CHAMPION, Pennsylvania – Expect to see more Ohio license plates in the parking lots at Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs Mountain Resort this ski season, thanks to the recent acquisition of the park by Vail Resorts.
Most season passholders at Ohio’s four Vail parks can also use their passes to ski at Seven Springs and several other resorts in Pennsylvania.
New Seven Springs General Manager Brett Cook said the park will be ready for the Ohio rush with a fully staffed resort.
“The guest experience is going to be much improved,” promised Cook.
Last year, Seven Springs, like many ski resorts, had difficulty finding staff, which meant that restaurants and overnight accommodations weren’t fully open throughout the season.
Cook, the former general manager at Roundtop Mountain Resort near Harrisonburg, said he heard lots of constructive criticism when he started in February.
He promises this year will be better.
Vail purchased the popular Pennsylvania resort at the end of December, but because the sale closed in the middle of the ski season, the previous owners – Pittsburgh’s Nutting family, who also own the Pittsburgh Pirates – continued to operate the park through the winter.
This ski season, the park will be fully incorporated into the Vail system.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing might depend on who you ask.
Vail – which also owns Brandywine, Boston Mills and Alpine Valley in Northeast Ohio – had a tough year last ski season, receiving a torrent of negative publicity for its inability to fully operate many of its parks nationwide. In Ohio, for instance, park hours were limited, leading to long lift lines when the parks were open.
Vail has promised to do better this year, increasing its starting salary to $20 per hour nationwide.
Cook said Seven Springs, which opened for the season on Nov. 25, will be fully staffed this year.
“We’re probably 10 times more staffed in housekeeping and lodging than we were at this time last year,” he said.
Among those planning to make the trip: long-time snowboarder Jake Campbell, the general manager at Brandywine, Boston Mills and Alpine Valley. “It’s just a couple hours’ drive away,” he said. “I will definitely find myself up there.”
Open since the mid-1930s, Seven Springs is one of the nation’s oldest ski resorts, founded by German immigrants Adolph and Helen Dupre. The couple bought 2.5 acres in 1932 and dubbed it Seven Springs Farm, because of the natural springs located on the property. Not long after, the Dupres opened their land to local skiers, building a tow rope powered by a Packard automobile engine.
The resort took off, with chairlifts, night skiing and lodging added over the years.
Today, it’s a true winter playground, with 33 slopes and trails spread across 285 acres. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, there’s snow tubing, indoor mini-golf, bowling, axe throwing and more. (Note: Snowmobile and snowshoe tours, previously offered through Seven Springs, are now available through Highlands Sporting Clays at the top of the mountain.)
Cook said each of the three resorts has its own personality – Hidden Valley is the most relaxed and family friendly; Laurel Mountain is small but mighty, with the steepest terrain in Pennsylvania; and Seven Springs is the one-stop shop, with dining, lodging and entertainment all offered slope-side.
“And the scene at the Foggy Goggle in the winter is unmatched anywhere,” he said, referring to the indoor-outdoor bar at the base of the Seven Springs mountain that is always hopping.
A short-term capital to-do list includes replacing roofs and updating heating and cooling systems throughout the properties. Cook also would like to increase entertainment options for the youngest visitors at Seven Springs.
Like other Vail resorts, Seven Springs will limit the number of daily lift tickets it sells this season, in an effort to prevent overcrowding. Cook said he expects only a handful of days to sell out.
“Guests shouldn’t have an issue on the vast majority of the days,” he said.
He added, “Anytime there’s an acquisition, there is the fear of the unknown. Everything you have come to know and enjoy about Seven Springs is still here. And we’re going to make it even better.”