Friday, February 11, 2011

Snowy Days Mean Happy Times for Maine Skiers

By Scott Andrews
Staff Columnist
Snowy days mean happy times for Maine skiers and the $350 million industry that serves them. That’s the bottom line -- at least so far -- on the 2010-2011 ski season, say industry officials.
While some Mainers may rebel at the thought of more snow, skiers and snowboarders revel in this year’s abundance of the white stuff, and they’re heading out to the slopes and trails in big numbers.
“We’ve had a wonderful start to the season and all of our members are reporting excellent attendance,” says Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association, the trade group that represents virtually all of the state’s ski industry.
“We’ve been blessed with abundant snow this season,” adds Sweetser. “People see it and touch it and shovel it and then they want to get out and play in it.”
Although Sweetser and others caution that there’s plenty of time remaining this season, they’re very optimistic about results to date.
And skiers and snowboarders are finding plenty that’s new when they arrive at the slopes; most Maine resorts have made substantial capital investments in recent years.
Last month, Sugarloaf opened a large new area for skiing and snowboarding on its eastern edge. Opening the Brackett Basin glades is the first step in a 10-year plan to upgrade the resort, says communications director Ethan Austin. When completed, the Sugarloaf/2020 plan will include trails and glades on the bare summit of adjacent Burnt Mountain, a prospect that has tantalized skiers and riders for decades.
When completed, Sugarloaf/2020 will result in the largest ski area -- as measured in acres -- in the eastern half of the U.S. (Sugarloaf’s parent company, Michigan-based Boyne Resorts, already claims the most skiable acreage in the U.S. at Big Sky, Montana.)
Sunday River, Maine’s busiest ski resort, recently announced that real estate sales -- primarily condominiums and vacation homes -- surged 53 percent in 2010. It’s the highest level ever, and additional projects will be announced this spring.
“Achieving such a success in a still-hesitant economy is a testament to the confidence our guests have in the resort,” says Mark Hall, vice president of development.
Shawnee Peak modernized and upgraded its principal lift for this season and business is solid, according to spokeswoman Melissa Rock. “We booked out all of our lodging for President’s Week back in January, and that’s a whole lot earlier than ever before,” adds Rock. “We’re doing well, and I believe that the best is yet to come.”
Saddleback and Mt. Abram are also enjoying solid attendance. Both are celebrating 50th anniversaries in 2010-2011 and both are in the midst of multi-year expansion plans.
Camden Snow Bowl also has expansive plans for the future. Officials of the non-profit, municipally owned ski area are eyeing a new chairlift and a massive increase in snowmaking capacity. A multi-million-dollar fund-raising campaign is currently in progress.
Photo caption: Maine skiers and snowboarders couldn’t be happier with this season’s weather reports, and the state’s resorts are meanwhile investing in a variety of expansion plans. (Photo courtesy Sunday River)