Ski Maine is a nonprofit organization representing the ski industry, whose mission is to increase the availability and enjoyment of Maine skiing.

Its membership includes 18 Alpine, 19 Nordic and eight tubing facilities, plus dozens of associate members providing professional services, construction and design, marketing, public relations, media, manufacturing and other services to Maine’s thriving ski industry.

With area members from Aroostook to York, and Oxford to Knox counties, Ski Maine provides testimony to the statewide importance of winter sports to the recreational and economic vitality of our state.

The steeps at Saddleback, cruisers at Sunday River, off-piste glades in Brackett Basin at Sugarloaf, night skiing at Shawnee Peak and serene touring facilities offer variety enough to please everyone.

There’s very little reason to leave Maine to ski or snowboard, but occasionally it’s fun to do a little exploring across our border to the west. New Hampshire and Vermont offer some great variety.

Early in December I ventured west less than four hours to pay a visit for the first time since 2004 to ski southern Vermont and participate in a very special occasion.

Some 42 years ago, when I was general manager at Mount Snow, Vermont’s behemoth resort at the very south end of the Green Mountains between Brattleboro and Bennington, I undertook the conversion of one of our double chairlifts to a bubble chair, with plexiglass shields that riders could lower over themselves as protection against harsh weather.

Since most of our clientele was Manhattanites who complained about temperatures we Mainers would have thought were pretty tepid, this extra protection was very popular, and over a few years we converted several lifts to bubble chairs, specially manufactured for us by a fiberglass fabricator in Connecticut.

Over time, age and problems associated with wind resulted in the removal of the bubbles, but for a time they were the rage.

Peak Resorts, the relatively new owners of Mount Snow (as well as Wildcat, Attitash and Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire) became interested in reviving the enclosed chair. The interest coincided with technological advancements that saw the installation of several such lifts around the world.

While the older versions had the problem of the shields acting like sails, the new bubbles are designed to handle the wind. As the empty chairs — each weigh about 1,300 pounds without passengers — pass through the ends of the terminals, the bubble automatically closes and locks to reduce the wind loads.

The result was that on Dec. 10, I was honored to participate in the inauguration of Mount Snow’s “Bluebird Express” on its first day of the season.

Along with a few hundred other invitees, we dined on blueberry pancakes and then loaded on to the $8 million, 7,000-foot base to summit lift. It’s the first of its kind on the East Coast, and the first six-pack bubble, so-called, in North America.

Manufactured by Leitner-Poma in Austria, it features six-passenger detachable sofas with translucent blue bubbles that can be lowered in cold weather or left open when it’s not. Running at a design speed of about 1,000 feet per minute, it can unload 2,400 skiers per hour at the top of the mountain.

And like Sugarloaf’s old gondola, the chairs are all stored at night in a huge facility at the base.

The lift is the first new one at Mount Snow in 14 years, and part of the $18 million that Peak Resorts has invested in the area since the purchase in 2007.

There’s a special connection between Mount Snow’s bubbles and Maine.

As I remarked during the dedication ceremony, we also have a bubble chair up here in Maine. Not an entire lift, but one bubble chair I brought with me to Saddleback when I purchased the area in 1972.
Shortly after arriving, I installed it on the Wheeler Slope double chair in front of the base lodge.

I was struck when I looked over at the lift to see two lines forming, with one of them young skiers waiting for the bubble to come around so they could have the fun of riding in Maine’s only bubble chair.

I told the folks at Mount Snow last month that I knew then, nearly 40 years ago, that it was a great idea, just waiting for lift engineers to figure out a way to manufacture wind-resistant chairs.
So if you’ve got a hankering to try someplace new and relatively close by that perhaps you haven’t skied before, or if you remember Mount Snow from past years with its slow lifts and long waiting lines, consider popping over through Concord and Keene for a real treat at a 3,600-foot mountain that, despite its reputation as a haven for snow bunnies, has some exceptional terrain, ranging from novice to expert.

I promise you, it will be worth the trip.

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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