Each summer as Maine skiers turn to other pursuits, the ski areas get busy trying to get as much done in a short season as possible. The small hills spend thousands simply maintaining lifts, trails and equipment, while the big resorts can spend a million or more just keeping things up to snuff. On top of this normal maintenance, add the expansions and you’re talking real money.

One major budget item for every ski area is snowmaking, with major resorts running into the millions each season. The recent drop in oil costs have eased concerns somewhat, but ski areas throughout the region have been taking steps to reduce energy consumption for years. Virtually every ski area is investing in new technology in snowmaking.

Steve Kircher, president of Eastern Operations for Boyne, told a Portland audience early in November that the company was actually reducing energy consumption while increasing snowmaking output. “We’ve been seeing this in the super efficient tower guns that now line ski trails, and now giant fan guns are being brought in to further improve efficiency in this crucial aspect of operating a ski area.” Skiers may not notice the different snowguns, but there is plenty that will be noticed.

Sunday River ($14 million) and Sugarloaf ($5 million) are now under the management of Michigan-based Boyne and are receiving upgrades, the biggest a new “Chondola” at Sunday River. The lift, with a combination of chairs and gondola cars, will allow skiers direct access to North Peak from South Ridge and will also make it possible for non-skiers to dine at the top in the evening while skiers enjoy some night runs.

At Saddleback, a $1.5 million quad chair has been installed to replace the Kennebago T-Bar, just one more installment on a comprehensive plan that has tripled the size of the base lodge and added lifts, trails, snowmaking and lodging since the Berry family took over a few years ago. New expert trails have been added in the bowl to the east, good news for advanced skiers, but even better news for intermediates who had trouble riding the steep T-bar. There is an easy run from the summit with spectacular views, but most missed out as they avoided the T-bar. The new chair will make the trip up easy.

The big news from Shawnee Peak is a base lodge expansion in the form of a 40×40 foot addition with glass walls and atrium ceilings. The southern exposure is ideal for solar heating and will even help heat the rest of the lodge.

Mount Abram, under new ownership of Matt Hancock and Rob Lally, has invested $350,000 to extend the children’s Magic Carpet on West Side, add to the tubing park, upgrade snowmaking and make other improvements.

Black Mountain has improved snowmaking capacity by dredging the pond to increase the water supply. An additional groomer will speed up grooming.

Lost Valley, which hosted the sixth annual Maine Ski Hall of Fame banquet in October, is implementing snowmaking improvements, adding terrain park features, expanding cross country trails with work being done by members of the Auburn Nordic Ski Association.

This is just a sampling of the major projects. Every ski area in Maine is busy wrapping up a busy off-season to give us ever better skiing.

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