Tribune Review: by Jacob Tierney

After 11 years of waiting, Laurel Mountain Ski Resort in Ligonier Township will open to the public Wednesday.

“Laurel Mountain's historic reopening holds a deep meaning to me, and is the result of an immense amount of passion for snow sports in the Laurel Highlands,” Bob Nutting, chairman of Seven Springs and Hidden Valley, operator of Laurel Mountain and owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, said in a statement.

The slopes, including the famously steep Lower Wildcat, will be open from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday.

They will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Christmas Eve, and noon to 9 p.m. Christmas.

After that, the slopes will switch to their regular schedule for the rest of the winter: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday and 9 a.m.- 9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.

Opening day tickets will cost $43 for adults and $38 for children. During the regular season, adult tickets will range from $30 to $58 depending on the time and day.

The opening is the newest chapter in the club's long history. It opened in 1939 for Rolling Rock Club members, and in 1964 was gifted to the state on two conditions — that no hotel be built there, and that it never be used for summer activities. It closed from 1989 to 1999 because of financial hardships, then opened and closed several more times between 1999 and 2005.

Seven Springs signed a 10-year lease with the state in 2008 to operate Laurel Mountain.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources spent $6.5 million to upgrade the mountain with a new ski lift, renovated lodge, improved trails and increased snow-making capacity.

“The revival is going to do wonderful things for tourism, as well as the quality of life for residents here,” said Anna Weltz, spokeswoman for the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau. “There's a large following of fans for Laurel Mountain who, at one point in their childhood, skied here with a ski club, or with their family and friends, and I think once the word gets out, a lot of people are going to come back for a visit.

Chad Amond, president of the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce, said he plans to be among those making a return trip. He last went skiing at Laurel Mountain more than 15 years ago.

“Tourism creates an enormous amount of an economic activity for the county,” he said. “I'm looking forward to it myself. It can only be a good thing to add an additional opportunity for both locals and visitors to ski.”

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