Maine’s Small Ski Areas Get Boost From Late-Season Snow

Mar 14, 2018

Maine ski operators, particularly smaller ones, are enthusiastically embracing the back-to-back blizzards this month.

Even a short drought can leave some mountains struggling for the rest of the season to recoup their losses.

Only two weeks ago, parts of Maine were reporting temperatures in the upper 50s. That wasn’t making ski area operators like Bill Whitcomb at all happy. But this week’s snowstorm has put a smile on his face.

“Right now, snow in the month of March is frosting on the cake anyway, so anything you get is great,” he says.

Owner of the New Hermon Mountain Ski Area says storms such as the one we're having today make the difference between a good skiing season and a great one.
Credit A.J. Higgins / Maine Public

Whitcomb’s New Hermon Mountain Ski Area near Bangor is for a convenient place to make a few runs down one of the mountain’s 20 trails during the week or to bring the kids after school.

Emily Walker of Hermon was at the mountain just before 3 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s been amazing, we’ve been very fortunate this year, we live close and I’m a snowboard instructor here and a ski patroller so I’ve enjoyed every minute of this season,” she says.

The rewards for operators like Whitcomb can be great, but the risks are high. There are lifts to maintain, trails to groom, along with the uncertainties of finding enough staff.

After a major expansion and upgrade to the facility in 2005, Whitcomb says he has tried to make the right investments at the right time to keep his facility in the best shape possible. The one thing he can’t count on though, is the weather.

“Well you know it’s really funny, because some years, it would just be too little too late,” Whitcomb says. “Last week’s snowstorm — historically you’re not busy during a snowstorm — it was the biggest Tuesday we had of the year. Caught us right off guard, we were shocked.”

Weather was of particular concern during the first part of January, when severe cold coupled with gusting winds meant many mountains — including Hermon — were forced to delay or reschedule programs. At the Lost Valley Ski Area in Auburn, Marketing Director Travis Dow says the intense snowstorms that have pummeled Maine this month have made it a little easier to forget the loss of business earlier in the year.

“So we had a great start to the season with a lot of early snowmaking,” Dow says. “And then the temperatures dipped down subzero for 2-3 weeks, which was kind of a gift and a curse. We were able to make a lot of snow during that period, but temperatures were too cold for people to come out.”

In fact, this week’s blizzard has actually forced Dow to change his plans again, since the end of March usually signals the end of the season for small ski areas.

“We usually have an end-of-season beach bash, which we had already scheduled for the weekend of the 23rd, 24th and 25th, but we were just starting to talk about moving that up a week earlier,” he says. “Then all of a sudden we got 14 or 15 inches the last storm, this one looks like it’s going to be a foot and a half, so now we’re wondering how long we can go.”

The answer to that question depends on when these March snowstorms finally end. According to the National Weather Service, Maine can look forward to snowfall beginning next Wednesday through March 27.

This story was originally published March 13, 2018 at 4:39 p.m. ET.