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Ski resorts brim with holiday spirit

| Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

A well-timed blast of winter weather on Friday and Saturday pleased Western Pennsylvania ski resort staff, who said the snow should excite skiers heading into Christmas break.

“Things are looking up for the holiday week,” said Laura Argenbright, marketing director for Hidden Valley Resort in Somerset County.

Between 500 and 600 people hit the slopes on Saturday at Hidden Valley, said Scott Bender, vice president of operations, which he said was very good for a pre-Christmas weekend when most people are concentrating on holiday activities. Seven Springs Mountain Resort spokeswoman Anna Weltz said between 700 and 800 people were at the resort Saturday.According to the National Weather Service in Moon, the higher elevations in the Laurel Highlands, including Hidden Valley and Seven Springs, had about 8 inches of snow by Saturday afternoon.

By comparison, Greensburg and Latrobe had about 4 inches of snow, while Carnegie had 3 inches. Moon had 1 inch. Parts of Maryland had more than a foot.

The ski resorts expect the snow to stick around awhile, but it's uncertain whether the region will see much of a white Christmas.

Several meteorological agencies call for a mix of rain and snow on Monday and Tuesday. A storm arriving on Wednesday could cause havoc for travelers along the East Coast, Lee Hendricks, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Saturday.

“There's a fair to middling chance we'll have a white Christmas,” Hendricks said. The forecast calls for rain Monday evening, changing to snow overnight, then back to rain Christmas Day and snow Tuesday night as temperatures hit highs in the mid- to upper-30s and lows in the mid- to upper-20s.

AccuWeather predicts between 1 and 3 inches of snow Monday night into Tuesday. The weather agency says there's potential for a “major winter storm.” Hendricks said forecasting models show different tracks for the storm, but added they trend more toward a major storm on the East Coast with lesser effects in Western Pennsylvania.

Though natural snowfall totals were down for the 2011-12 season because of warmer-than-usual weather, Hidden Valley and Seven Springs said snowmaking machinery kept the resorts relatively busy. Neither ski area released attendance figures for the past few years.

They offered figures that showed snowfall in the region the past few years has been inconsistent. For example, Hidden Valley had 65.5 inches of natural snow last season, 149 inches in the 2010-2011 season, 224 inches in 2009-2010, and 122 inches in 2008-2009.

Seven Springs had similar numbers: 64 inches of natural snow last season, 156 inches in the 2010-2011 season, 229 inches in 2009-2010, and 123 inches in 2008-2009.

Both resorts were open during the past few weekends for limited skiing.

Despite the recent snowfall, Boyce Park in Monroeville won't open for skiers and tubers this Christmas, according to Andrew Baechle, Allegheny County Parks director. He said crews need 10 or 12 consecutive days of cold and other prime conditions to make snow. The county's usual goal is to open in December, he said. County figures showed that 8,545 people went tubing in 2011 at Boyce, and 12,824 skied. The tubing facility was closed in 2012 and only 3,832 skied, which Baechle said was because of warm weather.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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