This winter, fun and recreation at Maine’s Alpine ski resorts will look far more normal, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues. And many ski areas report that last winter proved a surprising boom, despite the pandemic.

Inside activities will remain somewhat altered at ski resorts because of COVID-19 precautions. But out on the mountains, masks won’t be required, chairlift rides won’t be limited to members of your pod or family, and outdoor dining has expanded at many resorts to offer safer options.

“The word on the street is to prepare yourself – it’s going to be just as busy if not busier than last year,” said Deanne Kersey, spokeswoman for Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford. “Last year, with the partnership we had with L.L. Bean (offering discounted and free ski days), we were exposed to people who had never seen us before. We were very busy.”

Last winter, Sugarloaf reported one of its best years for skier visits, Saddleback did better than expected its first year open after five years of being shuttered, and some smaller ski areas – like Lost Valley – had a record-breaking year.

All ski areas noted that their policies could change should there be more stringent COVID-19 safety guidelines from the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

At Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley, masks will be recommended for guests in the lodge, though not required. There will be no capacity limits in restaurants or the base lodge. A bag check will be required with an attendant, as opposed to guests being allowed to park their bags in cubbies as they did in years past.

Sugarloaf improved its snowmaking capacity by adding new low-energy snow guns to now equip 88% of its snow-making fleet. The more efficient guns enable the ski area to make more snow in less time, said Ethan Austin, Sugarloaf director of marketing.

Snow-cat skiing will allow for more guests. Last year, the exclusive ride to the ungroomed snow fields was limited to individual families or travel groups. This year, individuals can book trips, although the website has not been updated yet.

“There will be things that come up that we have to make a call on. But, in general, we are hopeful it will be more back to normal,” Austin said of the season.

Skiers come down the mountain at Sunday River in January. This winter, masks are recommended but not required indoors except in select areas. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

At Sunday River in Newry, indoor dining will return this winter, along with Santa Sunday and other events.

The iconic holiday-season fundraiser that invites guests to dress as Santa Claus in exchange for a free lift ticket will return on Dec. 5; Winter Fest will be held Dec. 17-19; and the Pride Weekend that serves as a tribute to the LGBTQ community, will be held Feb. 4-6. Other events will be added to the calendar.

Sunday River also had snowmaking system upgrades with 125 new snow guns across the mountain and more than 9 miles of pipes added.

Indoor seating will return in the Base Lodge food court. The picnic tables out near the lifts will remain – although the windows servicing them will be closed and guests will need to buy food inside to take outside.

Masks are recommended and not required indoors, except in some areas like the ski patrol clinic, any SnowSport School facility, and the Sunday River Sports retail store for select services. Children’s ski classes will continue to be limited in size.

Sunday River is one of the ski areas that did not see increased numbers last winter. Abby Borron, the Sunday River’s communications manager, said that was because the ski area limited the number of tickets that could be purchased online out of COVID-19 safety concerns. This winter Sunday River may limit ticket sales, but there are no plans to do so at this time, Borron said.

At Saddleback ski area in Rangeley, upgrades continue as the new owners, Arctaris Impact Fund, continue to develop the ski area while maintaining the “down-to-earth” vibe the mountain is known for, said General Manager Andy Shepard.

This year, $2 million was spent on the snowmaking systems, two new groomers were added to bring the fleet to seven, and three lifts were added or replaced.

The beloved Cupsuptic T-bar got an upgrade that will allow access to the entire mountain during wind-hold days; a rope-tow was added at the terrain park, and a magic-carpet lift was put in for the ski school. 

“The rope tow is old-school, but it’s perfect for the terrain park,” Shepard said. 

The ski area also moved ahead on adding new housing. Seven lots were sold above the ski lodge for new homes; eight new A-frame homes will be finished by February; and staff housing is in the works and expected to open next spring, providing 100 beds. Construction on the mid-mountain lodge also began, but won’t be finished until later in 2022.

Shepard expects masks will be worn by staff and recommended for guests.

“People don’t have to wear masks and lifts can be at fuller capacity. We’ll be able to move people up the mountain quicker,” Shepard said.

At many smaller mountains, last season was an unexpected boom and excitement is high for this season.

Black Mountain has a new groomer, a new online ticket system, an expanded deck with a wind wall, and an additional day of skiing each week. The ski area will be open Thursday through Sunday, as opposed to just three days a week.

The glades have been improved and expanded by the Angry Beavers, the skilled crew who shape them. And in the back-country terrain two new glade zones were added bringing the total at the mountain’s backcountry playground to 11.  

This year the mountain will have two sponsored L.L. Bean days – Thursdays, with discounted lift tickets ($15) and free Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, and Friday with discounted lift tickets ($25) and free Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. That does not include school vacation week, from Feb. 21-25.

In addition, the free ski night that is sponsored by area businesses has moved to Wednesday nights, from 4 to 9 p.m. And live music will return to the Last Run Pub on Saturday and Sunday afternoons – and Saturday nights concerts are again being scheduled.

The ski area is expected to open around Christmas.

At Lost Valley in Auburn, last winter season saw season pass sales jump 30 percent and skier visits increase about 20 percent, said Travis Dow, Lost Valley assistant general manager.

“A lot of people were coming back to the sport that had been sitting on the sidelines. We saw a lot of older gear out on the slopes,” Dow said.

Lost Valley improved snowmaking and added more lightening to enhance the night skiing that covers 19 of 22 trails. It also added a new groomer, repaved the entry and drop-off areas, and changed its online rental system to make that process quicker.

“Night skiing is a huge part of our business. Really a lot of people come after work or after school. Our clientele is 95 percent Mainers,” Dow said.

Every Tuesday night L.L. Bean will sponsor a family ski night with discounted lift tickets ($20). The ski area’s opening date is expected to be Dec. 17.

Mt. Abram also upgraded its snowmaking system – with nearly 1,000 yards of new pipe in an area that had problems last year. As a result, rather than opening in January as it did last winter, it should be open by Dec. 17, weather permitting, said Mt. Abram spokesman Zach McCarthy.

The Greenwood ski area also built a new dedicated uphill trail for Alpine touring – complete with a new warming hut and deck at the top. And it partnered with a new organization – Inclusive Ski Touring – to offer uphill ski tours from January through March.

“Where a lot of other resorts are not really acknowledging ski touring, we are fully embracing Alpine touring,” said McCarthy, who also is the founder of the ski touring organization.


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