There usually are benefits to arriving early at a resort, especially on weekends and during the holidays:
A parking space close to the lodge, no line at the lift ticket window and the opportunity to carve the first turns on untracked corduroy-groomed snow, to name a few.
That's the procedure Rick C. of Hampton and his son like to follow at Hidden Valley. They park at the base of the North Summit slopes, buy their lift tickets in the warming hut and ride the quad chairlift to get in five or six runs before the slope and the lift gets busy.
But when the lift didn't start at 9 a.m. on two days during the Christmas holidays, they waited until 9:30 a.m. and 9:40 a.m., respectively, before it did. Although early arrivals are to be shuttled to the main lodge if the lift doesn't open on time because of snow grooming, it didn't happen.
When father and son skied over to the Valley side of the resort at about 11 a.m., they wondered why the second of two side-by-side triple chairs wasn't running, especially since there was a long line at the first one.
"Hidden Valley needs to understand that folks often choose their resort for shorter lift waits," he said. "When they fail to open these lifts on time or before it gets too crowded, it completely takes away any advantage they have over Seven Springs."
And, when the lift attendants fail to sweep snow off the chairlift seats before the lift is opened, or when it's snowing, the result is soaked britches.
It's also a hazard.
Skiers and snowboarders, especially younger ones, can easily slip off snow-coated seats, even if the restraining bar is down.
In a follow-up email this week, Rick C. said things have improved for "five or six follow-up visits" since the holidays.
The resort has made a determined effort to open the lifts on time and to clean the snow off the lifts before the first guests take their seats.
Rick C. said he and his son have "always been partial to Hidden Valley over Seven Springs over the years because of better value, shorter lift lines, less drinking and partying, better grooming and snowmaking and general attentiveness of the staff."
Although others who commented on Hidden Valley expressed similar sentiments, they didn't like to have their glasses, goggles and clothing coated with snow by the resort's TechnoAlpin snowmaking machines. The resort and its local and regional counterparts must do a better job of telling guests the obvious -- that the machines are necessary to build the snow base.
Mort S. of Pittsburgh celebrated his niece's birthday by renting complete sets of skis and snowboards for her and 11 of her friends.
"The equipment was first rate and the staff was very friendly and helpful, [but] it took a pretty long time to get through the rental shop.
"The biggest bottleneck was filling out the forms," he said. He suggested picking up and completing the forms in advance or making them available online so they could be printed and handed to the rental staff on arrival.
He praised the work of Darlene Heitchew, the attendant at the top of the Bobcat beginner conveyor lift; Debbie Younkin, who greets the cars at the loading area; and ski/snowboard shop manager Mike Demao, "the best boot-fitter I've ever worked with."
Next week: Wisp's proactive survey
Hidden Valley's Fourth Annual Spring Carnivale will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Sunday.
The event will feature music by DJ Donn, Randy Myers and the JWP Band, a Jib Jam in the terrain park, an Open Cup race for all ability levels and a torchlight parade.
Larry Walsh writes about recreational snow sports for the Post-Gazette.