What's new at Pittsburgh-area ski resorts this season
November 13, 2015 12:00 AM
Snow tubing is a popular evening activity at Wisp Resort.
X marks the mid-air spot for this high-flying freestyle skier at Wisp Resort.
Skiers enjoy carving turns in fresh snow at Holiday Valley, N.Y.
By Lawrence Walsh / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh’s regional ski resorts won’t be introducing any new snazzy ski lodges or other big ticket items this coming season, but they’ve made a number of improvements aimed at enhancing the overall experience for all snowsports enthusiasts.
They’ve spent millions of dollars — from lighting, to snowmaking and grooming improvements, to hotel and lodge renovations and equipment upgrades — to prepare for the 2015-16 season. What’s been done at your favorite resort? Read on.
Make the winter count!
Here are some tips and special opportunities that will enhance your experiences during the 2015-16 snowsports season:
• January is Learn a Snowsport Month by SnowSports Industries, an organization that represents suppliers and retailers and promotes the growth and development of snowsports. And, once again, local and regional resorts are offering special money-saving packages that include a beginner lesson, lift ticket and rental equipment. Offers vary and are determined by each resort. The goal is to make it more affordable for newcomers to learn. Participating resorts include: Blue Knob, Hidden Valley, Mystic Mountain at Nemacolin Woodlands, Seven Springs, Ski Sawmill Family Resort and Whitetail in Pennsylvania; Canaan Valley, Timberline and Snowshoe in West Virginia; Holiday Valley, Kissing Bridge and Peek’n Peak in New York and Wisp in Maryland. More than 600,000 children and adults have taken ski and snowboard lessons in January, including 118,000 last year, since the SIA introduced the Learn A Snowsport Month program in 2009. Information: www.learntoskiandsnowboard.org.
• The Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association has a special program for fourth- and fifth-graders. Visit www.skipa.com for details.
• College students, law enforcement, first responders and active members of the military are eligible for discounts at many resorts.
• Telepalooza 2016: A Telemark Ski Festival that offers free telemark instruction for children 16 and younger, will be held Jan. 30-31 at Seven Springs. Instructors certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America will conduct morning and afternoon clinics on both days. Telemark equipment is available for rent at the resort. The event, sponsored by the Appalachian Telemark Association, includes races on both days, food, drink and “awesome prizes,” said organizer Jim Kapp. Registration: 8 to 9 a.m. in the main lodge. Cost for two days: $160 for ATA members, $180 for non-members. Cost for one day: $120 for ATA members and $140 for non-members. Go to www.telemarker.org to sign up.
• Cross-Country Clinic: The Friends of Oil Creek State Park will host their annual Cross Country Ski Clinic beginning at noon Dec. 6. There will be a ski-equipment swap, a discussion on several cross country ski topics, ski waxing and preparation and an opportunity to try Skiking. (Think roller skiing). Guests will include Russ Meyer, a certified ski instructor and wax technician with Toko and Alan Hough, a certified Skike instructor. Cost $20. There will be an extra fee of $10 for waxing each pair of skis. Information: www.friendsocsp.org; www.dcnr.state.pa.us; and www.skikepa.com.
• Tip: If you need rental equipment and want to save time and aggravation, get it the night before you need it and insure it for about $2 a day.
• It also pays to safeguard rental or personal equipment by checking it or locking it up every time you go inside the lodge. Checking it costs about $2 for unlimited access all day.
The Allegheny County-owned area in Plum spent $100,000 to improve its lighting system for night skiing and snowboarding and to purchase more rental equipment for children.
“We were running out of rental gear, especially on weekends and holidays,” said Clarence Hopson, deputy director of recreation. He attributed the growth in business to the area’s much-improved snowmaking system.
“That’s the key,” he said. “If you have snow, people will come.”
The Somerset County resort has purchased two Prinoth BR 350 snow-grooming machines, each of which cost in the six figures, and installed three portable snowmaking stations on Bobcat, the main learning slope. It cleared glades and improved the off-loading area at the top of the Avalanche quad chairlift that beginners and novices will especially appreciate. Interior lodge improvements include the remodeling of the Alpine and Yukon rooms, the rearrangement of the seating area in the Sunrise Sunset Cafe to improve traffic flow and new carpeting.
It also welcomed Brett Lesnick, formerly at Wisp, as the new director of the snowsports school.
Grooming also will be enhanced here with the purchase of four Pisten Bully 400 ParkPro snow-grooming machines and five HKD SV 10 Impulse snowmaking towers that were installed at the top of North Face. It has moved several snowmaking stations to improve coverage in heavy traffic areas, cleared some glades and purchased 175 pairs of Rossignol rental ski boots.
“This year’s package of projects and improvements focused on fine-tuning the guest experience,” said Eric Mauck, chief executive officer of Seven Springs and Hidden Valley.
Ski magazine readers and TransWorld SNOWboarding magazine rated The Spot, the resort’s main terrain park, as second best on the East Coast.
The 4-acre site will host the U.S. Revolution Tour finals for amateur freeskiers and snowboarders in half pipe and slope style competitions March 14-18, and the Burton Qualifiers for amateur snowboarders on March 26.
The resort has hired Jeff “Jb” Brier, formerly a staff trainer at Breckenridge, Colo., Ski & Ride School, as its new snowsports school director. It also has established a partnership with professional freestyle skier Tom Wallisch of Pittsburgh who will make public appearances and video shoots at the resort. Mr. Wallisch grew up honing his skills at the resort’s terrain parks.
In addition, Seven Springs has created the Uphill Ski Access program for cross country skiers who attach what are called climbing skins to the bottom of their skis to slide up the slopes. It will be open from 7 to 9 a.m. daily.
Among other improvements, the resort opened the Highlands Market on County Line Road just outside the main gate. It has seating for 30, and offers house-made food, a large craft beer selection, fresh coffee and grocery items. Foggy Brews on the second floor of the base lodge will be open every day during the season.
The McHenry, Md. resort overlooking Deep Creek Lake spent more than $780,000 in renovations to the Wisp Resort Hotel where the fifth, sixth and seventh floors were remodeled. What was once the back of the hotel is now the front with the new Porte’ Cochere and an upgraded front desk.
The mountain operations team also made improvements to snowmaking and installed new seat pads on Chairlift No. 1 and some on Chairlift No. 2. In addition, season passholders can receive up to six complimentary lift tickets at Wintergreen in Roseland, Va. (www.wintergreen resort.com) and Ragged Mountain (www.raggedmountainresort.com) in Danbury, N.H., according to Lori Epp, Wisp marketing director. Pacific Group Resorts, based in Utah, owns both resorts as well as Wisp.
Canaan Valley in West Virginia has opened glade skiing between two expert-rated trails, an addition that general manager Steve Drumheller said achieves “an improved balance of offerings for our two main groups of visitors —- beginning and intermediate skiers and families.” He said the Kidz Korner for children ages 2-6 provides a place where they will be safely entertained while parents ski/snowboard on their own, or with older children. There’s also a slow-ski area near the base of the hill.
The snowsports school offers adaptive lessons, cross country and telemark skiing and has instituted the “Smart Style Terrain Initiative,” a joint effort of the National Ski Areas Association and Burton Snowboards to promote the proper use of terrain parks. Mr. Drumheller said the $34 million renovation of the 160-room Main Lodge, completed in 2013, has been well received. There’s a free shuttle service from the lodge to the Bear Paw base lodge at the slopes.
This West Virginia resort — with the highest elevations in the region — installed 75 high tech, low-energy snow guns from top to bottom on Cupp Run, a challenging slope with a 1,500-foot vertical drop. It also has been a challenge to make and maintain snow on it because it faces west. The resort moved most of Cupp’s old snowguns to Shay’s Revenge, a neighboring slope that also faces west. Sunset Glades, a new 5-acre wooded run for experts only between Cupp Run and Shay‘s Revenge, was cleared of entangling ground cover during the summer but its trees remain as nature’s own slalom poles.
Evolution Park, a new 10-acre freestyle terrain park in the Basin, has features designed to help skiers and snowboarders graduate from the smaller features of Progressive Park to the larger features of Mountaineer at Silver Creek. The mountain operations team replaced thousands of feet of snowmaking pipe at Silver Creek to improve the efficiency of the snowmaking system. The Terrain Park crew then cut and welded some of the old pipe to create features for the Terrain Park. “Recycling is fun,” said spokesman Shawn Cassell.
The New York resort spent $4 million to build a road to improve access to the base area, move parking closer to the lodge, and improve pedestrian circulation and safety, installed lighting on Peppermint Lane and EZ Way to make it easier for beginners to get around the resort, continued renovations at the slope side Inn at Holiday Valley and added 37 more automated HKD snowguns to its snowmaking system.
“The automated guns are more energy efficient and allow us to make more snow, better snow and . . . make [it during] short windows of opportunity,” said Jane Eshbaugh, marketing director.
“Last year we were able to make snow in November when it was cold, open early [and] then keep making snow during the few cold snaps we had through the generally warm December,” she said.
Some neighboring resorts didn’t open until after Christmas. “We’re so proud of our No. 3 ranking in the Ski magazine reader survey,” she added.
Holiday Valley’s lift system, access to the resort, lodging, dining and kid friendliness were all ranked No. 2. On-mountain food, apres ski and off-mountain activities were ranked No. 3. Service was ranked No. 6 and terrain parks were No. 7. Dennis Eshbaugh, president and general manager, said this marks the 10th time in 12 years that Holiday Valley has ranked in the Top 10 resorts in Eastern North America.
Lawrence Walsh writes about recreational snowsports for the Post-Gazette.
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