Camden and the entire midcoast are abuzz with excitement after hearing that the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area’s Redevelopment Fund has passed the halfway mark in its private fundraising efforts to help improve and expand the facilities at the town-owned Camden Snow Bowl, with some $2.25 million already pledged on its way to the previously announced and ambitious $4.5 million goal.

The expectation is that by next November, with pledges in hand, the redevelopment committee will go to town voters with a bond issue to raise another $2 million to begin the long-needed $6.5 million comprehensive project that is destined to dramatically improve the facility, increase usage and build long-term financial strength.

The plan is the result of a partnership between the town of Camden, the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation and community groups that for several years have been exploring and researching ways to ensure the continued operation and economic sustainability of this unique and valued regional recreational asset.

To say that the Snow Bowl is special to me, and an excuse for my obvious enthusiasm, is an understatement. It’s there that I first strapped on a pair of skis 69 years ago, and where I spent my youth hanging onto the single rope tow and jumping on the only wooden trestle ski jump on the coast of Maine.

Since the Snow Bowl’s construction in the 1930s, much has changed with respect to the facilities and their evolution into a year-round recreation area. But little has changed in the value the community has placed on the importance of healthy outdoor exercise and the Snow Bowl’s role in providing the best possible venue.

There’s also a recognition that a successfully designed and operating facility breathes life into the local economy, creates new opportunities for revenue from additional programs, offers new employment options, and brings visitors to the community year-round –visitors who spend money in local shops and restaurants, and stay in local inns and hotels.

The expansion plan is an aggressive one, overshadowing past efforts in its attempt to maximize the untapped potential of the area for multipurpose use of the facility and grounds.

It will open up more than 1,000 acres of land in partnership with Coastal Mountains Land Trust for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing; provide continued playing field access for sports teams of all ages and abilities; render the top of the slopes accessible by lift during both summer and winter; expand base-area facilities to attract more and larger private event rentals for up to 250 people with space for community meetings, conferences and retreats; dramatically increase the downhill skiing options with a new novice area, enhanced snowmaking and new lifts; improve the tubing park with a new slope and handle tow; and open enhanced access to Hosmer Pond for swimming, fishing, canoeing and kayaking.

Some work has already begun, and a visit to the area can give you a sense of things on the move. Hanging outside the existing base lodge is a single triple chair from the principal new lift to be installed and which is already stored in a facility in the area. The lift, incidentally, will look familiar to Shawnee Peak skiers, as it was purchased from the Bridgton ski area when it was replaced by another triple previously at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire.

The new triple at the Snow Bowl will run from the vicinity of the new base lodge to a point at the top of the trails near where the existing long T-bar lift unloads. The old double chair, which was moved from Bald Mountain to the Snow Bowl in the 1970s, will be shortened to provide access to the lower part of the mountain, eliminating the need for the existing novice T-bar.

The biggest question that has been in the minds of all of us who have an interest in the future of the Snow Bowl revolves around the historic ski area dilemma: dependable conditions given the vagaries of winter weather, especially right along the coast.

Recent history, and the improvements in snowmaking technology, have demonstrated that –with the right kind of equipment, and enough of it –there’s a reasonable assurance that slopes and trails can be covered and decent base depths can be maintained once the temperatures drop in December.

The other historic problem along the coast has been the fluctuation in temperature and humidity that used to turn one day’s great skiing into unskiable hard pack (ice) the next. Modern snow-grooming equipment, perhaps the most important development in skiing in the past 50 years, can turn crud into corduroy in a matter of a few hours. And shaped skis (another revolutionary innovation) assure quality runs on trails that in the past would have been impossible to enjoy.

The Snow Bowl’s plan calls for expanding the current snowmaking system to cover 85% of the terrain, an increase of nearly 80 percent. This will, among other things, increase the amount of skiing terrain open for night skiing.

And let me tell you, if you’ve never skied the Snow Bowl at night, put it on this winter’s list. It’s the only place you can ski on the East Coast with a view of the ocean, and to stand at the top of the trails with a view of the lights of Camden twinkling in the foreground and the moon reflecting on Penobscot Bay is an experience that will leave an indelible imprint on your mind.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at: [email protected]

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