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Laurel Mountain Ski Resort will be quiet this season

| Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013, 9:45 p.m.
Tribune-Review
The ski lift will remain empty at Laurel Mountain Ski Resort in Ligonier Township for at least one more season.

When the snow falls this winter, Laurel Mountain Ski Resort in Ligonier Township will be as quiet as it has been the past eight ski seasons while a new design for the once-popular resort is being finished.

“I'm disappointed. We need the jobs in the (Ligonier) Valley and the tourism that it would bring. I'm beside myself,” said Ligonier Mayor Ormond “Butch” Bellas, a longtime supporter of efforts to reopen the ski resort, which opened in 1939.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which owns the Laurel Mountain State Park in which the 64-acre ski resort is located, also did not commit to reopening the slopes in time for the 2014-15 ski season. It has been closed since 2005.

“We had anticipated a full construction season — spring to fall — would be needed to complete the project. We do not have a revised schedule at this time, therefore we really cannot commit to any dates right now,” said Terry Brady, a spokesman for the conservation and natural resources department.

Seven Springs Mountain Resort, which in 2008 signed a 10-year lease to operate the site, and the state have agreed on the scope of the design of Laurel Mountain, said Christina Novak, a conservation and natural resources department spokeswoman.

“The next step is to work with the Department of General Services to finalize the design. After that, the project will be bid. The time frames are not certain,” Novak said.

Seven Springs wanted to change the scope and design of the project “to better meet the needs and expectations of their customers,” Novak said. Among those changes were the elimination of the tubing run area, Novak said.

Seven Springs' project team shared its thoughts and ideas with the state for operating the ski resort “to truly maximize its potential,” said Anna Weltz, Seven Springs spokeswoman.

“We are truly committed to opening the slopes of Laurel Mountain. We're just as excited to open the slopes as anyone,” Weltz said.

Seven Springs, which acquired the lodge, a quad lift and snowmaking assets, wanted to concentrate resources on the ski area infrastructure, Novak said. The state had been in the final stages of the earlier design, Novak said.

“It's their (state's) project. We're just a concessionaire,” Weltz said.

The state Department of General Services has spent $513,651 on the design being prepared by Moshier Studio of Pittsburgh, said Troy Thompson, a state spokesman. That expenditure consists of $425,880 for basic design services and $87,771.52 additional services such as testing.

A Moshier spokeswoman declined to comment Friday on the redesign of the ski resort, referring all questions to the state.

Whenever the ski resort reopens, it will have more electrical power to operate the facility. The state recently signed an agreement with West Penn Power Co. of Greensburg to upgrade the electrical power system at the resort. Thompson said he did not have information on the terms of that contract.

West Penn Power's upgrades to the electrical system will be adequate for the ski resort operations, said Todd Meyers, a West Penn Power spokesman.

The project does not involve adding a power line to the ski resort but adding a bank of voltage regulators with a higher power rating, Meyers said.

“It will enhance the capacity of the line,” Meyers said.

Under former Gov. Ed Rendell, the state had earmarked almost $6.5 million to refurbish the ski resort and update the infrastructure.

A 2008 report prepared by Jack Johnson Co. of Park City, Utah, for the state outlined $7.6 million for various improvements, including $1.4 million for expanding the snowmaking capacity and $1 million for a pond for water for snowmaking. The resort has the infrastructure to support between 20,000 and 30,000 annual skier visits, the report stated.

Despite being closed for eight years, there would be a market for the ski resort when it reopens, said Robert Davis, resort editor for an online publication, EpicSki.com.

“Laurel Mountain has real expert terrain. It's fairly steep by any standards. It skis ‘bigger' than Seven Springs,” with a greater vertical slope, said Davis, who skied the resort in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It's been a mystery why it has taken so long to execute the redesign. It's been frustrating,” Davis said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-52520 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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