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  • Writer's pictureThe River Fund Maine

Ski areas take steps to offer better snow, prices, experience

Several resorts are offering new deals, striving for prime conditions and upgrading aprés-ski outdoor courtyards, with the season opening soon for all.

By DEIRDRE FLEMING Staff Writer, Press Herald

At Alpine ski areas across Maine, it’s clear the pandemic is in the rearview mirror heading into this winter, given significant upgrades, ticket discounts and even plans for live bands to return to lodges. In an effort to draw more skiers and snowboarders, several resorts are striving to make snowmaking more effective in warmer temperatures, offering more deals to lure newbies, and upgrading aprés-ski outdoor courtyards. After an unusually mild fall, few ski areas are setting target opening dates. But in general, the mid-sized and smaller mountains are shooting for Christmas vacation week, while the bigger resorts started testing their snow guns last week with the goal of opening soon. Sunday River in Newry was the first to open last week. Here is a look at what’s new at some of the most popular Alpine ski areas around the state: SADDLEBACK, which opened on Friday, continues to add new infrastructure three years after it was purchased and reopened by the Arctaris Impact Fund, which has invested $30 million in the Rangeley ski area. Saddleback added the Sandy Quad that services the Wheeler Slope and is in the process of finishing the $4 million, 2,700-square-foot mid-mountain lodge. The restaurant is expected to open later this winter and seat about 70. In addition, Saddleback is building tiny houses that will offer more affordable rentals for guests. As many as 60 of the 500-square-foot cabins will come online next winter, but a few demo models can be seen now. One located outside the base lodge was converted into the new outside bar: Sneaky Pete’s. Saddleback also added on-mountain employee housing that has slope-side access. The Saddleback House apartments will offer about 60 beds in December and about 40 more next year. “The fact it is right off a ski trail is unique. There is not a lot of housing of its kind anywhere in the country,” said Molly Shaw of Saddleback’s marketing team. Snowmaking upgrades also continue at Saddleback. SUGARLOAF in Carrabassett Valley added 100 low-energy snow guns and a new pump house on the west side of the mountain to allow for more snow-making earlier in the season. A new T-bar opening later in the winter on Competition Hill means that during Alpine competitions, athletes will get up to the start gates faster – and decrease traffic on other lifts. And after three years of pandemic holdups, entertainment returns to the Widowmaker in the Base Lodge with a full schedule of latenight bands. In addition, the popular “Beach” courtyard outside the lodge is getting a facelift, with a retaining wall and steps down from the ski trails to keep the area in the courtyard around the fire pit dry and free of snow. SUNDAY RIVER, as usual, was the first ski area in Maine to turn the chairlifts on this year when it opened trails on a few peaks last week for season-pass holders. This weekend, the lifts are available for those purchasing daily tickets. The ski area added an eight-person bubble lift in the Jordan Bowl and invested in additional snowmaking equipment by replacing nearly 3 miles of snowmaking pipe and installing 26 new fan guns and 111 tower guns. A new snowmaking booster pump house was constructed at the North Peak to allow for more snow distribution to the western peaks and double the snowmaking capacity in the Jordan Bowl. And for the first time, the ski area, in partnership with The River Fund nonprofit, will offer a season-pass scholarship program for area students that allows kids to apply for a free ski pass. PLEASANT MOUNTAIN in Bridgton returned to its original name – dropping the name Shawnee Peak after 34 years – after it was acquired by Boyne Resorts in October 2021. Now as part of the Boyne family, Pleasant Mountain’s unlimited season pass holders can also ski a total of three days at Loon in New Hampshire, Sunday River or Sugarloaf (not three days at each). Pleasant Mountain added an outdoor courtyard a few steps down from Blizzard’s Pub to increase outdoor seating with about 15 picnic tables after it proved popular during the pandemic. “As the pandemic slowed, the desire for outdoor seating didn’t slow. For some people, it’s now their preference,” said Rachael Wilkinson, the director of skier experience at the mountain. LOST VALLEY in Auburn has upgraded its snowmaking system, including with bigger feeder pipes to allow for more water to be converted to snow. Some of the 22 trails were widened and the nine glades were cleared to provide for a larger area to get blanketed. And new this winter: Lost Valley will host an ice-cross competition on Feb. 11 to showcase a hybrid sport that is a cross between ice skating and ski racing. Lost Valley also partnered with L.L. Bean to offer $20 lift tickets on Tuesdays for discounted skiing from 3 to 8 p.m. MT. ABRAM is doing more to make Alpine skiing affordable. The ski area in Greenwood partnered with L.L. Bean for the first time to provide $35 lift tickets on the weekends. On Thursdays (excluding school vacation weeks), the ski area also features Maine Days, when lift tickets cost just $19.60 – as homage to the year the ski area was founded. The ski area, in partnership with the nonprofit Friends of Mt. Abram, will provide 300 students in the local school region a free season pass – an increase from last year’s allotment of 226 season passes for area youth. “For us, the biggest thing is being a community mountain. With the rising cost of everything, we don’t want people to be stuck inside without doing anything outside,’ said Zach McCarthy, Mt. Abram’s communications director. BLACK MOUNTAIN OF MAINE already had more than 50 glade zones, but added five more that cater to beginner tree skiers. “The head of the Angry Beavers (volunteer glade crew) would never exaggerate. He said it offers something for all abilities,” said Deanna Kersey, the Black Mountain of Maine spokeswoman. The ski area also added a handtow at the beginner slopes to make lessons more productive and less intimidating. And deals are on tap at the Rumford ski area, as well. In partnership with L.L. Bean, Black Mountain offers free snowshoeing all winter and lift tickets will be just $15 on Thursdays and $25 on Fridays (except during school vacations). The first 25 to check out a set of snowshoes and poles each day can do so for free. And free ski nights return on select Wednesdays starting Jan. 25. Black Mountain, in partnership with Gorham Bike and Ski, also will provide season passes for free to the first 500 children aged 10 and under who apply. Deirdre Fleming — 207-791-6452 Twitter: @FlemingPph


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