AUBURN — John Herrick grew up in a ski lodge — and not in a he-practically-lived-there sense. His old home on Maple Hill had been a ski lodge back in its day.
Herrick was on the slopes at 3, competed on ski teams in middle and high school, and now, after retiring from a long career in the military, he is Lost Valley Ski Area’s new general manager.
He certainly knows the place well.
“I used to take the bus to Lost Valley every day after school,” said Herrick, 51, who still lives in Auburn.
In high school, Herrick competed in jumping, slalom and giant slalom. His daughter, now in college, used to race in high school and his son, now a freshman, will. Herrick is president of the Lost Valley Racing Club where he’s taught young Alpine skiers to race and is a longtime member of the Auburn Ski Association, so he’s never left skiing far behind.
Herrick served in the U.S. Air Force for four years and spent 25 years full time with the Maine Air National Guard installing antennas, towers, sensors and anything else planes needed to land around the world. He retired as a chief master sergeant in 2015, and was looking for a new career challenge.
“I love skiing, and my whole family loves skiing, so I thought it was an awesome opportunity to do something I thoroughly enjoy, to be a part of a sport that I thoroughly enjoy,” he said.
There’s been a lot to do to get ready for Dec. 15, the mountain’s tentative opening date if weather cooperates.
In the lodge, there are kitchen improvements upstairs and the bones of the new Lost Valley Brewing operation taking root in the basement. Plans call for a brew pub and sit-down restaurant upstairs, but for now, once the season is underway, they’ll start out with five small batches on tap.
Outside, they’re making room for three new trails: Coyote (difficult), Skunk (intermediate) and Possum Park, a beginners’ snowboard training park, bringing the mountain’s trails up to 18.
“(Coyote is on) our old T-bar line,” Herrick said. “We’ve widened up the old T-bar line, which is no longer in use. In the next few weeks, we’re going to pull down all the poles.”
All three new trails will rely on natural snow this first season.
“One of our goals is to institute something new every year,” Herrick said. “Last year, they instituted the carpet in the beginner area, that’s a third lift, the first new lift in 20 years.”
The new tubing park also opened last year, and despite a short, two-month season, was so popular, “it almost paid for itself,” Herrick said. “This year, it’ll be open for the whole season.”
One other new investment this year: more than $30,000 in new rental equipment.
“One of our focuses is to turn the rentals around,” Herrick said. “It was always good, but we’re making it better. Customer retention and creating new customers, it first starts with the rentals and people coming to learn to ski. It has to be a positive experience so they return.”
Herrick has a goal of skiing every day there, if he can, “so that I can give the customers when I’m talking to them a real idea of what they’re about to ski on.”
“We’ll never be a big mountain, but we’re a training hill,” he said. “We’re a place where people go to ski and to learn to ski.”
Lost Valley owners Scott and April Shanaman want to see the resort transition to a four-season recreational facility, so that’s part of his new job, too, figuring out what people want.
“Some of the ideas we’re talking about are a mountain biking center, ropes courses, zip lines, corporate retreat activities, all those types of things,” Herrick said. “Once we’re up and running, that’s going to be my objective to see what we can do so we don’t shut down in April, so we can continue on to something else.”