On Skiing: Good things happening at Lost Valley

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One ski area on my list to visit this year was Lost Valley. I hadn’t been there since Scott and April Shanaman took over as new owners and I wanted to get a first hand look at what was new.

When I did, one change was obvious as I walked in. The seldom-used T-bar was gone from just behind the ski patrol building. In its place was a new steep ski run. As I approached the base lodge, I could see that Bull Moose, the run under the chair, was well-covered, as were Big Buck and Bobcat, the open slopes in front of the lodge. I could also see by the way they were being skied that they were also well-groomed, always a mark of Lost Valley.

Inside the lodge there were no big changes, but a reduction of the height of the wall around the cafeteria area gave the interior of the lodge a more open feel and made it seemed bigger. The fireplace in the lobby area opposite the bar now had a wood stove but still offered a great place to sit and warm up. It always was and remains a perfect spot to take off the boots and warm the toes.

I sat with Scott Shanaman in front of the high window wall that makes Lost Valley a place where parents can watch their kids as they ski.

Travis Dow, who handles PR and marketing, joined us as I learned how things are going and what is planned for the future. Shanaman’s specialty from his company is working with ski areas in lift inspection and maintenance. His expertise includes snowmaking and just about everything outside at a ski area, an indispensable background for owning and operating a ski area.

While there has been a lot of snow and some really good skiing, this has been a tough year for Maine’s ski areas. Martin Luther King weekend was a good example. After close to two weeks of TV weather folks telling everyone wind chills made it too cold to go outside, it rained. I was there Monday and things were quiet when I arrived, but by 11 a.m. the lodge was filling up with skiers and things were bustling as they should be on a holiday.

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This brought a discussion of hours of operation. Scott explained that he had tried different plans and settled on operating seven days a week, but on weekdays only during the hours that are busy. Monday through Thursday, the area is open 3-8 p.m., Friday noon to 9 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. These are the hours that skiers come.

School kids and programs start in mid-afternoon. Corporate racing takes place in the evening and has a new sponsor this year: 150 racers take part in the Baxter Brewing race league. Jim Myrick of Skier’s Edge ski shop runs a program two nights a week so kids who ski in weekend programs on bigger mountains can get in their training during the week.

It has been recognized by ski coaches for many years that Lost Valley is a great place for training. Big Buck has a good combination of pitches and the 2 1/2-minute lift ride allows racers to run a lot of gates in a short time. A coach at the bottom of the run can advise the racer and a few minutes later can see how that racer takes his coaching. This is one area where Lost Valley is busy.

Another competition gaining in popularity is “Skimo.” This event draws telemark and ski mountaineering enthusiasts who skin up Logging Trail and ski down Bobcat on Tuesday nights. Scott Shanaman said that other trail combinations could be used to add some variety.

Lost Valley also maintains 8 kilometers of cross country trails in partnership with the Auburn Nordic Ski Association. Trail passes and rentals are available in the base lodge. The tubing park is now up and running for yet another possible activity.

New this year is Skunk, a trail between Chipmunk and Fisher, and the terrain park is open on Bear. The trail map shows a proposed new chair lift to the east of Coyote (the old T-bar line), and Suicide is now Alpine East.

It was evident that the Shanamans are carefully rebuilding Lost Valley. Once permits are in place, a Brewery will be open in the basement. The old Brookside Lounge will be turned into a family space.

It was inevitable that our conversation would turn to the history of Lost Valley and the many firsts that occurred there.

Did you know that Maine’s first snowmaking was installed at this ski area inside the Auburn city limits? It was also the first with fully lighted slopes.

Otto Wallingford used his genius to invent the Powdermaker, which revolutionized grooming. And he also was the first to use the principal we see today in snowmaking tower guns. Figuring the longer it took the snow from the guns to reach the surface the better the quality of the snow would be, he mounted guns in trees and on his light towers. His snow guns mounted on giant industrial fans preceded today’s fan guns by decades.

All of this was taking place at Lost Valley in the 1970s. And I haven’t mentioned the world class skiers such as Julie Parisien and John Bower.

Lost Valley has a significant place in Maine skiing history, and it’s great to see it resuming an important role in the state’s skiing.

We should also remember that when those doom-and-gloom weather forecasters tell you how cold it is, the wind never shuts down any lifts at Lost Valley and you’re never more than a couple of minutes from the base lodge.

Next Friday, you can attend the opening night of the Auburn Winter Festival at the Valley. For more details www.lostvalleyski.com.

See you on the slopes.

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