Jake McCoach works on control circuits in the shop at Lost Valley in Auburn on Tuesday. The circuits will be installed on the outside of lift shacks so that ski lift operators can start, stop or slow down each lift. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

There’s snow in Western Maine — and soon enough, skiers.

After strong season pass sales similar to the 2019-2020 pre-pandemic season, there’s also optimism.

The head of the Ski Maine Association believes the slopes might be set for a better than average year.

“People weren’t able to ski last year, weren’t able to visit Maine because of travel restrictions that were put in place — we had very little visitation from the state of Massachusetts, for instance,” said Executive Director Dirk Gouwens. “We think people are really going to come out because they really want to get out and ski in Maine.”

An average winter here draws 1.3 million skier visits. Last year was roughly 50,000 shy.

To get ready for the next season, which could start within the week for at least one resort, mountains have added snowguns, groomers, an ice skating rink, lifts, lighting and even pavement.

R.I.P. the old pothole drive leading up to Lost Valley in Auburn and the three grooming machines retired at Spruce Mountain in Jay with the arrival of a much newer PistenBully.

“We had a bunch of tired iron that was time to go,” said Ron Jacques, president of Spruce Mountain Ski Club.

Tad Bettcher stops working to talk with a colleague Tuesday at Lost Valley in Auburn. The director of Lost Valley’s ski and snowboard school is working on a new online reservation system for rental equipment. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Lost Valley, Auburn

Lost Valley widened two beginner trails, moved its lodge ticket window to allow for more distancing and continued with lighting and snowmaking improvements, spokesman Travis Dow said.

The resort also bought a new groomer, bringing its fleet to four.

“This new addition will help us more efficiently create features and maintain the (Maine Family Snow Tube Park,) plus assist with overall grooming on the mountain,” Dow said.

And then, there’s that long drive.

“One major improvement even those who aren’t skiing will notice is the main driveway to the lodge, which was once mired with giant potholes for more than a decade, has been completely stripped, rebuilt and repaved,” said Dow.

Opening target: Dec. 10.

The first natural snowfall of the year arrived Monday at Sunday River Ski Resort, as seen on an empty lift. Contributed photo

Sunday River Ski Resort, Newry

Since last winter, Sunday River’s installed 9.5 miles of new snowmaking pipe and added two new fan guns and 131 new tower guns, according to a press release. The mountain bills itself as having “the most dependable snow in New England.”

A new fixed-grip chairlift and four trails on Merrill Hill, part of a larger new development, will open on a limited basis.

Coming in mid-December: Betty’s Treats and Treasures, a shop with candy and gifts next to the South Ridge Lodge, inspired by resort mascot Betty the Yeti, who is also getting her own picture book.

Opening target: Could be any day now.

“We always shoot to open as soon as weather allows,” said spokeswoman Karolyn Castaldo. “We typically need at least a few nights below freezing to get a good base going on the upper portion of Locke Mountain. Historically, this is on or around Halloween, but has been earlier and later than that depending on weather.”

Sugarloaf, Carrabassett Valley

Sugarloaf replaced and upgraded air and water lines in its snowmaking system on several areas of the mountain and added 90 additional low-energy snowguns, spokesman Ethan Austin said.

Its biggest project of the summer: Readying and submitting plans to the state for its proposed Western Mountain expansion with a new high-speed lift, trails and real estate development.

“We don’t know exactly how long the (Maine Department of Environmental Protection) process will take, but are hopeful that we’ll begin construction on that project next summer,” he said.

Sugarloaf will continue with the pandemic-related change of RFID (radio-frequency identification) ticketing with required online pre-purchase and contactless pickup. Its ski school groups will also continue to meet outdoors instead of inside the base lodge.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that many of our popular events will return this year, including Reggae Fest in April,” Austin said.

Opening target: Nov. 19.

Volunteers with Inclusive Ski Touring on an uphill trail cutting day at Mt. Abram earlier this month. Contributed photo

Mt. Abram, Greenwood

A new drive has been added on the main lift, improving its capabilities and reliability, Mt. Abram spokesman Zach McCarthy said.

The parking area has also been expanded, snowmaking pipes have been upgraded and attention has been turned to its T-bars.

“Our main T-bar got painted this summer in order to improve on our customer impressions and as a slight upgrade,” he said. “We have substantially updated our Mini T-Bar and it will be operational for the first time in years. The Mini-T, along with learning slopes, will feed into a small terrain park outfitted with a few rails, jibs and jumps to provide more for the community.”

They’re also adding an ice rink and, McCarthy said, embracing trends.

“Ski touring and split-boarding are the fastest growing sector (in) winter outdoor recreation and something most resorts are fighting against,” McCarthy said. “Mt. Abram is taking the opposite route here and fully embracing the uphill community.”

The nonprofit organization Inclusive Ski Touring is offering programs on the mountain, and has organized a volunteer day creating an uphill trail on the mountain earlier this month.

“We are excited to be providing a warming hut at the top of the snowfields for uphillers to transition in and warmup before heading down the slopes,” he said.

Opening target: Dec. 17.

Titcomb Mountain in West Farmington’s new, upgraded groomer for the 2021-2022 ski season. Submitted photo

Titcomb Mountain, West Farmington

Titcomb upgraded to a newer groomer this year and will also be back to a full race schedule this winter, according to Operations Manager Tim Norton.

The mountain will host high school, college, United States of America Snowboard and Freeski Association races and events, local races under the lights and the Nordic Twilight Series and Eastern High School Championships.

“Thanks to a generous donation from the Bjorn Foundation we have five new high efficiency snow guns coming and a completely updated kitchen and rug in the lodge is in process,” he said.

Opening target: Mid-December.

The first natural snow of the season on Saddleback Mountain’s “America” trail last Thursday. Contributed by Jared Emerson

Saddleback Mountain, Sandy River Plantation

Saddleback, which just saw its first snow on Thursday, invested $2 million in snowmaking upgrades, bought two new electric-diesel hybrid groomers, replaced one lift and added two others, according to spokeswoman Molly Shaw.

The new Cupsuptic T-bar replaces an older T-bar lift with the same name. It’ll travel the same route, but faster.

“It has a bit of what you could say is a cult following at Saddleback,” said Shaw. “It allows us to bypass the Rangeley high-speed quad if that quad happens to go on wind hold … You might lose a whole day or half a day on a wind hold, but by having a T-bar accessing upper-level terrain, we can really keep more of the mountain open on those days where we have wind.”

The resort also added a new moving carpet to its beginner terrain, making it possible to transport beginners for ski lessons without having to load and ride a chairlift, she said.

There’s also a new rope tow that allows quicker access to the terrain park.

The new Mid Mountain Lodge originally targeted for this year has had its opening date pushed back to next fall.

Opening target: Nov. 23.

Shawnee Peak, Bridgton

Boyne Resorts, the owner of Sunday River and Sugarloaf, bought Shawnee Peak last week, “so many of the details are moving,” said Rachael Wilkinson, director of skier experience.

The focus coming into the season has been on its snowmaking system, she said.

“We have purchased and are in the process of installing 50 tower guns, 32 KLIK hydrants, eight carriage-mounted and six tower fans,” she said.

Opening target: Mid-December.

A new, expanded deck at Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford. Submitted photo

Black Mountain of Maine, Rumford

The Angry Beavers have been busy again this year.

The volunteer glade cutters are shooting for four to five new glades by the start of the season, Marketing Manager Deanna Kersey said.

They’ve put in 400-plus hours already this year.

Black Mountain expanded its outdoor deck, with a wind block, to offer more outdoor space and also expanded its hours: This year it will open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. (Thursdays are new.)

“Over the summer we also implemented a new online ticket system which will help streamline ticket pickup at the ticket window,” Kersey said. “Guests can just show their barcoded receipt on their phone to receive their ticket.”

Opening target: Weather dependent, but historically around Christmas.

Spruce Mountain, Jay

The new-to-them groomer will replace three 1980s-era models and create much better snow this year, Jacques said.

“You’re going to get the same surface that you get at the big mountains,” he said. Another difference? “It will start, hopefully, every time you turn the key, without a battery charger. We got it from Titcomb — they upgraded their groomer and we purchased their old one.”

Volunteers have been upgrading Spruce Mountain’s terrain park features, adding new rails and boxes this year.

Spruce Mountain is fundraising to pay for the groomer and other improvements and is two-thirds of the way to its $30,000 goal.

“Back in the glory days of the paper making industry we were blessed with the good fortune of prosperity and plentiful employment as well as a VERY strong financial support for our ski area from many of our local companies and businesses,” Jacques wrote in the GoFundMe. “Unfortunately those times are gone. Shrinking population and loss of jobs has made survival of Spruce Mountain very challenging for the handful of dedicated volunteers who remain.”

He’s still looking for more volunteers to get the slope ready for the season, with a work day planned for Saturday.

Opening target: Dec. 26.


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