Maine’s community ski areas are an important resource for winter family fun in the mostly rural parts of our state. These areas are critical to the sport, too. The kids out there learning to love skiing and snowboarding are the next generation of adult winter sports enthusiasts at the big ski mountains.
These smaller ski facilities offer a whole different experience from a day on the large resort slopes, a throwback to a simpler, slower-paced time. If you haven’t visited one of Maine’s community ski hills, you’re missing out on some good old winter fun.
Ski historian Glenn Parkinson, in “First Tracks,” his venerable book on the history of skiing in Maine, wrote: “Maine offers … some of the best terrain, fastest lifts, and best snowmaking to be found anywhere. Maine also offers skiing as it was in the past. Homemade donuts, T-bars, areas within walking distance for kids, and trails that twist and turn with the mountain are still part of Maine skiing.”
“Everybody seems to know everybody at the small hills,” said Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association. “You get to see many of the same friendly faces during the ski day, on the lifts and trails and in the base lodge. You really get to know people. The energy is great, and the people are very welcoming.”
Value is a big part of the experience when you go smaller, with inexpensive lift ticket prices and minimal to non-existent lift lines.
“The community hills are a good bargain,” Sweetser said. “You can get a lot of good skiing for your dollar. And it’s hard to put a price on the nostalgia factor.”
Few of the small areas rely on the whims of Mother Nature and her natural snow. The focus in recent years has been on snowmaking and grooming in order to offer guests more predictable ski conditions as well as extending the season on both ends.
“With remarkable advances in energy-efficient snowmaking technology, even the small areas can make snow at half the cost,” Sweetser said. “And those savings mean they can run more snow guns.”
There are 13 community ski areas around Maine, from York County to Aroostook, the Oxford Hills to the Midcoast. Here’s a thumbnail look at five of them.
Bigrock in Mars Hill is the big daddy of downhill skiing in Aroostook County, featuring 35 trails and glades and 980 feet of vertical, the highest in northern Maine or the Canadian Maritimes.
Mountainside views over the farmlands and forests of “The County” extend all the way to Katahdin on a good day. The turbines of Maine’s first wind power project adorn the ridgeline of Mars Hill and are visible for many miles.
Bigrock also has cross-country ski trails, snowshoeing, a section of the International Appalachian Trail, a tubing park, and a cozy base lodge with snack bar.
Bigrock is open 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday for night skiing, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Adult tickets are $22 weekdays, $38 weekends, holidays and school vacations.
MORE INFO: bigrockmaine.com, (207) 425-6711
One of the best kept secrets in Maine skiing is Black Mountain in Rumford, owing to its not-so-small size, affordability, great snow, fun trails and modern base lodge.
Black Mountain boasts 1,380 feet of vertical, making it the fourth highest among Maine ski areas, and features 45 trails and glades, two chair lifts, 90 percent snowmaking coverage, a terrain park with a wide variety of hits and rails, and night skiing. There’s also a world-class network of Nordic trails.
The beautiful post-and-beam lodge is a nice place to relax, the cafe serves up good eats, and the fireplace upstairs in Last Run Lounge is the place to be for après ski. Exhibits downstairs and up display the mountain’s rich winter heritage.
Black Mountain is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday (night skiing!), 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and vacation weeks and holidays. Adult lift tickets are $37 on weekends, holidays and vacation weeks; $20 on Fridays.
MORE INFO: skiblackmountain.com, (207) 364-8977
The Whitcomb family continues a fine winter tradition at this friendly ski slope in Hermon, just west of Bangor, making a ton of snow and moving and grooming it just right for great trail conditions. Kids and families love the place, especially for night skiing.
Hermon features 20 trails and two lifts, a T-bar and double chair. A handle tow serves the tubing hill. The 350-foot vertical is deceiving; this place is fun for hours of skiing pleasure. Tuck into the base lodge to warm up and enjoy some hearty fare; the pizza is outstanding, but there are lots of other good treats too.
When you pull into the Hermon parking lot, don’t be surprised to find owner Bill Whitcomb out there parking cars and helping guests with their skis, part of the personal touch you’ll discover at Maine’s community mountains.
Hermon is open 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Adult full-day tickets are $27, half-day and evenings are $22.
MORE INFO: skihermonmountain.com, (207) 848-5192
Camden Snow Bowl in Camden is the only place on the East Coast where you can ski overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and the vista north to Mt. Megunticook is pretty special, too.
This community-owned ski area with nearly 1,000 feet of vertical on Ragged Mountain is amid a multi-year redevelopment program to transform the mountain into a dynamic winter recreation facility.
Big changes already completed include skiing and riding on 20 expanded trails and glades, a new 4,000-foot triple chair to the summit, new beginner area with conveyor lift, double chair accessing new beginner terrain, a 50 percent increase in night skiing terrain and 85 percent snowmaking coverage. Coming next is a new base lodge, now in the fundraising stage.
A Nordic trail system, snowshoe trails and a championship toboggan chute add to the winter fun.
Camden Snow Bowl is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday for day and night skiing, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends, holidays and vacation weeks. Adult lift tickets are $33 weekdays, $23 evenings (3 to 8 p.m.), and $23 for any three hours. Weekends are $43; $39 for half-day.
MORE INFO: camdensnowbowl.com, (207) 236-3438
Skiers can count on good snow at family-friendly Titcomb Mountain in Farmington, where the big focus on this fun-sized hill has been on snowmaking, which now covers 70 percent of the terrain, and trail grooming. The mountain features 16 trails, one glade and a terrain park, and is served by a T-bar and handle tow.
Warm up and enjoy home-style food in front of the big stone fireplace in the Titcomb Mountain Lodge. There’s also an outdoor patio and fire pit. Nearly 10 miles of Nordic trails (a portion of which are lighted) offer an alternative to the ski slopes.
Titcomb is open 3 to 6 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday ($10 for all ages); 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday (adult tickets $15); 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends, vacation weeks and holidays ($22 for all ages); 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday nights (adult tickets $15).
MORE INFO: titcombmountain.com, (207) 778-9031