish the ski lift or build a new one, grade the site and upgrade the electrical infrastructure. At that time, a new snow tubing area was planned if funds were available after the renovation.
The infrastructure for the ski area — including the ski lodge, chair lifts, snow-making facilities, snow grooming equipment and maintenance buildings — are owned by Seven Springs, which acquired them in 2008.
Reopening the 18-slope resort would boost tourism in Westmoreland County, said Ronald Virag, executive director of the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau.
“We feel that it is very important to the tourism business. We would like to see it open as soon as possible,” Virag said.
Julie Donovan, the bureau's public relations director and former marketing director for Laurel Mountain, said the ski resort was a popular draw. “It would be a tremendous place for the region and Westmoreland County,” Donovan said.
Donovan said bureau officials had been advised by Seven Springs that the resort would not open this season.
“I'm 100 percent convinced once it reopens, the skiers, snowboarders and tubers will return to the mountain. It really attracted people from Westmoreland County, Pittsburgh and the Johnstown area,” Donovan said.
Whenever the ski resort opens, it “will be such a positive thing for the town,” said Peter McKay, owner of Ligonier Tavern, just off the borough's Diamond.
“In the wintertime, that could be such a shot in the arm for this area. It would be very nice for the (Ligonier) Valley economy,” said Mary Lou Fleming, whose family has owned Martin's clothing store on the Diamond since 1900.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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