Will We Ski this Season?

The Scoop on Skiing in Maine this Winter

Greg Burke

Are you super eager to ski? If you’re like me, you start dreaming of skiing in October and trying on your gear in November. I am especially stoked to get out of the isolation from working at home, breathe fresh mountain air, schuss down Maine’s beautiful snowy slopes, clear my head, and enjoy my favorite winter sport. Ski friends are asking me if we’ll even have a ski season. Short answer, Yes!  But like everything 2020, it’s a pivot.

Prepare yourself to observe the heightened alpine safety practices you will hear about, like “ride with your party,” “grab-and-go dining,” and “digital distancing.” Distancing includes online reservations, Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) ticket and pass technology to eliminate ticket window trips, and less time in the lodge. You’ll want to revive older practices such as “brown bagging,” “parking-lot boot-up,” and “tailgating,”  and take advantage of other old-school tricks, like packing a cooler for the parking lot and carrying snacks in your pocket. In short, get ready to adapt, mask, and goggle up.

The word for this winter:

Saddleback is back. This re-opening alone deserves big accolades after being closed for five years. The plan is to open December 15, debuting the new Rangeley high-speed quad, an expanded lodge, and lowered season pass rates (including two days at Jay Peak). Safety protocols will be in place for a much-anticipated return season at this legendary 4,121-foot alpine mountain.

Sugarloafers have always been resilient, so why would 2020, the Loaf’s 70th year, be different? The Loaf has over 1000 acres to “snowcially distance” and find your happy turns. Sugarloaf is not currently planning to restrict access or require reservations to ski. Like all Maine ski resorts, face coverings will be required outdoors where 6-foot distancing cannot be easily maintained (such as lift lines or while riding a chairlift) and indoors (except when seated at a table). Good news—winter neck gators are acceptable at Sugarloaf, as long as they cover both the nose and mouth. Not-so-good news—say goodbye to big fun Sugarloaf events for now, and lift lines that were once social may now be lengthy with spacing protocols. “When it comes to skiing safely this winter, we’re all in,” says Karl Strand, President and GM at Sugarloaf. 

Sunday River is ready for ski season, and it is often the first to open in the East. New resort-wide safe practices including RFID ticketing plus contactless food ordering throughout the resort. Day parking will be added at the Grand Summit and Jordan Hotels to include restroom and lodge access. “Ride with your party” is the plan at all the River’s lifts. Early season skiing will be passholders-only, so get your pass now. The pass includes “winter assurance” of 150 ski days open, or credits toward the following season. Day tickets become available as terrain expands across Sunday River’s 870 acres and 18 lifts. Tickets may be limited, so online pre-purchasing is smart.

Mt. Abram plans to be open mid-December, Friday to Sunday, plus Maine vacation weeks 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.—that’s an hour earlier. Mt. Abram will have limited capacity on the slopes, with priority given to pass holders. This ski area promises KAMP, seasonal and comp programs, with modifications, and of course, social distancing. Also, tailgating is strongly encouraged, with expanded shuttle service to Westside parking. Indoor space and dining will be limited in both lodges, including our fave Loose Boots Lounge. 

Shawnee Peak has expanded outdoor seating with a Pizza Deck and a heated outdoor beer garden.  Did you know Shawnee Peak has the most night skiing in New England? Check out the Peak’s unlimited night ski pass at just $275 for the season, plus their GenSki and Sunday-only pass deals.

Photo by Greg Burke. Opposite and above: Saddleback Mountain.

Shawnee, like many other areas, is following National Ski Areas Association’s “Ski Well, Be Well” plan: “Face coverings must be worn whenever physical distancing cannot be achieved. Physical distancing protocols will be in place for both indoor and outdoor spaces. Ski area staff commit to increased cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch areas. Ski areas will conduct daily employee wellness checks and have protocols for those exhibiting symptoms. And ski lifts provide constant airflow and can be loaded to allow for physical distancing.”

Face coverings are actually wicked smart for cold Maine winters, and certainly no big concession in order to ski.

Personally, I’ll miss chatting with “friends I haven’t met yet” on the lift and dancing après-ski with a crowd at Foggy Goggle, but tailgating at Barker is a trusty standby. Sugarloaf’s Bag turns 50, and the burgers will still be juicy—you will just need to make a reservation. Face coverings are actually wicked smart for cold Maine winters, and certainly no big concession in order to ski.

Ski areas have one great thing in their favor: lots and lots of the Great Outdoors, providing that all-to-necessary air and space. As the National Ski Areas Association puts it so enticingly, in the context of safety, “Ski areas have hundreds of acres of open terrain for recreation.”

See you on the slopes. I’ll be the one in the mask and goggles.

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