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At Western Pennsylvania ski areas, snow leads way to 'wonderful' winter

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Ben Walton, 20, of Plum, competes in a snowboarding competition on the last day of ski season at Boyce Park on Sunday, March 16, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Ben Walton, 20, of Plum, competes in a snowboarding competition on the last day of ski season at Boyce Park on Sunday, March 16, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - People snowboard down the slopes on the last day of ski season at Boyce Park on Sunday, March 16, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>People snowboard down the slopes on the last day of ski season at Boyce Park on Sunday, March 16, 2014.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review - Joseph Lehota, 23, of Apollo makes a pass as he pond skims across a pool of water during the Peak Ski Jamboree at Boyce Park in Plum on Sunday, March 16, 2014. The event marked the last day of the ski season at the park, and it included a downhill race, rail jam, and pond skim.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review</em></div>Joseph Lehota, 23, of Apollo makes a pass as he pond skims across a pool of water during the Peak Ski Jamboree at Boyce Park in Plum on Sunday, March 16, 2014. The event marked the last day of the ski season at the park, and it included a downhill race, rail jam, and pond skim.

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High company

Pennsylvania ranked sixth in the country for most ski visits during the 2012-2013 season.

1. Colorado: 11.5 million visits

2. California: 6.3 million visits

3. Vermont: 4.4 million visits

4. Utah: 4 million visits

5. New York: 3.6 million visits

6. Pennsylvania: 3 million visits

Source: National Ski Area Association

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 11:24 p.m.
 

By some measures, winter at the Boyce Park ski area was too successful.

The Allegheny County-owned ski, snowboard and tubing hill in Plum ran out of rental equipment some weekends and made too much snow, leaving plenty on the ground for skiers after it closed for the season on Sunday.

“We broke records all year long, with revenue, with attendance,” county Executive Rich Fitzgerald told County Council on Tuesday during his quarterly address.

Around the state, the season was epic.

Linda Irvin, president of the Pennsylvania Ski Area Association, said the 2013-2014 season ranked as one of the best in recent history at most of the state's 21 ski areas.

“Seasons like this usually lead to increased season pass sales and a general enthusiasm for skiing and snowboarding for the next season,” Irvin said.

Anna Weltz, spokeswoman for Seven Springs and Hidden Valley resorts in Somerset County, said she could not remember a season lasting so long for Seven Springs.

The cold allowed Seven Springs to make enough snow to cover about 1,000 football fields with a foot of snow, Weltz said. Hidden Valley could cover 350 football fields. Weather permitting, both resorts could stay open into April.

“It's been wonderful so far,” Weltz said. “Whether it was Olympic fever, sunshine, incredible snow, crowds here were very happy.”

Blue Knob in Bedford County had a “fantastic” season and has enough snow to stay open a few more weeks, said Paul Gordon, the lodge manager.

The successful seasons rubbed off on ski shops near the hills. Staff at Willi's Ski and Snowboard Shop in Monroeville said they noticed more beginners purchasing gear and heading to Boyce Park, about six minutes away. The shop is tallying sales numbers but expects the season's business to be “well over what we were doing the past two years,” said manager Ben West.

“For awhile, we were completely out of snowboarding gear for kids,” West said.

On some weekends, Boyce Park sent skiers and snowboarders to Willi's for rental equipment because the county exhausted its supply, West said. The county plans to purchase at least $9,000 worth of rental equipment before next season, spokeswoman Amie Downs said.

“That's kind of a good problem to have; we didn't have that problem in the past,” Fitzgerald said of the rental shortage.

A contract with Jim Shultz and Mountain Works to make snow and maintain equipment appeared to pay off. In past years, the Boyce Park ski area typically lost $400,000 to $500,000 a year. Problems with lifts and rope tows, and insufficient snow, caused the ski area to open late and shut down periodically during the season.

Initial financial figures show the county cut its losses to $100,000 to $200,000 this year, Fitzgerald said. The ski area brought in $561,629 this season, $285,555 more than the “snowmageddon” winter of 2010-2011. This season saved the ski hill, and with changes to the ski area's concessions and minor fee increases, skiing could become a “break even” business, Fitzgerald said.

“We really established that we could succeed and do this well,” Fitzgerald said. “I feel like we're going to continue to provide the ski service for county residents.”

The county is turning its attention to spring. GoApe, the adventure course at North Park, is open on weekends and some weekdays until it opens full-time in June. The county will host a mountain-biking festival at Boyce Park on April 6 and Easter egg hunts on April 12 at Hartwood Acres and April 13 at Round Hill Park.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Trib Total Media staff writer.He can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

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