January 14

A sense of community keeps central Maine’s small ski areas afloat

More than 70 Maine ski areas — almost all small operations — have gone out of business since 1970, but industry experts see a recent resurgence.

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

When Megan Roberts was a teenager, Titcomb Mountain ski area changed her life.

click image to enlarge

YEARS OF FUN: These patrons of Titcomb Mountain Ski Area in Farmington have nearly 100 years of combined experience at the popular facility. From left are Neal Yeaton who has skied for 58-years at Titcomb with his granddaughter Madie Morton, and Jody Farmer who has patronized Titcomb for 35-years.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

GOOD VIEW: One of the slopes at Titcomb Mountain Ski Area is reflected in the goggles of snowboarder Pete Roberts at the Farmington facility. Roberts has patronized Titcomb since the early ’90s and continues with his daughters. “This is a great local area resource that can’t be beat,” Roberts said.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Additional Photos Below

Lost ski areas of central and western Maine

Bald Mountain, Oquossoc

Bijah, Starks

Colby College, Waterville

Dunham’s Mountain Farm, Waterville

Enchanted Mountain, Jackman

Gilmour’s Hill, Winthrop

Hi Point Tow, Augusta

Maine Top Ski Tow, Augusta

Manor Hill, Rangeley

Sand Hill, Augusta

Spruce Street Tow, Rumford

Western View, Augusta

White Bunny, Fairfield

Source: New England Lost Ski Area Project

For all lost ski areas catalogued in Maine check out www.nelsap.org.

Maine ski areas

Baker Mountain, Moscow

Bigrock Mountain, Mars Hill

Big Squaw, Big Moose Township

Snow Bowl, Camden

Hermon Mountain, Hermon

Kents Hill, Readfield

Lonesome Pines, Fort Kent

Lost Valley, Auburn

Mount Abram, Greenwood

Powderhouse Hill, South Berwick

Quoggy Jo, Caribou

Shawnee Peak, Bridgton

Spruce Mountain, Jay

Sugarloaf, Carrabassett Valley

Sunday River, Newry

Titcomb Mountain, Farmington

Black Mountain, Rumford

Saddleback, Rangeley

Source: Ski Maine Association

SkiMaine.com

Her mother became seriously ill, and Roberts, one of five children, came to the mountain as a refuge. And it became a family to her.

“Everyone here helped me,” she said. “And that’s what we still do. Everyone wants it to be a safe place and a friendly place.”

Roberts, now a co-manager of the small club-operated area, can look around and find others who feel the same sense of community.

Like Jody Farmer, who’s been skiing the mountain since he was 5, and now brings his 7-year-old son Nathan.

Farmer, 40, of Farmington, said his parents skied there, too.

The tradition of coming to the mountain is something that is handed down though families since the slope opened 75 years ago, and Roberts said she knows families who’ve skied the mountain for four generations.

Managers of other small ski areas say community relationships are what keep locally run slopes open, and industry experts say a growing overall sense of community has led to a resurgence of the small ski areas in Maine.

Staying open is not easy. Over the past 40 years, more than 70 Maine ski areas, many of them small like Titcomb, have gone out of business.

Increased competition, along with insurances hikes, warm winters and community apathy closed hundreds of ski areas, mostly small community ones, across New England over the past couple decades, according to ski historian Jeremy Davis.

But he said it’s possible Maine has “seen the end of the hemorrhaging.”

Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Maine Ski Association, agrees.

“Community ski areas are currently strong, with a strong membership base and awareness of the importance of kids getting outdoors, especially in winter months,” he said.

This year the largest ski resorts in the state opened earlier than ever with millions invested in the latest snowmaking equipment.

Maine’s ski areas attracted about 1.36 million visitors last year, up 10 percent from the previous season’s 1.24 million visitors.

The small ski areas that make up the rest of the state ski industry, some of which don’t have any snowmaking equipment at all, survived in the ’70s and ’80s and are making it work now because of community relationships, experts say.

“These communities have taken ownership of the ski area and are driven by pride for the area,” Davis said.

All about family

Titcomb Mountain skiers say they feel a sense of ownership toward the area that’s a family tradition for many members.

Small mountains like Titcomb are club-owned and rely on community support. Club-owned ski areas are nonprofit organizations, so they can get grants for things like promoting skiing in the region, sustainable equipment and after-school programs.

But it takes more than grants and local skiers paying membership fees to keep the area running. It takes volunteers from the 400 member families willing to donate time to run a ski lift, cook burgers at a snack bar or operate a groomer.

Even in the off-season, residents volunteer their time painting the buildings, chopping wood and mowing the slope.

“They become important parts of family history, especially in rural communities where you can’t drive three hours all the time to go skiing,” said Davis, a New York historian and author who researches lost New England ski areas.

Davis said the drive to support remaining ski areas usually comes from skiers’ personal history with the site.

Farmer is an example of that. He used to volunteer at Titcomb as a ski instructor and also donated his time to do yard work and cut trails.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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UPWARD: Skiers and snowboarders ride a T-bar lift at Titicomb Mountain Ski Area in Farmington.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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POPULAR MOUNTAIN: Titcomb Mountain Ski Area co-manager Megan Roberts inside the lodge at the popular facility in Farmington. Roberts said the resort remains successful due to strong community support.

Staff photo by David Leaming

 


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