Black Mountain’s Angry Beavers created four new glades. Sugarloaf spent $250,000 on a pair of snow machines that open up back-country terrain for an experience it says can’t be found anywhere east of Michigan.

Sunday River Resort skiers are already riding its first new lift in nine years and its Christmas week bookings are up 44 percent over this time last year.

Another ski season’s here with great investment — $4.7 million at Sunday River alone, one great unknown: where art thou, Saddleback? and the industry’s trademark optimism.

It’s the first time in Greg Sweester’s memory that two Nordic centers and two Alpine slopes were open and skiing at the end of November in Maine.

“That’s an optimistic sign and gotten buzz among skiers, ‘Wow, there’s both cross-country and downhill already,'” said Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association. 

He’s watching the jet stream, talking to meteorologists, monitoring snowpack in Canada and hoping Lewiston’s Farmers’ Almanac got its snowy predictions right.

Portland received 95.2 inches last winter, measured by the National Weather Service, more than 50 percent above the historical average. That led to a good season for most resorts and just under 1.3 million skier visits, the average for the past three years, Sweetser said.

Ski Maine estimates skiing’s economic impact at $300 million. The Maine Office of Tourism is looking to up that this winter by more than doubling the outreach of its advertising over last year, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Geiger.

Geiger said the office is looking “to build on momentum.” Winter visits to Maine have increased 7 percent each of the past five years, according to Office of Tourism research. One-third of those visitors are looking to head outside.

What they’ll find and when they’ll find it at ski resorts around western Maine:

Black Mountain of Maine, Rumford

Target opening: Dec. 26

Look for: Four new glades, new snow-making on the lower half of the Allagash Trail, a repainted lodge and newly town-paved roads leading to and from the mountain.

Volunteers known as Angry Beavers spent more than 500 hours over the summer creating the new glades and cleaning up existing ones, according to spokeswoman Deanna Kersey.

Two trails, Moxie and Bagaduce, were also de-stumped. “It’ll take less snow to cover the top and more people don’t have to be as brave to go back there,” she said.

The nonprofit mountain has more than 50 glades and trails at capacity. Glades in particular have been getting more popular there for cross-country skiers.

“(Last year) we got tons of snow and we saw a lot of new people,” Kersey said. “We saw a lot of people who had been skiing at Saddleback previously and didn’t have a home to go to. We were really happy to welcome those families in. We gained a lot of their ski patrols and all of those guys have been great, so we’re very optimistic this season.”

Titcomb Mountain, Farmington

Target opening: Dec. 16

Look for: Improved snow-making and vastly improved parking after construction crews dug up a foot of clay throughout the main lot.

“They’ve improved the parking lot 100-times-fold,” said Frank Chin, assistant manager at the nonprofit, volunteer-run mountain. “They leveled it out, put fabric so the clay won’t go back up and put gravel and dirt on top of it.”

He hopes to see the ski hill open with part of the main trail and part of the bunny slope. Titcomb has 20 trails at capacity

“Last year was just skiing, skiing, skiing, both family (and) races,” Chin said.  “The weather is 80 percent of it — we just had so much snow here.”

Lost Valley Ski Area, Auburn

Target opening: Dec. 15

Look for: Three new trails, a new kitchen, new rental equipment and the addition of Lost Valley Brewing.

John Herrick, its new general manager, came on this fall.

“This year we focused on hiring experienced people: We’ve got a brand-new crew, top to bottom,” Herrick said. “My new mountain manager is from Copper Mountain out in Colorado. I just picked up a new lift supervisor from Okemo, which is in Vermont. We’re getting some experienced talent to streamline the processes.”

Strong early-season pass sales have him hoping skiership is up this winter on its 18 trails.

The ski area plans an open house/launch party on Dec. 14.

“There’s a lot of curious people walking around; they want to check out improvements,” he said. “(It’s) just like a celebration to get us going for the year.”

Shawnee Peak, Bridgton

Target opening: Dec. 16

Look for: A new Magic Carpet lift in its beginner area, the first full season of the mountain’s new Winch Cat and a lot of celebrating its 80th anniversary.

The Winch Cat, a groomer with a cable to anchor itself, came online at the end of last winter, according to Rachael Wilkinson, marketing director.

“The winch allows you to pull from all kinds of different directions, so that you can move a lot more snow uphill and side to side. It just helps with grooming a lot of the steeper trails or trickier trails,” she said. “The outside crew is really very excited.”

The Magic Carpet, its second surface lift in the beginner area, will help with congestion. At capacity, that mountain has 40-plus trails and glades.

“It looks like it’s going to be a good snow year — give us a week, and I think it’ll feel like it’s going to be a good snow year,” Wilkinson said. “The forecast looks great, looks very similar to last year, which was a lovely year. Skiers have been very interested in coming out, sales have been strong. We’re up, yet again. People this time of year are charging ahead buying Christmas gifts and things, more so than they usually do.”

Mt. Abram, Greenwood

Target opening: Dec. 16

Look for: Reconfigured lodge space with more seating capacity, a new seasonal locker room, new weekly rail jam snowboard competitions and a new Alpine center.

Spokesman Uel Gardner said the Norway Savings Bank Alpine Center, under construction this week, will have space for coaches to meet with athletes on the first floor and second-floor space for timing and event announcements.

Mt. Abram has 48 trails at capacity. Gardner’s anticipating the snowboard competition to be a popular draw, potentially luring talent from as far away as Portland.

The mountain has a new general manager this winter, Bob Harkins, a former U.S. Ski Team coach and one of the founders of Cold River Vodka.

“Season pass sales have been strong, group sales have been strong, gift cards, all that stuff has been very strong,” Gardner said. “Now we just need Mother Nature to cooperate.”

Sugarloaf, Carrabassett Valley

Opened: Nov. 9

Look for: Upgrades in snow-making efficiency, improved snow-making on Skidder Trail and its new “cat skiing” operation on Burnt Mountain. 

The cats are a larger version of a snow-grooming machine with a cab that fits up to 12 passengers, according to spokeswoman Noelle Tuttle.

In “cat skiing,” skiers will hop in for a 20-minute ride along a newly cut half-mile road on the eastern side of Burnt Mountain, a trip that used to take an hour on foot.

“It accesses almost 1,000 acres of rugged and remote back-country terrain,” Tuttle said. “It’s an experience that’s totally unique to East Coast skiing and riding. Some other cat skiing operations access trails that can also be accessed via chairlift — the terrain accessed by our cats would otherwise only be accessible by hiking.”

Parent company Boyne Resorts invested $250,000 for the new rides and skiers will have to pay an extra fee to use them.

Sugarloaf has more than 160 trails and glades at capacity, the largest number for a Maine mountain.

“This season is off to a really good start,” Tuttle said. “We’re up more than 10 percent in season pass sales, which is pretty good — the last couple years have been record years for us.”

Skier visits are up, too, she said, largely because of opening two weeks earlier than last year.

Sunday River Resort, Newry

Opened: Nov. 11

Look for: $4.7 million in capital investments from Boyne Resorts that include the new Spruce Peak Triple chairlift, a new beginners trail with 8,000 feet of snow-making and a massive deck expansion at The Mountain Room restaurant.

The chairlift, the resort’s first new lift since 2008, is capable of carrying 1,480 skiers an hour at 500 feet per minute, according to spokeswoman Darcy Lambert. 

The new trail this season, Bear Paw, was cut on Locke Mountain in a partnership with Gould Academy in Bethel. Bear Paw is expected to move beginner traffic away from the Monday Mourning Trail, the dedicated race trail on the mountain.

“It’s really kind of a fun switchback trail — beginners are going to like it because it’s the easiest way down,” Lambert said.

In the next phase of that partnership, Gould is trying to raise $1 million to install a T-bar alongside Monday Mourning.

At full capacity, with 15 chairlifts, Sunday River has 135 trails. It’s the most-visited ski mountain in Maine with more than half a million skier visits last year.

“While we opened a bit later last season, we still had great skier visitation numbers, we had great pass numbers, great lodging numbers, but the snow is really what seals the deal in terms of a successful winter,” she said. “That creates great momentum for the following season because most people remember a snowy winter.”

Season pass sales are up 20 percent year-to-date. November lodging was up 28 percent over last November.

“Guests are confident; they’re booking earlier, based on last year’s snow year,” Lambert said. “We’ve sold double the number of online tickets compared with last year. I can’t give specific numbers, but that’s huge for us and also a really good indication about how confident people are about this particular winter.”

Saddleback Maine, Sandy River Plantation

Target opening: A big question mark.

Saddleback has been closed since spring of 2015 and this summer, Australian-based Majella Group announced it was purchasing the resort. In a Nov. 9 post on Facebook, CEO Sebastian Monsour said the company had encountered delays in closing the sale but was “committed to opening in some capacity for the 2017/18 ski season.”

The resort’s website this week said simply, “Alpine skiing and snowboarding … the way it should be” with links to an old Q&A and press release.

This week, management deferred comment to a Majella spokeswoman who didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Spruce Mountain, Jay

The Sun Journal also reached out to Spruce Mountain but didn’t hear back from officials.

[email protected]

Owner Scott Shanaman checks out a new snow gun from the top of Big Buck during a recent test of Lost Valley Ski Area’s snow-making system. (Photo courtesy Lost Valley)

Sugarloaf added two new 12-passenger cats to its fleet this summer to create Burnt Mountain Cat Skiing. The vehicles take skiers to the top of Burnt Mountain to access back-country skiing in 20 minutes. It used to take an hour to navigate on foot. (Photo courtesy Sugarloaf)

The Maine Office of Tourism is more than doubling its winter advertising reach this year with ads such as this encouraging visitors to start planning their Maine winter getaways. Winter visits have been up 7 percent each of the past five years, according to the Office of Tourism.

Sunday River Resort opened its new $2.2 million Spruce Peak Triple lift last weekend, the resort’s first new lift in nine years. (Photo courtesy Sunday River)

A snowboarder takes flight at Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford last winter. The mountain’s hoping to open Dec. 26 this year. (Photo courtesy Black Mountain)

The new Norway Savings Bank Alpine Center is under construction at Mt. Abram in Greenwood. The center will have space for coaches to meet with students on the first floor and for timing and announcements on the second floor. (Photo courtesy Mt. Abram)

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