Labors of Love and Liftoff
March 03, 2013 -
Greenville - With a good 20 alpine areas across the state, Maine doesn't need another lift-access ski mountain.
Tell that to the people of Greenville.
When Big Squaw Mountain Ski Area opened again for business Feb. 12, it proved a small-scale operation by Maine skiing standards. With just one lift on the lower mountain, a small lodge, modest snack bar, no snow making and an ad-hoc, snowmobile-club grooming effort, this place is no Vail.
But like a lot of local Maine ski mountains, there's a whole lot of love going into it, and the people in town feel the love.
Let's start with the fact a friends' group got the ski area open, leasing it from the owner, who closed the mountain. With donations pouring in and lift chairs sponsored by more than 50 businesses, the Friends of Squaw Mountain saw only one way to go: Up that mountain with the view of Maine's largest lake.
"I feel great. I think it looks remarkable. You should have seen it before we opened. We sold 100 lift tickets today," said friends member Amy Lane on Day 10 of the ski area's rebirth.
By then, Lane said, the friends group had made great strides at the ski area overlooking Moosehead Lake.
They got their lift approved by the state tramway board, had raised enough money to fund a staff of 10 that includes a ski technician in the rental shop and lift operators.
If a new owner doesn't come and purchase the mountain that is for sale, the friends group can keep running the ski area, Lane said they all feel certain.
It's good news to the townspeople, who saw around 200 jobs lost and a surge of winter traffic in the winter die when the mountain closed two years ago.
"This whole area needs this mountain. Without it, it becomes a one-season town," said Dan MacFadyen, who has been a member of the ski patrol at the mountain since 1967.
"People have camps and they like to come to camp in the winter, but want something to do with their grandkids. If their kids can ski, they'll use their camps," MacFadyen said.
So agrees Tony Cirulli. The owner and cook at Flatlanders Restaurant, Cirulli said he's seen a surge in out-of-state camp owners coming up for long weekends since the ski area opened again.
"It does help. People come here after for drinks and to eat. We haven't had skiers around for years. It's a blessing," said Cirulli.
Glenn Murphy from Bass Harbor is one such camp owner who now spends more time in Greenville in winter.
He said his family enjoys their camp in the winter, but the ski area gives them more reason to be there. Now his children, rather than skiing once or twice at a big ski area, are skiing every weekend in Greenville.
"We were sad when it closed. The kids were skateboarding around here this summer with no thought we'd be able to ski here this winter," Murphy said. "We're excited to have it back."
But MacFadyen, the long-time ski instructor who has taught at Sugarloaf and out West, wants more. He said the friends group will find a way to bring more business to Big Squaw Mountain.
"There used to be buses taking fifth-graders here to learn to ski. There were five schools coming here every week.
"There is a whole generation of skiers who won't learn. Hopefully, we'll get that back," he said.
Deirdre Fleming, Maine Outdoors, March 2013
Lakes: Moosehead Lake
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