Now that three successive snow storms have blanketed the state from York to Aroostook and Downeast to Jackman, this winter has rocketed into full gear in a serious way and made us skiers and riders deliriously happy. Maine’s large and medium-size ski resorts—Sugarloaf, Saddleback, Sunday River, Shawnee Peak and Mt. Abram—are wide open for business, but so now are the many other smaller ski hills across the state.
Beyond the “Big 5” are 13 community ski areas that offer plenty of fun and varied skiing in a homey, relaxed and family-oriented environment. Skiing kind of like it used to be, if you will, without all the big mountain hubbub. Never mind the nice affordability factor.
If you haven’t spent time at any of the small community ski areas, you’re missing out indeed. Awesome snow abounds, so now is great time to go small and enjoy big. Here’s a look at 6 of the 13 areas, with color commentary provided by my good friend Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association.
Located on US 201 in Moscow just north of Bingham, this sweet little hill was started by Allen Quimby in 1930. Operated by its pass holders—a hardy group of volunteers—Baker Mountain is adored by local ski schools and ski groups, but you’ll enjoy it too.
“The locals love the place and are really proud of what they have,” said Sweetser. “They’re having a blast.”
Five runs, 3 beginner and 2 intermediate, are served by a venerable T-bar. The mountainside offers great views over Wyman Lake and the Kennebec River Valley. The base lodge is a classic, a perfect spot to warm up by the fire between runs. Baker Mountain is open weekends and holiday vacations. A lift ticket is $6 last I checked.
The big daddy of downhill skiing in Aroostook County is Bigrock Mountain in Mars Hill, which sports 35 trails and glades and 960 feet of vertical, the highest in northern Maine and the Canadian Maritimes. The mountain also offers mighty fine views over the farmlands and forests of “the County” all the way to Katahdin and Baxter State Park on a good day.
Besides wonderful downhill skiing, “Bigrock has x-c ski trails, snowshoeing, a section of the International Appalachian Trail, a tubing park and a great lodge with food,” noted Sweetser.
Bigrock opened in 1960. It was owned and operated by the Maine Winter Sports Center from 2000-2014, with funding support from the Libra Foundation. Last year Libra turned the mountain over to the community after 14 years of investing in and modernizing the Bigrock facilities.
“The mountain ran in the black last year. It has strong local support and a positive outlook,” Sweetser said.
Bigrock Mountain is open Wed, Thu and Fri from 3-8; Sat and Sun 9-4. Adult lift tix are $22 weekdays, $38 weekends and holidays.
BIG SQUAW MOUNTAIN
In an incredible effort, the Friends of Big Squaw Mountain, a “non-profit organization founded to promote, preserve and protect the future of downhill skiing and racing at Big Squaw Mountain,” brought the mountain in Greenville Junction back from the dead in 2012. The Friends are now operating Big Squaw in the third season of its new life, a success story for the ages.
“It’s been a real cooperative effort, with super local support,” noted Sweetser. “Everybody realizes what an important cog the mountain is to the Greenville economy and social fabric.”
Big Squaw has 14 trails, a triple chair and 660 feet of vertical, and a killer view north over Moosehead Lake to a jumble of big mountains and a sea of forest beyond. The snack bar and grill in the old base lodge serves up traditional skiing comfort food along with soups and specials.
“If you haven’t skied Squaw yet, you’ve got to get up there!” exclaimed Sweetser.
Big Squaw Mountain is open Fri to Sun 9-4, plus holiday weeks. Adult tickets are $25.
Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford is one of the best kept secrets in small-mountain skiing in the state, owing to its not-so-small size, affordability, great snow, terrific trails and modern base lodge.
Yep, that’s right. Black Mountain sports 1,380 feet of vertical, the fourth highest in Maine. All new snowmaking systems are now in place. Lift tickets are just $25. And the post-and-beam lodge is simply a beautiful place to hang out before and after skiing, never mind the good chow in the snack bar and the most excellent Last Run Lounge upstairs.
The mountain features 35 trails (including 5 glades), two chair lifts and 90% snowmaking coverage, plus a great terrain park with a wide variety of hits and rails.
Owned and operated by the Maine Winter Sports Center until last year with funding support from Libra Foundation, Black Mountain was turned over to the care of the town of Rumford and the Chisholm Ski Club. Facing an uncertain future, the local folks really stepped up to get the mountain open this season. They are still raising money to cover operations, so do consider a ski trip to Black to help support this phenomenal “small” mountain and its fantastic skiing.
Black Mountain is open Fri and Sat from 9-9 (night skiing!) and Sun from 9-4.
CAMDEN SNOW BOWL
Camden Snow Bowl is the only ski area I know of in the East where you can ski and get ocean views! The vista north to Mt. Megunticook and Camden Hills State Park is pretty darn nice too.
“The community-owned ski area is working on a very exciting redevelopment program to transform the Snow Bowl into a dynamic winter recreation facility, and continues to be a hub for year-round parks and recreation programs,” said Sweetser.
With all the construction hubbub over the spring, summer and fall, the mountain will look a little different to skiers when they return for a visit this season.
The big changes include a new 4000’ triple chair to the summit, a new beginner area with conveyor lift, a double chair accessing new beginner terrain, 50% more night skiing, 85% snowmaking coverage, and 40% more skiing and riding terrain.
Note: There were some extended delays getting the new triple operational, but as of Jan 30, it’s officially up and running. Yeah!
Per Landon Fake, the Snow Bowl’s general manager, “the lodge will be a little different this year. We are moving the rental shop, ticket sales, and ski and ride school desk into a new, temporary building that abuts the lodge and is immediately accessible off the deck. When it’s busy, we will also sell tickets outside from the old ticket window. Ragged Mountain Sports will operate out of the same old double-wide, but in the old rental space.”
Camden Snow Bowl is open Wed-Fri from 10-8 (night skiing!) and 9-4 on weekends and holidays. Full day adult lift tix are $27 on weekdays, $20 evenings 3-8 and $17 for any 2 hours. Weekends are $39; $29 for a half-day.
Bill Whitcomb and his family are continuing a mighty fine tradition at this awesome little hill in Hermon, just outside Bangor.
“They make a ton of snow and move it around,” Sweetser said. “The kids love the place, and there’s great night skiing. The Whitcombs have a formula that works.”
Hermon Mountain features 20 trails and two lifts, a T-bar and double chair. A handle tow serves the tubing hill. Don’t let the 350-foot vertical fool you; this place is good for hours of skiing pleasure. The base lodge serves up some delish food too; I’m partial to the pizza, but there’s lots of other treats too.
Hermon Mountain is open Mon-Fri 3-9 and weekends from 9-4. Adult full day tix are $27, half-day and evening are $22.
Last time I was at Hermon, none other than Bill Whitcomb the owner was out parking cars and helping people with their skis. That’s what we love about Maine’s community mountains!
For complete information on all of Maine’s ski areas and resorts big and small, check out the Ski Maine Association.
See you on the slopes!