Maine Areas Upgrades


Skiing in Maine: Areas spend offseason on upgrades

By Josh Christie

When we stow our ski gear for the summer, it’s easy to forget about the slopes until we strap the equipment on again in the fall. The ski areas, however, don’t have this luxury. Instead they spend the offseason improving and expanding their facilities. This summer, many of Maine’s ski areas have seen changes, big and small.

At Sugarloaf, the investments can be largely summed up with one word: lifts. After two highly publicized lift incidents since 2010, the resort has put lots of time and energy into lift safety. Sugarloaf spent $1.3 million this summer on a new $800,000 TRISTAR terminal for the King Pine lift and $500,000 in upgrades to the Timberline, Skidway, Sawduster, Snubber, West Mountain and Double Runner chairs. One piece of change, via subtraction, was the removal of the Bucksaw lift, which came off the mountain this fall.

After years of on-hill investment and expansion, Sunday River announced summer improvements that were a bit more low-key. The Newry resort focused on behind-the-scenes improvements, with new trail maps, signage, and amenities for the Grand Summit Hotel. The Sundance ski trail was also regraded as part of $2 million in summer work, making the beginner area even more accessible.

The biggest change at Mt. Abram in Greenwood was terrain expansion. A $150,000 expansion project will add six trails for skiing and riding, tacking about 25 acres onto the resort’s terrain. The newly cleared terrain includes a dedicated race trail (intended to ease race congestion, as well as to offer more rentable terrain for training teams), expansion of trails around the terrain parks, a new expert trail near Rocky’s Run, and new connector trails. Mt. Abram has seen a number of on-mountain and base area improvements since its change in ownership in 2008, but this is the largest terrain expansion in decades.

The Camden Snow Bowl is still in the midst of its $8.4 million redevelopment, with continued changes and construction taking place over this summer. This season will see the debut of the rebuilt double chairlift, which accesses the ski slope’s new 15-acre beginner area. The parking lot of the Snow Bowl also was rebuilt and expanded. (While that might seem like a small thing, when you’re navigating from your car with ski gear and kids in tow, parking lot improvements are no joke.) These changes mark the end of Phase 2 of the area’s redevelopment, with Phase 3 – a new base lodge – expected for the 2016-17 season.

Bouncing back after a decade of consecutive losses, Auburn’s Lost Valley announced on Oct. 30 that the resort has been sold to Scott Shanaman. Shanaman, president of Aerial NDT Inspection, has years of experience with lifts and mountain operations, and he’ll bring that skill set to the small ski area. This year will see few capital improvements to Lost Valley, but in an interview with NewEnglandSkiIndustry.com, the new owner outlined plans for future investment. These include major lift improvements (including a conveyor lift), better lighting, expanded snowmaking and a tubing park.

A remodel of the lodge at Shawnee Peak will freshen up the feel of the base area, as well as expand the seating space – not a small thing for the frequently crowded place. The Bridgton resort also upgraded its snowmaking with new HKD guns and cut a new glade.

At this point, the biggest question mark in Maine skiing sits atop the summit of Saddleback. The resort’s future has been unclear since July, when the owners announced that Saddleback would not open this season unless they could secure funding to replace the aging Rangeley double chair.

Their midsummer deadline for the necessary financing passed without the funds being obtained. The resort has been fairly mum about its plans over the last few months, though operators recently shared that they are “in the midst of serious negotiations with a buyer that plans to open for the winter.”

While Maine’s other ski areas don’t have the marquee expansions like those listed above, they haven’t been slacking in the offseason. Expect fresh paint, general upkeep, and continued improvements in grooming and snowmaking at pretty much every Maine resort.

With the state’s ski season already off and running, the only thing left for the ski areas to do is wait for the skiers to arrive.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie.

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