During the summer, most of us simply stash our ski and snowboard equipment in the garage, waiting to pull it out when the next winter season arrives. At Maine’s ski areas, there’s no such time off.

This summer and fall, resort employees were hard at work making changes big and small. From big capital improvements like new lifts and groomers, to smaller (but vital) jobs like mowing trails and maintaining facilities, all of Maine’s slopes have been transformed during the offseason.

The biggest changes were at Maine’s two largest resorts: Sunday River in Newry and Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley. The two areas, managed by Michigan-based Boyne USA Resorts, have seen millions of dollars of investment since their purchase by CNL Properties in 2007, and the sale to Och-Ziff Real Estate (which closed earlier this year) does not seem to have slowed funding.

Among the $4.7 million investment at Sunday River, the biggest single improvement is the installation of a new triple chair on Spruce Peak. The new Spruce Peak Triple, coming in at a cool $2.2 million, is a fixed-grip chair from the Austrian-Swiss Doppelmayr group. The chair replaces the 30-year-old Borvig triple chair on Spruce that was damaged in a foundation failure in 2016. It’s the first new lift at Sunday River in nearly a decade – the last was the chairlift-gondola hybrid “Chondola” in 2008. The chair, which opened for the season this weekend, cuts the time of a trip up Spruce from 11 minutes to eight.

A new trail, Bear Paw, has also been cut at Sunday River. The beginner trail, on Locke Mountain, was cut in partnership with Gould Academy with the aim of keeping traffic off the race course on nearby Monday Mourning.

Sunday River also worked hard to retain its crown as snowmaking king of the ski business, adding 17 new hydrants and more than 8,000 feet of additional snowmaking pipe, bringing their total snowmaking system to a staggering 2,200 hydrants, more than 80 miles of snowmaking pipe and more than 2,000 snowguns.

At Sugarloaf, the biggest news over the summer was the addition of cat-skiing (that is, skiing accessed by a passenger snow cat) on neighboring Burnt Mountain. Over the last seven years, Sugarloaf has worked aggressively to expand sidecountry terrain on Burnt Mountain and in Bracket Basin. The addition of cat-skiing has been positioned by the resort as a logical extension of this expansion, making Burnt “even more accessible to guests this winter” with two dedicated 12-passenger cats set to shuttle guests up Burnt every 20 minutes on weekends and vacation weeks.

A new cat trail was cut this summer by Sugarloaf crews, running from the glades below the King Pine chairlift’s base terminal to terrain east of Bracket Brook on Burnt.

The cat rides will require an additional ticket (on top of a season pass or lift ticket), which range from $20 to $30 per ride based on time of departure.

Like their sister resort, Sugarloaf also saw some improvements to its snowmaking system. A new electric motor in the primary snowmaking pump house and an upgrade to the OS in snowmaking control should improve efficiency and communication across the entire snowmaking system. A snowmaking pipe relocated to Lower Skidder has helped with early-season coverage as Sugarloaf pushes to open trails off the SuperQuad in the early season.

Sugarloaf also added to its grooming fleet, with a new winch cat bringing them up to a total of 16 groomers.

Shawnee Peak in Bridgton also saw the construction of a new lift, albeit one a bit more modest than Sunday River. A second carpet lift, installed in front of the base lodge, will shuttle skiers around the beginner area. The area also added a third on-hill winter camping option – the Wayshego on Little Mountain – adding to the North Ridge Yurt and Tuckerman’s Cabin, which are among the coolest ski lodging options in Maine. And like Sugarloaf and Sunday River, Shawnee Peak expanded snowmaking and added a new groomer to their fleet.

Black Mountain in Rumford cleaned up a few backcountry trails added last season, in addition to completing four new glades (Spurwink, Kunduskeag, East Branch and Bunny) and a traverse in the East Bowl. This work was on the back of the “Angry Beavers,” the volunteer group at Black Mountain that clears and maintains the glades. The group put in a reported 500-plus hours of glade work this summer.

With Mother Nature’s fickle attitude toward snow in recent years, it’s no surprise that snowmaking upgrades have been the name of the game across Maine’s mountains. At Mt. Abram in Greenwood, the snowmaking system was expanded onto Lower Easy Rider, and the snowmaking reservoir capacity increased by 30 percent. Big Squaw Mountain in Greenville added 35 HKD snowmaking towers this summer. Hermon Mountain “fine-tuned” its snowmaking system to increase efficiency. Lost Valley, Titcomb, Lonesome Pine Trails, Camden Snow Bowl and Bigrock all reported expanded snowmaking as well.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

[email protected]

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