CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Sugarloaf on Tuesday announced its plan to install 300 new energy-efficient snowmaking machines, which should help avoid a repeat of this past winter, when historically low snowfall totals kept some skiers from hitting the slopes.
The $1 million project recently was awarded a $300,000 grant from Efficiency Maine and is expected to be finished in time for next season, according to Ethan Austin, communications manager at Sugarloaf.
With the improved snowmaking operation, Sugarloaf is confident it will be able to prevent poor snowfall totals from harming not only its own business but dozens of others that rely on the thousands of tourists who visit the resort each year, Austin said.
When there isn’t enough snow to open some of Sugarloaf’s trails at times, especially during the vital Christmas vacation week early in the season, the entire region’s economy tends to suffer, he said.
Austin didn’t have exact figures for how much the numbers of skiers were down this winter, but he said during some weeks, including Christmas vacation, the drop was significant.
Sugarloaf normally has 40 to 60 trails open by Christmas, he said. This season there were just 10 trails open.
The new snowmaking machines will allow Sugarloaf to keep more trails open more reliably, according to Austin. He added that Sugarloaf and area businesses alike will benefit because their annual budgeting decisions are no longer at the mercy of the weather.
A solid winter tourism season is crucial for the region because people visiting Sugarloaf are staying at hotels, eating at restaurants and shopping in nearby communities, he said.
The Efficiency Maine grant was awarded based on the expected energy savings from the new snowmaking machines and Sugarloaf’s investment of $700,000 in the project, according to Austin.
A request for comment about the grant was not returned Tuesday afternoon by Efficiency Maine, which is an independent trust that supports projects related to energy efficiency.
The competitive grant program was for Maine businesses, institutions and government entities pursuing funding for large electrical energy efficiency and distributed generation projects, he stated in a release.
Sugarloaf will use the money to buy 300 HKD SV10 Impulse snowguns, which use 90 percent less compressed air their older models to reduce the amount of energy used, the release states. The new guns, manufactured by Snow Economics Inc. /HKD Snowmakers, will replace Sugarloaf’s older, less efficient snowmaking equipment.
Austin said the average age of the older machines ranges from 10 to 20 years. Sugarloaf has a replacement schedule but seldom makes such a large bulk replacement, he added.
Of the new snow guns, 275 will be installed on towers in fixed locations, while the remaining 25 will be sled-mounted guns that can be transported around the mountain, the release states.
The fixed-tower guns will be installed primarily on central mountain trails, including King’s Landing, Hayburner, Tote Road, Sluice and Candyside, according to the release. The new equipment is expected to be installed this summer and fall.
The investment is part of the resort’s 10-year development plan, which over the past two years has added nearly 400 acres of new terrain, a new chair lift and numerous other resort upgrades, according to the release.
David F. Robinson — 861-9287