Skiing is about balance, speed and agility. So is ski management.

Maine’s first serious snowfall on Monday ushered in, officially, its most interesting ski season in years. Sunday River and Sugarloaf/USA now belong to Boyne USA, which paid $77 million to acquire them from a foundering American Skiing Company.

ASC and Les Otten made Maine into a top-notch snow sport destination. Yet ASC, and other resort companies, veered from the principles of skilled skiing in its management style, which caused it to end its run in a tangled heap somewhere off the trail.

Boyne is a much different company, which means Maine skiing – as we have known it – is about to change.

As a company, Boyne is balanced. Its leader on the East Coast, Stephen Kircher, talks about the Maine resorts for their four-season potential, rather than just blanketing its slopes and packing its lifts. Mountain biking, hiking, indoor waterparks and more golf are probable amenities for Sunday River and Sugarloaf in Boyne’s long-term plans. So is further real estate development, a given in the modern world of resort management.

The company also isn’t moving too fast. In a visit with the Sun Journal last week, Kircher talked at length about Boyne’s commitment to the two resorts, which together employ about 3,000 people at the peak of ski season. The worse-case scenario for the economy of Western Maine would have been hasty changes or a quick re-sale of the resorts by Boyne. Steady ownership and management is critical to future success.

Boyne has the agility of a world-class skier as well. Its background in snow-making innovation (its patented guns are already being employed at its Maine resorts), sterling reputation for diversifying the definition of “ski resort” into an umbrella to accommodate other activities, notably golf as well as facilities such as waterparks, and sizable Midwest and Western ski resort holdings provide a wealth of experience for improving and sharpening Sunday River and Sugarloaf.

But more important than balance or agility, however, Boyne is also flush with perhaps the most crucial element for serious skiing: cash.

Through its unique partnership with a Florida-based real estate investment trust, CNL, Boyne has the capital ability to deliver on its potent visions for Sugarloaf and Sunday River, which for Western Maine is the best news of all after lean years under the struggling ASC. Capital investment in both resorts is overdue and welcome.

There’s little reason to doubt Boyne’s ability. The company has emerged from a ski industry shaken by the troubles of its giants, like ASC, which were criticized for unbalanced, rapid and ham-handed tactics, like investing millions in sprawling real estate developments around its mountains. In the intervening years, Boyne’s approach to resort management has allowed the company to position itself as the new industry giant.

All this promises to alter Maine skiing forever – for the better.


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