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Home of the $15 lift ticket
RUMFORD -- With the hope that Mother Nature will be kind to them, Black Mountain of Maine heads confidently into the upcoming ski season, armed with enticing deals like the $15 ski lift ticket and $150 season pass.
Regarding those two specials, Roger Arsenault, Black Mountain of Maine board chairperson, noted that some perceive this as BMOM shooting themselves in the foot.
"We're underutilized and undiscovered. People still don't know that Black Mountain exists. I think that's a pretty important part of all this. Skiing is perceived as expensive, but it really isn't. We're just allowing people an opportunity to ski as a family or get back into skiing, making it affordable. Making people discover the family experience up here and basically creating new and lifelong skiers. That's our goal. That's our mission."
Arsenault added, "It definitely got people's attention. The price is not notibly different in many aspects, because before there were many types of discounts. Without the discounts, no one is getting hurt by this new price."
The ski area is coming off a difficult year, due to a mild winter, which put a financial strain on the operation.
And for the first time in four years, the mountain will not be hosting a major ski events, which included the U.S. National Cross-Country Championships for the last two, and before that, the NCAA Championship.
The mountain will have college and high school; the Sassi Memorial and a race series. Social events are planned for skiers and non-skiers, with the Winterfest, to be held March 1-3.
They're still doing the hill climbs. The first one takes place on Dec. 15.
The emphasis is going to be on family offerings, and a lot of snowmaking.
Jim Carter, now in his fourth season as manager of the mountain, said they have been very busy in the offseason making infrastructure improvements.
This was thanks to the Black Mountain receiving a $200,000 snowmaking grant from the Libra Foundation, which funds capital improvement projects.
"Like any ski area, there's always a need to expand snowmaking. But the lack of snow last year really sets a focus on your snowmaking system," he noted. "We came up with a plan. The $200,000 isn't enough to do the whole project, but it was enough to start, and a decision was made to put it into the infrastructure."
Carter said, "We installed a transformer mid-mountain that will give us the electrical supply from top to bottom. Before the transformer, it wasn't adequate for the machines that we run. With the electrical all up, if we had the amount of guns to go from top to bottom, we would be able to run electrically without any issues. That's our goal, to be able to do top to bottom snowmaking."
He added that the groundwork is set to have two 500 KVA transformers, but they don't need the power right now, so they purchased just one transformer, but the pad is there for the second one in the future.
Also with the grant, they were able to get a booster pump for pressure at the top of the mountain. They're also going to lease a couple of fan guns from a snowmaking company.
Arsenault added that the efforts of Waugh Electric and Swasey Excavation are to be commended for their work to help the mountain with their project.
"The system we have now is not adequate for the size of the mountain we've grown. It hasn't changed since it was at the top of the t-bar. What we're planning on now is future growth," said Carter.
He said they're also widening their expert trail so that they can host alpine races on half of it, and keep the other half open for recreational skiing.
Two years ago, they cut two new trails from the top of the mountain. Now they're looking at cutting a trail on the other side of the mountain, which would be more challenging for skiers. That cutting may begin in a couple of weeks.
They're also doing a lot of marketing outside of the area now to entice new skies, particularly young skiing families.
"The larger plan is to expand our snowmaking pond, add a new pumping station, more snowmaking on the new trail, excavation of the new trail and looking at future expansion on trails -- building on trails from the tower down," noted Carter.
"The growth is definitely here. Maine Winter Sports Center, who owns us, is definitely interested in seeing us continue on with our growth, and putting a lot of effort and money into the mountain to make sure that we can continue," he added.
Carter said they usually plan around Nov. 15 to start the snowmaking, if the weather is looking good for an extended period.
Tentative opening date will be Dec. 22, or earlier if they can make snow from top to bottom.
The mountain is doing the ski school again, and the race program is coming back with Julie Parisian, Mark Thibodeau and Tim Lavallee, who are also setting up a new race series.
"We're a family ski area. We're going after young families. That's why we have the kindergarten through second grade free season pass. We found that that's bringing people who used to ski when they were younger back," said Carter.
They also have a redesigned website -- skiblackmountain.com and .org. One of the new features will be daily weather and snow conditions from Black Mountain. In retail, Black Mountain is upgrading their choices and supplies with more merchandise. They also have a new logo, for marketing purposes.
"You can set everything up, but you can't predict what the weather will do. Who would have thought we would have a week of 80 degree weather at the beginning of March last year, or such a mild winter? As long as we get the cold, we'll be able to make the snow," concluded Carter.