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Snow Sports: Snowfall a windfall for ski business

Sunday, December 29, 2002

By Larry Walsh

The numbers tell the story of the first month of the 2002-2003 ski season. Since Thanksgiving, 49 inches of snow has fallen in the Laurel Highlands, including a 10-inch snowfall that arrived Christmas Eve and lingered until Christmas night.

Skiers practice their snowplow technique amidst the shadows cast by the six-passenger chairlift at Seven Springs. (Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette)

Also since Thanksgiving, overnight temperatures in the Laurel Highlands have been consistently below freezing, even dropping into the single digits at times. That helped to retain the natural snow and enabled snowmakers to add another foot or two of machine-made snow.

As a result, snow sports enthusiasts are enjoying some of the best early season conditions in years.

"We've got every slope and trail open and we're making snow like crazy," said Dick Barron, director of slope operations and the ski patrol at Seven Springs. "We had the biggest Christmas Day turnout in my 32 years here, maybe as many as 4,000 skiers and snowboarders. We were parking cars in the upper parking lot."

"It was the best Christmas in the 70-year history of the resort," Seven Springs spokesman Bob Duppstadt said. "Great conditions, great turnout."

Blue Knob, Hidden Valley, Laurel Mountain, Mystic Mountain, Snowshoe and Wisp also welcomed enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders on Christmas day, some of whom had new equipment and/or clothing to show off.

Laurel Mountain demonstrated the Christmas spirit early when it offered free lift tickets during a special "sneak preview" on Dec. 13, the evening before it officially opened for the season. "We had 618 skiers and snowboarders show up," said Jim Darr, operations manager.

Snowshoe spokesman Joe Stevens said the east-central West Virginia resort received 15 inches of snow on Christmas, an amount that brought its season total to 67 inches -- 57 inches more than it had at this time last year.

Canaan Valley spokesman Bryan Brown said the resort opened more terrain this weekend, thanks to a storm that dropped a foot of snow on the West Virginia resort from 5 a.m. Christmas through 5 a.m. Thursday.

Wisp, the western Maryland resort that overlooks Deep Creek Lake, has received 39 inches of natural snow since Thanksgiving and its snowmaking crew made more than 2 feet more.

For the first time in years, cross country skiers were able to make tracks virtually anywhere in the Laurel Highlands, including sections of the Great Allegheny Passage, the multi-purpose rail-trail that runs for 100 uninterrupted miles from near McKeesport to Meyersdale.

As we all know all too well, snow conditions can change quickly.

Take advantage of them now.

She said yes

Mike Matrunics, a ski patrol candidate at Laurel Mountain, had a question to ask veteran ski patroller Kim Bellas last Thursday morning while they were skiing the Wildcat slope. And it had nothing to do with helping injured skiers and snowboarders.

Would she marry him?

Yes, she said.

The couple was quickly surrounded on the Wildcat slope by other ski patrol members who offered their congratulations. Ski School Director Bob Kuban then skied up with a bottle of champagne. Ski patrollers aren't allowed to drink on duty, so the Matrunics and Bellas enjoyed the bubbly after their shift ended.

Seven Dollar Weekend

As expected, the Seven Dollar Weekend at Wisp -- $7 lift tickets, $7 rental equipment and $7 lessons -- was a big success.

"We had 2,800 skiers and snowboarders on Saturday and 3,500 on Sunday," said Jerry Geisler, vice president of operations and guest services. "We had a whole lot of first-timers who decided to give skiing or snowboarding a try. It was a good showcase for us.

"We also saw some folks we hadn't seen in awhile. It was like a family reunion. They brought their old skis and boots and wore their old clothing, some of which was vintage 1968. We had a disc jockey on Saturday and the place was rocking."

Learn-to-Ski Day

There are still some spaces available for the Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association Learn-to-Ski Day, but make your reservation now.

For $10, a new skier or snowboarder receives a full set of rental equipment, a group lesson and a lift ticket good only for beginner terrain. Reservations are required. Here are the closest participating ski areas:

Blue Knob (1-814-239-5111), Hidden Valley (1-814-443-2600), Mystic Mountain (1-800-422-2736), Seven Springs (1-800-452-2223) and Willowbrook (724-872-7272). The latter ski area is on Route 201 near Belle Vernon.

Snow-tubing Party

The Western Pennsylvania Ski Council, the umbrella organization for 15 local and regional ski clubs, will hold a snow-tubing party from 10 p.m. to midnight Jan.18 at the Seven Springs Snow-Tubing Park.

The cost for adults and children is $7, a savings of $6 over the usual price. The price includes snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. Registration begins at 9:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at the snow-tubing park. Participants can warm up at a bonfire at the bottom of the hill.

For more information, call 1-800- 452-2223, Ext. 7513.

Allegany Expeditions

Allegany Expeditions once again is operating a cross country ski center from 8:30 a.m. until dark Friday through Sunday in the old warming hut of New Germany State Park in western Maryland. The park, which also has a snack bar, is 4 and 1/2 miles south of Exit 22 of Interstate 68 in western Maryland.

Darrell Spence, concessionaire and guide, said he has all new Karhu rental equipment and backcountry skis with metal edges. Rentals are $11 for half-day, $13 for the entire day and $22 for a weekend. One-hour lessons cost $15 and are given at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 1-800-819-5170, 1-301-895-5453 or e-mail: info@alleganyexpeditions.com.

Larry Walsh can be reached at lwalsh@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1488.

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