January 19, 2018
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Big Squaw ski area expanded, opening early for the season

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff

Big Squaw Mountain will officially open for the season on Friday, Dec. 22, earlier than initially scheduled due to an abundance of snowfall in the Moosehead Lake Region. Revived in recent years, return visitors will notice a big difference both in the building and on the slopes.

The lodge and ski shop at the base of the mountain will open its doors at 9 a.m.

The nonprofit organization that runs the ski area, The Friends of Squaw Mountain, has recently expanded the old lodge to include a new ticket office and ski shop, where 160 pairs of new skis will be available to rent.

In addition, the nonprofit purchased 36 snow guns and a snow groomer last month from Smugglers’ Notch resort in Vermont, greatly expanding Big Squaw’s snowmaking system. Prior to the purchase, the mountain had just five snow guns and one snow groomer.

“There’s really only three things we need to operate a mountain,” said Amy Lane, President of The Friends of Squaw Mountain. “We need a chairlift, which we have. We need a groomer, and we need snow. So what happens if our one and only groomer broke? We definitely need a backup groomer.”

The Friends group also constructed a new lifthouse during the off season, which they plan to drag to the top of the lift when the snow pack is more reliable. And the group has hired local contractors to start clearing historic trails farther up the mountain, past the top of the chairlift, for those interested in more backcountry skiing options.

To kick off the season, a special concert is planned for Saturday, Dec. 30, with the northern Maine band Junction Express performing from 2 to 5 p.m. and The Mallett Brothers taking the stage at 7 p.m. in the warm, spacious ski lodge.

“The ski team coach was just here [from Greenville Consolidated School],” said Lane on Wednesday while setting up the new ticket office. “Of course they’re super excited. They’ve been training by hiking and going to other mountains, but tomorrow after school, we’ll be running the chairlift for them to be able to practice on their home mountain.”

“They just gave us their ski meet schedule of all the races,” she added. “Racers across the state will be coming here regularly.”

The ski area also runs a low-cost program kids’ skiing program called Mogul Mites in which children learn to downhill ski over the course of several weeks, starting in February. And for more experience young skiers, the mountain runs the Red Eagle Race team for ages up to and including eighth graders.

“My kid has a countdown [until the ski area opens],” said Hannah Pratt, a member of Big Squaw Mountain staff who was busy painting a shelf on Wednesday, to be placed in the new ticket room.

“‘Only two more days, Mom,’” Pratt said, mimicking her enthusiastic child. “‘I’m going to get first chair.’”

Pratt, who you’ll often find running the front desk at the lodge, grew up in the area and remembers skiing the mountain when she was a child.

Big Squaw Mountain ski area has a rich history — some of it bumpy — that began in December 1963 with a T-bar climbing 600 feet up the mountain and servicing four trails. Five years later, the first chairlift was installed on the mountain, making it the second largest ski area in the state at that time. From the late 1980s to 1995, at least five different groups ran the ski area, then the land was purchased by James Confalone, who operated the ski area until 2010, when operations screeched to a halt.

“I remember in 2012, that we came up [to the ski area],” Amy Lane recalled. “There was a substantial amount of snow, and it was going to be the point of no return. Like if someone didn’t do something like then, the lodge wouldn’t have made it through another year. “

By then, the lodge at the base of the mountain was in bad shape. The roof was leaking, windows were broken and mice moved in. Amy Lane and her husband, Steve Lane, decided to take action.

“My husband and I have been involved in a snowmobile program for a long time… and we know how that works,” Amy Lane said. “There is a group of volunteers that gets landowner permission for all these networks of snowmobile trails, and they raise money, and they buy groomers, and they get volunteers, and they do trailwork, and people pay their membership to join the club … Wouldn’t the same model of a snowmobile club work kind of work as a ski club?”

Since then, they’ve learned the answer to that question is “yes.” The nonprofit organization they formed to run the ski area, The Friends of Squaw Mountain, fixed up the lodge and trails bit by bit, opening the mountain back up to the community in 2013 after a three-year hiatus. And the group has continued to improve the area ever since, funding projects through major fundraising campaigns and donations, big and small.

“It was just a matter of finding the right community members that were willing to step in and, you know, that was how it all started,” Amy Lane said. “And as soon as we created [the nonprofit], like the day after Christmas in 2012 … people just started coming up out of curiosity, and the next thing you know, they’re painting. The next thing you know, my plumber is here fixing the pipes, and A.E. Robinson is putting fuel in the tank and servicing the boiler, and all the sudden we have heat and people were delivering firewood, and yeah, any way that they could possibly help. Home Depot gave us a tarp so it wouldn’t leak that first year.”

And the community effort to restore the ski area continues. This year, Pleasant River Lumber of Dover-Foxcroft donated pine siding for the ski lodge expansion, and Moosehead Cedar Log Homes donated log siding for the slope side of the lodge. True Value has provided insulation, and Gilman Electric gifted the lodge with free electrical supplies.

“We have a strong community,” Pratt said. “I think that people skied this mountain when they were younger and they want the same for their children.”

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