Seven Springs changes bode well for Hidden Valley

If what Bob Nutting and his team of resort professionals have accomplished at Seven Springs since his family bought the resort in 2006 is any indication, Hidden Valley is in for its second round of improvements in six years.

Seven Springs' purchase of Hidden Valley from the Buncher Co. of Pittsburgh became official Oct. 1. The two main resorts in the Laurel Highlands are just 3.2 miles apart as a junco snowbird flies and 13 miles by vehicle. Between them, they have a total of 64 slopes and trails on 395 acres of terrain served by 22 lifts.

In just a short time, Seven Springs already has made several improvements to Hidden Valley, including:

• Updating the food service areas in the base lodge, including the cafeteria and the Clock Tower restaurant.

• Improving the layout of the rental center by adding self-service stations, similar to those at Seven Springs. Skiers and snowboarders can now electronically enter their rental information into these stations, receive their equipment from attendants after being properly fitted, arrange for a lesson at the snowsports school counter and then exit to the plaza.

• Relocating the Little Rippers snowsports program to a room under Glaciers Pub to make it closer to a small, gentle teaching area served by a slow-moving conveyor lift.

Mr. Nutting, 51, an accomplished skier, has made a number of improvements at Seven Springs, some long overdue. Buncher also had made upgrades to Hidden Valley since it purchased the 1,200-acre resort from the Kettler family in 2007 (see accompanying timelines.)

"We have great respect for the Buncher Co." Mr. Nutting said. "They have been good stewards of the resort since 2007."

Hidden Valley property owners and season passholders will be more than happy to help Mr. Nutting prepare a to-do list of improvements. Among other things, they'd like:

• A new base lodge, at least twice the size of the existing one, surrounded by a mix of new buildings, including a year-round restaurant.

• A high-speed four-person chairlift to serve the yet-to-be-opened terrain above and beside the current snow tubing area.

• Upgrades in the residential and common areas.

Improvements cost money, and lift ticket fees help to pay for them.

Adult lift tickets on Saturdays, Sundays and weekdays cost $48, $42 and $36, respectively, at Seven Springs during the 2006-07 season, the first winter the Nuttings operated it.

This season, adult lift tickets will cost $75 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and $58 Monday through Thursday. The resort said those are open- to-close rates that enable guests to ski and snowboard up to 11 hours, up to three hours longer than during the 2006 season, when separate night lift tickets had to be purchased.

Few snow sports enthusiasts can ski or snowboard for 11 hours, even if they take time for lunch, mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks and dinner. And snow sliders who push themselves to maximize their time on the slopes can become a hazard to themselves and others.

Hidden Valley's adult weekend lift tickets cost $45 during the 2006-07 season. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday prices last winter were $38, $55 and $52, respectively. They'll cost $57 for each of those three days this year.

Snow sports enthusiasts save money by buying season passes as early as possible, purchasing multiple-day tickets such as Seven Springs Super Seven Card, going online, joining ski/snowboard clubs and taking advantage of discount opportunities.

In a change this year, Seven Springs passholders can upgrade their passes for $50 to ski or snowboard at Hidden Valley. It will cost $100 to enable Hidden Valley passholders to ski or snowboard at Seven Springs. And those who don't have a season pass can buy a Highlands pass for $599 to visit both resorts.

"We have long held a deep appreciation for Hidden Valley and the family experience it offers," said Mr. Nutting. "I have fond memories of skiing [its] slopes and the slopes of Seven Springs with my family during my childhood and with my children.

"Both resorts are strong and important establishments with long histories and bright futures. We will work to ensure that Hidden Valley and Seven Springs grow and thrive as family destinations."

As far as how the resorts will work together, "We will target younger families for Hidden Valley and families with teens or more experienced snowsports enthusiasts for Seven Springs," said Alex Moser, marketing director for both resorts. "While we love all of our guests, that is the demographic we will be focusing on as far as marketing goes."

The Nutting family, which has a 25 percent controlling interest in the Pittsburgh Pirates, is working with the state to re-open Laurel Mountain, a 63-acre ski and snowboard area that overlooks the Ligonier Valley in Westmoreland County.

The family signed an agreement in August 2008 to operate the state-owned area after various improvements are made by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, including a new chairlift and upgrades to its snowmaking and electrical systems. Progress has been glacial.

An initial plan that included snow tubing was withdrawn this year and a second plan is being developed. It would take a major effort by all parties for Laurel Mountain to open for the 2014-15 season.

Lawrence Walsh writes about recreational snow sports for the Post-Gazette.

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