CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Sugarloaf claims to be “King of Spring.” By 2013 it may just be King.

Sugarloaf will become the biggest ski area east of the Rockies after a three- to four-year glades project is complete, it was announced Tuesday by mountain officials.

The project will double the size of the patrolled terrain from the current 651 acres of groomed trails to 1,306 acres that includes a new 651-acre swath of glades. Tree skiing, or glades, refers to woodlands that have been thinned and opened up for skiers and riders to navigate through.

The expansion onto neighboring Burnt Mountain will begin right away with 270 acres of new glades cut this winter, and will offer skiers and riders a better shot at natural powder, which stays longer in the trees.

The owners of Sugarloaf think it may separate the mountain from all of its competitors in the East indefinitely.

“I think we can hold that destination for decades,” said Stephen Kircher, the president of Michigan-based Boyne East, Sugarloaf’s parent company. “Vertically we are already comparable to a lot of western resorts. This will make us bigger than some.”

The expansion will set 4,237-foot Sugarloaf apart without spending a lot of capital. That means no increase in lift tickets, said Brad Larson, the Sugarloaf director of marketing. Larson said daily lift ticket prices will stay at $77 for adults in peak season.

“This adds value to the experience without adding cost,” Kircher said.

But Kircher believes when the entire glades project is done it will draw “tens of thousands more skiers” each year.

The expansion will be done in three phases, starting with 270 acres this fall and 135 acres next year.

Phase One will be opened up as soon as the natural snow hits, said Sugarloaf General Manager John Diller.

While no lift or T-bar will be installed on Burnt Mountain, skiers and riders will have access from the higher trails on Sugarloaf Mountain, and eventually by a Snowcat ride. The glades will be patrolled by mountain staff trained in first aid.

“It’s not lift access, it’s a hike or a Cat (ride). It’s 2,200 (feet) of vertical terrain,” Kircher said.

It’s important to note, Sugarloaf’s president said, the experience is intended to let Sugarloaf “retain its wildness.” Kircher said the decision to add a significant tract of glades was made to keep Sugarloaf what it is to its devoted following of skiers and snowboarders: a mountain with challenging terrain and steep vertical pitches.

“We want to reinforce that core DNA, so that it doesn’t get reworked in a way that isn’t compatible with the last 60 years,” Kircher said. “It has always been a skiers’ mountain. The best skiers in New England come here.”

Also in the next few years, work will be put into upgrading the current lifts, Diller said. This winter $1.5 million will be spent on upgrades to snowmaking and lift service, adding to the $9.4 million spent the past three years, Diller said.

In addition Diller said other upgrades expected in the years ahead will include a facelift to the base lodge and 500 new low-energy snowmaking guns, as well as improved lift service.

But the glades that mountain employees will start cutting on Labor Day will be a signature attraction, both Diller and Kircher said.

“We’ve been talking about Burnt Mountain for 60 years,” Diller said.

“Being the biggest ski area East of the Rockies gives us bragging rights. And that starts Monday.”

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]