Maine’s ski season started this year at 10 a.m., Oct. 19, atop Locke Mountain at Sunday River in Newry.

While brave souls broke out the rock skis the prior weeks, that October day was the first time skiers and riders could buy a lift ticket and hit the slopes. And it wasn’t just the first day for Maine – the opening made Sunday River the first site east of the Mississippi to power its lifts for the public this season.

While it wasn’t the earliest opening day for the resort – it also opened on the 19th in 2015 – it’s impressively early to open when there’s still near-peak foliage. As is tradition, skiers could ride the lift to the summit, with access to two trails (T2 and Sunday Punch), and reloading available at the chairlift midstation.

Unlike opening days in the past, Sunday River elected not to run snowguns while the chair was turning, which made for a much more pleasant experience. Coverage was great on the open trails and softened to something resembling decent skiing by late morning.

Skiers often resort to the old adage, “a bad day skiing beats a good day doing anything else” to justify early-season runs, where bragging rights and novelty beat out a desire for pristine conditions. This time, while conditions were certainly variable, they didn’t make for a bad day skiing.

Credit for the snow on the hill goes to the resort’s snowmakers, who had a brief snowmaking window. The first phase of major snowmaking renovations, completed this summer, included two miles of high-pressure pipe and a new pump, running from the namesake Sunday River to a pumphouse in Barker Basin.

This infrastructure work increased snowmaking capacity by 15 percent going into this season, an improvement the resort directly credits for its early opening.

Though snowmakers were aided by a couple inches of natural snow earlier in the week, the rest of the snow – enough to open two trails to skiers and riders – came from 124 snowguns in a 36-hour period.

Sunday River plans to double its snowmaking capacity in coming years. It’s no small thing, considering the infrastructure in place includes over 2,000 snowguns, 80 miles of on-mountain pipe and 2,200 hydrant stations. The current coverage services 90 percent of groomed terrain, which means that even when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, the resort can open most of its trails. It’s already, per the resort’s press office, the “most advanced snowmaking system in the East,” and the expansion will only help this reputation.

Further snowmaking allowed Sunday River to open trails below the Locke midstation, enabling top-to-bottom skiing without the need to download. While the early-season operating schedule was for weekend-only skiing, the mountain switched to daily operation over Veterans Day weekend.

Sunday River’s sister resort, Sugarloaf, was the second ski area to open for the season in Maine. The resort tested its snowmaking system over the celebratory annual Homecoming Weekend in early October, and opened Nov. 16 for the season with daily operation and good coverage.

Like Sunday River, Sugarloaf put major work into its snowmaking system in the offseason.

This included a renovation of its secondary snowmaking system, expanding an existing pumphouse and installing a 1,000 gallon-a-minute electric pump. The new system will not only make snow production on eastern and mid-mountain terrain more efficient, but will serve a terrain park being built just above the base lodge.

Of course, the storms of late November made snowmaking seem like a distant memory. Multiple storms in the western mountains completely buried Maine’s ski slopes, with reports of over 5 feet of snow this season.

Sunday River is skiing across five of its peaks with more than 70 trails. Sugarloaf opened more than 100 trails between Veterans Day and the start of December, including sidecountry terrain in Brackett Basin.

With Shawnee Peak and Big Rock opening as well this weekend, the season is off to a start for the record books.

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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