With skiers and snowboarders descending the slopes before her after a 10-year absence, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn today joined Seven Springs Mountain Resort Chairman Robert Nutting and Bureau of State Parks officials in celebrating the reopening of Laurel Mountain Ski Resort at Laurel Mountain State Park, near Ligonier, Westmoreland County. DCNR’s Bureau of State Parks and the Department of General Services committed to $6.5 million in improvements that were completed in time for Laurel Mountain to open for the 2016-17 season. The ski area, part of Laurel Mountain State Park, features major enhancements including a new chair lift, doubled snowmaking capacity, trail improvements and more. Seven Springs assumed operation of the ski area and renovation of facilities, and DCNR is maintaining its role as steward of park resources.

“Skiers and snowboarders, park visitors and so many local communities all share in the rewards of this renewal effort fueled by the tremendous amount of energy coming from Seven Springs and the commitment of our Bureau of State Parks to make this work,” Dunn told listeners in the ski area’s newly renovated lodge. “This is win-win partnership, with Seven Springs bringing its proven expertise in winter sports to Laurel Mountain and our bureau dedicated to reestablishing this park as one of the Laurel Highlands’ many natural jewels.”

“And, with the eight state parks in this immediate area, and the nearby Forbes State Forest, the Laurel Highlands are a true winter lover’s playground,” the secretary noted. “When weather cooperates, these areas also draw those who enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and so much more.”

Dunn cited past support for the Laurel Mountain reopening demonstrated by nearby Ligonier and Jennerstown officials, Chamber of Commerce representatives, tourism bureaus, media, and a knot of dedicated skiers who learned how to ski on the mountain. “I know many of you are here today and I commend and thank you all for your support,” Dunn said. “Not only will this opening pump new vitality into area snow sports, it will bring new visitors and customers to the areas and businesses you represent. It also helps prove our state parks are a tremendous boon to local economies.”

Since the ski area opened to skiing and snowboarding Dec. 20, public reception has been strong, according to Bob Nutting, chairman of Seven Springs and Hidden Valley and operator of Laurel Mountain.

“The community response to Laurel Mountain has been absolutely incredible," Nutting said.“This gem of a mountain is the result of a great partnership between the resorts and the DCNR,as well as the passion of our local community members. Laurel Mountain's unique charm is truly an asset to the Laurel Highlands and the entire Mid-Atlantic region."

“Tourism in the Laurel Highlands is big business with more than $1.83 billion spent annually in our tri-county region,” said Anna Weltz, director of public relations with the Laurel HighlandsVisitors Bureau. “The winter tourism product in the Laurel Highlands is very strong as arecognizable and desirable destination for visitors from Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Columbus and beyond. Now that Laurel’s doors are open, the outdoor fireplace is roaring, the chairlift is running and skiers are taking on Lower Wildcat, we can expect to see an increase in those figures. We will see visitors extending their visit by one or two more days, spending additional time shopping, dining at local restaurants and visiting other nearby attractions.

“As the region’s destination marketing organization, committed to promoting tourism in our tri-county region, we are so proud and thankful for what the DCNR and Seven Springs have done for Laurel Mountain. “ Operation of the resort by Seven Springs is latest development in an on-again, off-again history of one of three ski areas privately operated on state parkland. Once the exclusive winter playground of Rolling Rock Club members, it opened in 1939 and later was deeded to the state.

Laurel Mountain is among the first ski areas in Pennsylvania. Facing financial issues and warm winters, it was beset by a series of closings -- one lasting more than 10 years. Seven Springs Mountain Resort signed a 10-year lease to operate the area in 2008. Work completed by Ligonier Construction Co. of Laughlintown, included: Tree removal and site clearing; earthmoving as part of pump house and pond connection piping work; installation of water and air Lines for snowmaking guns; ski lift demolition; ski lift foundations; ski lift erection, installation and testing; electrical work; and inspections.

Most recently, Seven Spring undertook lodge improvements that included an expansive heated concrete terrace and staircase leading to the entrances and an outdoor fireplace. The interior of the lodge was upgraded with new furniture and carpeting. The Laurel House Cafe on the upper level offers a variety of food and drinks and an impressive view of the valley below. The lower level of the lodge features the new Wildcat Lounge that also serves food and refreshments.

High atop Laurel Ridge at close to 3,000 feet in elevation, Laurel Mountain State Park is known for offering a family-oriented downhill skiing area and beautiful views of rolling countryside that is the Ligonier Valley. The slopes and trails provide opportunities for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Located just 72 miles east of Pittsburgh and only 35 miles from its sister resorts Seven Springs and Hidden Valley, Laurel Mountain should be a strong attraction to avid skiers looking to add to their Laurel Highlands winter experience. Now skiers can use their Highlands Season Pass at Laurel Mountain in addition to Seven Springs and Hidden Valley.