Seven Springs Mountain Resort is in the final stages of buying Hidden Valley Four Seasons Resort, according to employees and residents at the neighboring resorts.
"It's going to happen," said an attorney familiar with discussions between the parties. He declined to be identified for business reasons.
Eric Mauck, chief executive officer of Seven Springs, and Tom Balestrieri, president and chief executive officer of the Buncher Co. of Pittsburgh that owns Hidden Valley, could not be reached for comment.
Jay Smith, who has owned a home at Hidden Valley for nine years, said he and other Hidden Valley homeowners are "concerned about the uncertainties related to the sale.
"Will [Bob] Nutting invest in Hidden Valley or is he just eliminating the competition?" he said, referring to the president of Seven Springs whose company, Ogden Newspapers Inc. of Wheeling, W.Va., owns the resort and also is the major shareholder of the Pirates.
"What improvements will he make at Hidden Valley, if any? He needs to address these concerns very soon after the sale is consummated."
Linda Irvin, executive director of the Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association, said the sale could be a win-win for both resorts. "They both have totally different feels. If they are marketed to their respective strengths, they'll continue to be successful."
She said Snow Time Corp. has done that with the three resorts it owns and operates in the central part of the state -- Ski Liberty, Ski Roundtop and Whitetail. She said Peak Resorts has enjoyed success with the Big Boulder and Jack Frost resorts it owns and operates in the Poconos.
There was considerable speculation last winter that Seven Springs was interested in acquiring Hidden Valley. A Buncher officer took Mr. Mauck on a very public "walking around" tour of the resort in mid-December. Mr. Nutting visited in late December to sample the skiing.
It was the first indication to some employees that Hidden Valley might be for sale and that its neighboring competitor might be the buyer. Some employees go back two and three generations, and some family members have worked for both resorts at various times.
Seven Springs and Hidden Valley are 3.2 miles apart as the crow flies but are separated by 13 miles of two-lane country roads in Somerset County. The former has 275 acres of ski/snowboard terrain; the latter has 110 acres. They're 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh in the Laurel Highlands.
It will be six years ago this Saturday that Buncher's Resort and Hospitality Group bought Hidden Valley for $12.4 million. It's estimated that it spent at least that much since then to upgrade its lodging and recreational facilities.
In November 2007, Buncher -- a privately held company that has developed real estate in southwestern Pennsylvania for more than 50 years -- announced plans to build The Village, a 200,000-square-foot base lodge/condominium complex to replace its aging base facilities.
It was to be completed within three years but was postponed indefinitely when the economy sank in 2008.
Ogden Newspapers bought Seven Springs from the Dupre family for approximately $88.5 million in 2006. It spent millions more on a number of on- and off-mountain improvements, including the complete renovation of the 418 rooms in its 10-story hotel, the addition of a full-service spa and the installation of a six-person chairlift.
Ogden Newspapers -- which publishes daily and weekly newspapers, magazines, telephone directories and shoppers guides -- has an agreement with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to operate the 63-acre Laurel Mountain ski area that overlooks Ligonier.
That agreement, announced in 2008, is contingent upon the state making an estimated $5.5 million in improvements but progress has been glacially slow.
DCNR spokesman Chris Novak said the department and Seven Springs "have agreed on the revised scope of design for Laurel Mountain [that] no longer includes the snow tubing runs.
"Now we are headed back to the Department of General Services to complete the redesign process, after which the project would go to bid. Time frames are not certain at this point."
Lawrence Walsh covers recreational snow sports for the Post-Gazette.