Ever since visiting Ohiopyle State Park on a whim this summer, I’ve been a fan of the Laurel Highlands and want to start visiting more often. I enjoy this part of PA that’s still fairly undeveloped, picturesque, yet still highly accessible and very organized for the visiting tourist (the trails are all well kept, everything is marked-some places just cater to visitors more than others). I enjoy it immensely.
You know what I don’t enjoy? MapQuest. Or GPS’s. Or any mobile phone direction app, really.
My cousin and I were going out to Pittsburgh this two weekends ago to visit my brother, and decided that we’d meet him Saturday afternoon at the Laurel Ridge XC Ski Center, located in Laurel Ridge State Park, to check out the groomed trail system that the Pennsylvania Cross Country Skiers Association keeps there. I’ve been making it my mission this winter to check out as many XC ski locales in PA as possible, and every since this summer’s foray to Ohiopyle exceeded my expectations, Laurel Ridge has been high up on my list-my brother was also excited to get some skiing in, as Pittsburgh has seen very little snow this year.
As I alluded to before, the ride from Pittsburgh to Ohipyle is easy and well marked, however we’d be coming the opposite direction, from NEPA via Harrisburg and the PA Turnpike.
My brother called us right as we were about to exit in Somerset/Bedford, and assured us that it was less than a 15 minutes drive till we got off the highway. The GPS backed up his story with a 10 minute ETA. I mistakenly thought we were going to be early, until that dickish computerized British accent assured me that a bunch of froze corn fields were indeed “our destination.” I had my cousin put the address into his phone, which just kept telling us it couldn’t find anything. Undeterred, we stopped at a small general store, that didn’t have any bathrooms, but did have a very confused clerk who, to put it nicely, smelled very ripe, and was sort of able to point us in the right direction. We left there, confident that we could figure it out when my cousin’s GPS decided that it once again worked. Even though our smelly friend more or less told us it was directly off of state route 653, we decided that the unmarked dirt road his phone was directing us down was probably a short cut. It may have been, but we’ll never know. After going far enough to decide we might as well commit at that point, the road closed. We turned around, and to our dismay, found that had we just stuck on the main road, we would have been there in under 5 minutes.
Much like Crystal Lake, there were many more people there than I expected-it’s nice to see I’m not the only one in PA who likes to ski on flat (more or less) ground. We hurried from the car up to the lodge to meet my brother, who had been waiting for us for about an hour at this point. The lodge is where you pay your very reasonable $8.00 trail free, can rent skis, and purchase food and snacks-they were serving enchiladas and chili, when we were there, and Facebook tells me they have a pretty rotating menu.
We were in a hurry to get going, so all I had was a Cliff Bar. We got changed into our boots, consulted the map, judged a fellow skier who turned down a post ski bar invite in order to make “quinoa salad for the week,” and then set off along the trail. We decided to take the red trail to the yellow, based on the fact that we consider ourselves “intermediate skiers.”
The trails are marked by color. The red seems to be the trail that connects and bisects the most others. The orange is the longest, at 10 Km, which we initially intended to take, however my cousin is recovering from a hernia, so we figured that wouldn’t be wise (the fact that he was skiing at all probably wasn’t that wise, but that’s on him). We chose the yellow, which was 2nd longest and rated as difficult, and although it was a workout and a half, and I was half regretting it at moments that day, it was a fun choice.
The remaining trails: green, blue, etc, stick pretty close to the lodge, and the “warming hut” (an entity who was widely advertised, but that I did not see)-they’d be pretty perfect for those of you wanting to give XC skiing a go for the first time. As I mentioned, I’m glad we picked the yellow-it provided us with a ski of varied elevation, difficulty, and meandered far enough away from the other trails to make you feel like you were in the middle of nowhere. If you go and chose this trail, a word or warning: it is very steep and you will sweat-Saturday was borderline warm to begin with-the snow was getting to that soft spot that if it was a couple of degree warmer, would’ve been a pain, and I ended up having to lose my top layers and rock out just an underarmour top, which is much more form fitting than my physique really warrants.
Our ski clocked in at a little over 6 km and just under 2 hours. I could have easily stayed and explored the rest of the trails, however we were beat, my cousin had a party in Pittsburg he needed to get too, and we’re scumbags who really wanted to grab some adult beverages. I’d go back for sure to Laurel Ridge, and would love to spend a weekend going down to Ohiopyle and skiing or snowshoeing the trails there.
Seven Springs resort is a mere 15 minutes from Laurel Ridge, so after our ski we headed there to grab some dinner and drinks at the Foggy Goggle, the resort’s slopeside bar that a lot of my friends have raved about. Before getting back to the important stuff, Seven Springs bears mention in its own right as a great Laurel Ridge location for all sorts of winter fun-I wrote about it back in December-check out that link here. Anyhow, I love a good ski bar, and the Foggy Goggle did not disappoint.
They had everything you could want-4 dollars pounders of Bud Light Lime (a garbage beer for garbage people), a DJ remixing “Blank Space” with “Ghetto Superstar,” and lots of middle aged couples who looked like they were trying to reclaim their youth-I’m not trying to be satirical here-I actually love that stuff, although after reading this I realize I probably made some of you want to never set foot there.
We only stayed for an hour, again, because of my cousin’s party, but unamimously decided that had that party not been occurring, we would have pooled together some money, split a hotel room, and made a night of it-I definitely think that next year a weekend trip for a group of friends in the Laurel Highlands will be on the menu.