It may only be the beginning of winter, but Maine’s ski areas have already been open for months. They’re ready to host more than 1 million ski visits this season, as visitors from across the country and around the world come here to ski and snowboard.

According to the Maine Office of Tourism, we can expect one of the strongest seasons in recent memory, with skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers all expressing optimism. Given the economic impact of our industry, it’s certainly news worth celebrating.

Unfortunately, not all Mainers are able to enjoy our state’s natural beauty. Even as global visitors flock to our slopes, residents in Maine’s rural counties often can’t afford the costs associated with skiing and snowboarding — from lift tickets and lessons to clothing and equipment.

Winter sports are expensive, especially for those families already struggling to pay rent or cover their weekly groceries. Based on visitor data, members of households earning less than $100,000 per year are becoming less and less likely to participate in winter sports.

This is especially unfortunate for Maine children, who live so close to our world-renowned mountains — and yet so, so far. When the high cost of winter sports prices out parents, their children have no choice but to watch skiers and snowboarders from afar. Worse yet, they pass that time on their devices. They can’t make friends on the slopes, compete against their peers, or spend quality time outdoors.

We can do better. Our children deserve better. Winter sports shouldn’t only be a privilege for the wealthy to enjoy; let’s spread the wealth to all.

That’s what the Sugarloaf Ski Club hopes to accomplish — not only at Sugarloaf, but at smaller resorts like Farmington’s Titcomb Mountain, which is considered a feeder for Maine’s larger destinations. Since 1950, the Sugarloaf Ski Club has supported Maine children and families in their outdoor pursuits. From ski-skate programs at local schools to weekend training programs, the Sugarloaf Ski Club seeks to give back to those who live in our backyard — and children are at the top of our list.

We hope to empower even more local youths to take up skiing and snowboarding, especially in Sugarloaf’s neighboring counties of Franklin and Somerset. The late King Cummings of Guilford, Sugarloaf’s beloved chairman in the 1970s and 1980s, believed in expanding winter sports access to all Mainers — not just a privileged few. He acted on that belief every day, helping thousands of children in need. He was the kind of man who preferred chatting with the lift operators and snowmakers to other business executives like him.

Today, we are honoring King’s legacy through the King’s Kids Fund, which aims to preserve skiing and snowboarding for local Mainers. First established as a $500,000 nonprofit fund, Sugarloaf Ski Club has raised an additional $250,000, and we hope to raise $2 million on behalf of those priced out of winter sports.

By supporting our children now, we can change their lives forever. We can groom the next Olympic skier or more snowboarding coaches. We can show youth from the counties surrounding our mountain resorts that there is a career path in the ski business. We can make the entire industry sustainable for decades to come. We can get kids out of the house during our long winters and encourage them to disconnect from their phones.

Expanding winter sports access may even give our children another reason to stay in Maine — to not only ski and snowboard, but to also work and raise families here. Isn’t that a goal worth pursuing?

At Sugarloaf, we certainly think so. Our industry must open its doors to all Mainers — from Carrabassett Valley and Bangor to Skowhegan, Farmington, and beyond.

Nancy Marshall is a member of the Sugarloaf Ski Club, a donor to the King’s Kids Fund, and the mother of two former collegiate ski racers. She also serves as CEO of Marshall Communications, headquartered in Augusta.

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