If you’re prone to start waxing your cross-country skis the minute you hear about the season’s first snowfall, you know that you need options. Rest assured that you can hop in the car in Pittsburgh and be at Laurel Ridge Cross-Country Ski Area within an hour and a half. There are some 30 kilometers of groomed ski trails in the state park, open to cross-country and skate skiing plus snowshoeing.
Situated at 2,700 feet, Laurel Ridge (aka The Ridge) can see more than 100 inches of snow in a good year. The season runs from Nov. 15 through April 15, snow dependent. Check the webcam; it could be dry at the bottom of the mountain but snowy up top. Usually a good base accumulates with grooming, so once the season begins in earnest you’re generally good to go until spring. Every weekday, an on-site concession (open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) offers gear rentals, lessons plus food and drink. The trail fee is $15 per day for adults, $10 for children 12 and under. Though the park is open Tuesdays through Thursdays and you can still access the trails (for free!), the concession is not open and the trails aren’t groomed these days. A small shelter near the concession, however, is open every day.
Most of the trails are flowy so they are good for beginner and intermediate skiers. The trails are groomed with a wide skating lane and tracks along the side for classic cross-country skiing. When the snow accumulates on the trees in this hardwood forest, it really is a little winter wonderland. And whether you tackle 1K or 10K, be sure to reward yourself with a stop in the warming hut near the trailhead.