The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast
The Storm Skiing Journal and Podcast
Podcast #116: Seven Springs, Laurel, & Hidden Valley VP & GM Brett Cook

Podcast #116: Seven Springs, Laurel, & Hidden Valley VP & GM Brett Cook

Checking in on Vail Resorts' latest U.S. acquisitions

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Brett Cook, Vice President and General Manager of Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and Laurel Mountain, Pennsylvania

Cook. Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts.

Recorded on

January 30, 2023

About Seven Springs

Owned by: Vail Resorts

Pass affiliations: Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass, Northeast Value Epic Pass, Northeast Midweek Epic Pass

Located in: Seven Springs, Pennsylvania

Year opened: 1932

Closest neighboring ski areas: Hidden Valley (17 minutes), Laurel Mountain (45 minutes), Nemacolin (46 minutes), Boyce Park (1 hour), Wisp (1 hour), Blue Knob (1 hour, 30 minutes)

Base elevation: 2,240 feet

Summit elevation: 2,994 feet

Vertical drop: 754 feet

Skiable Acres: 285

Average annual snowfall: 135 inches

Trail count: 48 (5 expert, 6 advanced, 15 intermediate, 16 beginner, 6 terrain parks)

Lift count: 14­­ (2 six-packs, 4 fixed-grip quads, 4 triples, 3 carpets, 1 ropetow)

View historic Seven Springs trailmaps on

About Hidden Valley

Owned by: Vail Resorts

Pass affiliations: Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass, Northeast Value Epic Pass, Northeast Midweek Epic Pass

Located in: Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania

Year opened: 1955

Closest neighboring ski areas: Seven Springs (17 minutes), Laurel Mountain (34 minutes), Mystic Mountain (50 minutes), Boyce Park (54 minutes),Wisp (1 hour), Blue Knob (1 hour 19 minutes)

Base elevation: 2,405 feet

Summit elevation: 2,875 feet

Vertical drop: 470 feet

Skiable Acres: 110

Average annual snowfall: 140 inches

Trail count: 32 (9 advanced, 13 intermediate, 8 beginner, 2 terrain parks)

Lift count: 8 (2 fixed-grip quads, 2 triples, 2 carpets, 2 handle tows)

View historic Hidden Valley trailmaps on

About Laurel Mountain

Owned by: Vail Resorts

Pass affiliations: Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass, Northeast Value Epic Pass, Northeast Midweek Epic Pass

Located in: Boswell, Pennsylvania

Year opened: 1939

Closest neighboring ski areas: Hidden Valley (34 minutes), Seven Springs (45 minutes), Boyce Park (1 hour), Blue Knob (1 hour), Mystic Mountain (1 hour, 15 minutes), Wisp (1 hour, 15 minutes)

Base elevation: 2,005 feet

Summit elevation: 2,766 feet

Vertical drop: 761 feet

Skiable Acres: 70

Average annual snowfall: 41 inches

Trail count: 20 (2 expert, 2 advanced, 6 intermediate, 10 beginner)

Lift count: 2­­ (1 fixed-grip quad, 1 handle tow)

Laurel Mountain also has a handle tow that runs along the Tame Cat trail. View historic Laurel Mountain trailmaps on

Below the paid subscriber jump: a summary of our podcast conversation, a look at abandoned Hidden Valley expansions, historic Laurel Mountain lift configurations, and much more.

Beginning with podcast 116, the full podcast articles are no longer available on the free content tier. Why? They take between 10 and 20 hours to research and write, and readers have demonstrated that they are willing to pay for content. My current focus with The Storm is to create value for anyone who invests their money into the product. Here are examples of a few past podcast articles, if you would like to see the format: Vail Mountain, Mt. Spokane, Snowbasin, Mount Bohemia, Brundage. To anyone who is supporting The Storm: thank you very much. You have guaranteed that this is a sustainable enterprise for the indefinite future.

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Why I interviewed him

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. Most Vail ski areas fall into one of two categories: the kind skiers will fly around the world for, and the kind skiers won’t drive more than 15 minutes for. Whistler, Park City, Heavenly fall into the first category. Mt. Brighton, Alpine Valley, Paoli Peaks into the latter. I exaggerate a bit on the margins, but when I drive from New York City to Liberty Mountain, I know this is not a well-trod path.

Seven Springs, like Hunter or Attitash, occupies a slightly different category in the Vail empire. It is both a regional destination and a high-volume big-mountain feeder. Skiers will make a weekend of these places, from Pittsburgh or New York City or Boston, then they will use the pass to vacation in Colorado. It’s a better sort of skiing than your suburban knolls, more sprawling and interesting, more repeatable for someone who doesn’t know what a Corky Flipdoodle 560 is.

“Brah that sounds sick!”

Thanks Park Brah. I appreciate you. But you know I just made that up, right?

“Brah have you seen my shoulder-mounted Boombox 5000 backpack speaker? I left it right here beside my weed vitamins.”

Sorry Brah. I have not.

Anyway, I happen to believe that these sorts of in-the-middle resorts are the next great frontier of ski area consolidation. All the big mountains have either folded under the Big Four umbrella or have gained so much megapass negotiating power that the incentive to sell has rapidly evaporated. The city-adjacent bumps such as Boston Mills were a novel and highly effective strategy for roping cityfolk into Epic Passes, but as pure ski areas, those places just are not and never will be terribly compelling experiences. But the middle is huge and mostly untapped, and these are some of the best ski areas in America, mountains that are large enough to give you a different experience each time but contained enough that you don’t feel as though you’ve just wandered into an alternate dimension. There’s enough good terrain to inspire loyalty and repeat visits, but it’s not so good that passholders don’t dream of the hills beyond.

Examples: Timberline, West Virginia; Big Powderhorn, Michigan; Berkshire East and Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts; Plattekill, New York; Elk Mountain, Pennsylvania; Mt. Spokane, Washington; Bear Valley, California; Cascade or Whitecap, Wisconsin; Magic Mountain, Vermont; or Black Mountain, New Hampshire. There are dozens more. Vail’s Midwestern portfolio is expansive but bland, day-ski bumps but no weekend-type spots on the level of Crystal Mountain, Michigan or Lutsen, Minnesota.

If you want to understand the efficacy of this strategy, the Indy Pass was built on it. Ninety percent of its roster is the sorts of mountains I’m referring to above. Jay Peak and Powder Mountain sell passes, but dang it Bluewood and Shanty Creek are kind of nice now that the pass nudged me toward them. Once Vail and Alterra realize how crucial these middle mountains are to filling in the pass blanks, expect them to start competing for the space. Seven Springs, I believe, is a test case in how impactful a regional destination can be both in pulling skiers in and pushing them out across the world. Once this thing gels, look the hell out.

Hidden Valley. Note the density of homes surrounding the ski area. Photo courtesy of Vail Resorts.

What we talked about

The not-so-great Western Pennsylvania winter so far; discovering skiing as an adult; from liftie to running the largest ski resort in Pennsylvania; the life and death of Snow Time Resorts; joining the Peak Pass; two ownership transitions in less than a year, followed by Covid; PA ski culture; why the state matters to Vail; helping a Colorado ski company understand the existential urgency of snowmaking in the East; why Vail doubled down on PA with the Seven Springs purchase when they already owned five ski areas in the state; breaking down the difference between the Roundtop-Liberty-Whitetail trio and the Seven-Springs-Hidden-Valley-Laurel trio; the cruise ship in the mountains; rugged and beautiful Western PA; dissecting the amazing outsized snowfall totals in Western Pennsylvania; Vail Resorts’ habit of promoting from within; how Vail’s $20-an-hour minimum wage hit in Pennsylvania; the legacy of the Nutting family, the immediate past owners of the three ski areas; the legendary Herman Dupree, founder of Seven Springs and HKD snowguns; Seven Springs amazing sprawling snowmaking system, complete with 49(!) ponds; why the system isn’t automated and whether it ever will be; how planting more trees could change the way Seven Springs skis; connecting the ski area’s far-flung beginner terrain; where we could see additional glades at Seven Springs; rethinking the lift fleet; the importance of redundant lifts; do we still need Tyrol?; why Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and Laurel share a single general manager; thinking of lifts long-term at Hidden Valley; Hidden Valley’s abandoned expansion plans and whether they could ever be revived; the long and troubled history of state-owned Laurel Mountain; keeping the character at this funky little upside-down boomer; “We love what Laurel Mountain is and we’re going to continue to own that”; building out Laurel’s snowmaking system; expansion potential at Laurel; “Laurel is a hidden gem and we don’t want it to be hidden anymore”; Laurel’s hidden handletow; evolving Laurel’s lift fleet; managing a state-owned ski area; Seven Springs’ new trailmap; the Epic Pass arrives; and this season’s lift-ticket limits.        

Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview

When Vail bought Peak Resorts in 2019, they suddenly owned nearly a quarter of Pennsylvania’s ski areas: Big Boulder, Jack Frost, Whitetail, Roundtop, and Liberty. That’s a lot of Eagles jerseys. And enough, I thought, that we wouldn’t see VR snooping around for more PA treasures to add to their toybox.

Then, to my surprise, the company bought Seven Springs – which they clearly wanted – along with Hidden Valley and Laurel, which they probably didn’t, in late 2021. Really what they bought was Pittsburgh, metropolitan population 2.3 million, and their large professional class of potentially globe-trotting skiers. All these folks needed was an excuse to buy an Epic Pass. Vail gave them one.

So now what? Vail knows what to do with a large, regionally dominant ski area like Seven Springs. It’s basically Pennsylvania’s version of Stowe or Park City or Heavenly. It was pretty good when you bought it, now you just have to not ruin it and remind everyone that they can now ski Whistler on their season pass. Hidden Valley, with its hundreds of on-mountain homeowners, suburban-demographic profile, and family orientation more or less fit Vail’s portfolio too.

But what to do with Laurel? Multiple locals assured me that Vail would close it. Vail doesn’t do that – close ski areas – but they also don’t buy 761-vertical-foot bumps at the ass-end of nowhere with almost zero built-in customer base and the snowmaking firepower of a North Pole souvenir snowglobe. They got it because it came with Seven Springs, like your really great spouse who came with a dad who thinks lawnmowers are an FBI conspiracy. I know what I think Vail should do with Laurel – dump money into the joint to aggressively route crowds away from the larger ski areas – but I didn’t know whether they would, or had even considered it.

Vail’s had 14 months now to think this over. What are these mountains? How do they fit? What are we going to do with them? I got some answers.

Questions I wish I’d asked

You know, it’s weird that Vail has two Hidden Valleys. Boyne, just last year, changed the name of its “Boyne Highlands” resort to “The Highlands,” partly because, one company executive told me, skiers would occasionally show up to the wrong resort with a condo reservation. I imagine that’s why Earl Holding ultimately backed off on renaming Snowbasin to “Sun Valley, Utah,” as he reportedly considered doing in the leadup to the 2002 Olympics – if you give people an easy way to confuse themselves, they will generally take you up on it.

I realize this is not really the same thing. Boyne Mountain and The Highlands are 40 minutes apart. Vail’s two Hidden Valleys are 10-and-a-half hours from each other by car. Still. I wanted to ask Cook if this weird fact had any hilarious unintended consequences (I desperately wish Holding would have renamed Snowbasin). Perhaps confusion in the Epic Mix app? Or someone purchasing lift tickets for the incorrect resort? An adult lift ticket at Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania for tomorrow is $75 online and $80 in person, but just $59 online/$65 in person for Hidden Valley, Missouri. Surely someone has confused the two?

So, which one should we rename? And what should we call it? Vail has been trying to win points lately with lift names that honor local landmarks – they named their five new lifts at Jack Frost-Big Boulder “Paradise,” “Tobyhanna,” “Pocono,” “Harmony,” and “Blue Heron” (formerly E1 Lift, E2 Lift, B Lift, C Lift, E Lift, F Lift, Merry Widow I, Merry Widow II, and Edelweiss). So how about renaming Hidden Valley PA to something like “Allegheny Forest?” Or call Hidden Valley, Missouri “Mississippi Mountain?” Yes, both of those names are terrible, but so is having two Hidden Valleys in the same company.

What I got wrong

  • I guessed in the podcast that Pennsylvania was the “fifth- or sixth-largest U.S. state by population.” It is number five, with an approximate population of 13 million, behind New York (19.6M), Florida (22.2M), Texas (30M), and California (39M).

  • I guessed that the base of Keystone is “nine or 10,000 feet.” The River Run base area sits at 9,280 feet.

  • I mispronounced the last name of Seven Springs founder Herman Dupre as “Doo-Pree.” It is pronounced “Doo-Prey.”

  • I said there were “lots” of thousand-vertical-foot ski areas in Pennsylvania. There are, in fact, just four: Blue Mountain (1,140 feet), Blue Knob (1,073 feet), Elk (1,000 feet), and Montage (1,000 feet).

Why you should ski Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and Laurel

It’s rugged country out there. Not what you’re thinking. More Appalachian crag than Poconos scratch. Abrupt and soaring. Beautiful. And snowy. In a state where 23 of 28 ski areas average fewer than 50 inches of snow per season, Seven Springs and Laurel bring in 135-plus apiece.

Elevation explains it. A 2,000-plus-foot base is big-time in the East. Killington sits at 1,165 feet. Sugarloaf at 1,417. Stowe at 1,559. All three ski areas sit along the crest of 70-mile-long Laurel Ridge, a storm door on the western edge of the Allegheny Front that rakes southeast-bound moisture from the sky as it trains out of Lake Erie.

When the snow doesn’t come, they make it. Now that Big Boulder has given up, Seven Springs is typically the first ski area in the state to open. It fights with Camelback for last-to-close. Twelve hundred snowguns and 49 snowmaking ponds help.

Seven Springs doesn’t have the state’s best pure ski terrain – look to Elk Mountain or, on the rare occasions it’s fully open, Blue Knob for that – but it’s Pennsylvania’s largest, most complete, and, perhaps, most consistent operation. It is, in fact, the biggest ski area in the Mid-Atlantic, a ripping and unpretentious ski region where you know you’ll get turns no matter how atrocious the weather gets.

Hidden Valley is something different. Cozy. Easy. Built for families on parade. Laurel is something different too. Steep and fierce, a one-lift wonder dug out of the graveyard by an owner with more passion, it seems, than foresight. Laurel needs snowmaking. Top to bottom and on every trail. The hill makes no sense in 2023 without it. Vail won’t abandon the place outright, but if they don’t knock $10 million in snowmaking into the dirt, they’ll be abandoning it in principle.

Podcast Notes

The trailmap rabbit hole – Hidden Valley

We discussed the proposed-but-never-implemented expansion at Hidden Valley, which would have sat skier’s right of the Avalanche pod. Here it is on the 2010 trailmap:

The 2002 version actually showed three potential lifts serving this pod:

Unfortunately, this expansion is unlikely. Cook explains why in the pod.

The trailmap rabbit hole – Laurel

Laurel, which currently has just one quad and a handletow, has carried a number of lift configurations over the decades. This circa 1981 trailmap shows a double chair where the quad now sits, and a series of surface lifts climbing the Broadway side of the hill, and another set of them bunched at the summit:

The 2002 version shows a second chairlift – which I believe was a quad – looker’s right, and surface lifts up top to serve beginners, tubers, and the terrain park:

Related: here’s a pretty good history of all three ski areas, from 2014.

The Pennsylvania ski inventory rabbithole

Pennsylvania skiing is hard to get. No one seems to know how many ski areas the state has. The NSAA says there are 26. Cook referenced 24 on the podcast. The 17 that Wikipedia inventories include Alpine Mountain, which has been shuttered for years. Ski Central (22), Visit PA (21), and Ski Resort Info (25) all list different numbers. My count is 28. Most lists neglect to include the six private ski areas that are owned by homeowners’ associations or reserved for resort guests. Cook and I also discussed which ski area owned the state’s highest elevation (it’s Blue Knob), so I included base and summit elevations as well:

The why-is-Vail-allowed-to-own-80-percent-of-Ohio’s-public-ski-areas? rabbithole

Cook said he wasn’t sure how many ski areas there are in Ohio. There are six. One is a private club. Snow Trails is family-owned. Vail owns the other four. I think this shouldn’t be allowed, especially after how poorly Vail managed them last season, and especially how badly Snow Trails stomped them from an operations point of view. But here we are:

The steepest-trail rabbithole

We discuss Laurel’s Wildcat trail, which the ski area bills as the steepest in the state. I generally avoid echoing these sorts of claims, which are hard to prove and not super relevant to the actual ski experience. You’ll rarely see skiers lapping runs like Rumor at Gore or White Lightning at Montage, mostly because they frankly just aren’t that much fun, exercises in ice-rink survival skiing for the Brobot armies. But if you want the best primer I’ve seen on this subject, along with an inventory of some very steep U.S. ski trails, read this one on The article doesn’t mention Laurel’s Wildcat trail, but the ski area was closed sporadically and this site’s heyday was about a decade ago, so it may have been left out as a matter of circumstance.

The “back in my day” rabbithole

I referenced an old “punchcard program” at Roundtop during our conversation. I was referring to the Night Club Program offered by former-former owner Snow Time Resorts at Roundtop, Liberty, and Whitetail. When Snow Time sold the ski area in 2018 to Peak Resorts, the buyer promptly dropped the evening programs. When Vail purchased the resort in 2019, it briefly re-instated some version of them (I think), but I don’t believe they survived the Covid winter (2020-21). This 5,000-word March 2019 article (written four months before Vail purchased the resorts) from DC Ski distills the rage around this abrupt pass policy change. Four years later, I still get emails about this, and not infrequently. I’m kind of surprised Vail hasn’t offered some kind of Pennsylvania-specific pass, since they have more ski areas in that state (eight) than they have in any other, including Colorado (five). After all, the company sells an Ohio-specific pass that started at just $299 last season. Why not a PA-specific version for, say, $399, for people who want to ski always and only at Roundtop or Liberty or Big Boulder? Or a nights-only pass?

I suppose Vail could do this, and I suspect they won’t. The Northeast Value Pass – good for mostly unlimited access at all of the company’s ski areas from Michigan on east – sold for $514 last spring. A midweek version ran $385. A seven-day Epic Day Pass good at all the Pennsylvania ski areas was just $260 for adults and $132 for kids aged 5 to 12. I understand that there is a particular demographic of skiers who will never ski north of Harrisburg and will never stop blowing up message boards with their disappointment and rage over this. The line between a sympathetic character and a tedious one is thin, however, and eventually we’re all better off focusing our energies on the things we can control.

The Storm publishes year-round, and guarantees 100 articles per year. This is article 9/100 in 2023, and number 395 since launching on Oct. 13, 2019. Want to send feedback? Reply to this email and I will answer (unless you sound insane, or, more likely, I just get busy). You can also email