Three of my greatest pleasures during the winter are skiing on my home mountain, “where everybody knows your name,” exploring new destinations and revisiting long-forgotten ski areas to reawaken memories and check out the changes and improvements since my last visit.

Son Josh, his friend Ryan and I spent such a day recently at one of my haunts during the 1950s, Pleasant Mountain (I know it’s now Shawnee Peak, but to me it’ll always be Pleasant Mountain), where we had a fabulous day of skiing.

I had a chance to check out the slick new triple chair, with its moving carpet that allows the lift to run quicker as skiers are carried into place to be loaded.

There’s enough of the memorable old terrain still intact that I was able to go back in my mind to the days when Russ Haggett capably oversaw operations there. And the East Side has opened up a whole new (to me) network of well designed trails, especially delightful in the morning sun.

But one my most enjoyable days this winter was spent at a jewel of a ski area nestled on wonderful terrain just outside of Rumford: Black Mountain. I hadn’t been there for over 30 years

My January visit, with my friend, Don Fowler, was a short time after the Chisholm Ski Club had played host to the 2011 U.S. Cross Country Championship races, marking a return of this prestigious event, previously held at Black Mountain in 2004.

The club, which originated in 1920, has hosted the event four times, and the races will be held at Black Mountain again in 2012, as they are always awarded on a two-year basis, given the investments required. It’s no small distinction that this special facility here in Maine would be selected to be the host site over dozens of other worthy locations.

Several changes helped secure the races once again, including widening the trails and expanding the stadium.

The snowmaking system has also been expanded over the years, which was especially propitious this year, given the relatively small amount of natural snow available in early January.

To my absolute delight, I found that all the improvements since my decades earlier visit had turned a ski area of a few hundred vertical feet, a T-bar and a couple of trails into a genuine must-ski facility in our own backyard.

General manager Jim Carter and his able right hand, Jennifer Leduc (ski school director, special events coordinator and greeter extraordinaire) filled me in on the area’s upgrades: A triple chair, a double chair and a free handle tow in the beginners area now supplement the original lift, and the triple rises nearly 1,100 vertical feet, providing access to over 15 wonderfully groomed trails.

Some three-quarters of the terrain is covered with man-made snow when necessary. But with an average annual snowfall of over 120 inches, Black Mountain gets it fair share of Mother Nature’s generosity.

Along with the alpine skiing, there’s a tubing park and the network of cross-country trails.

All of these improvements are the result of the Maine Winter Sports Center’s acquisition of the area in 2004, with the support of a grant from the Libra Foundation.

Day-to-day operations are overseen by a local board of directors dedicated to providing winter recreation opportunities to the community as well as a training facility for world-class ski and snowboard competitors.

And if the facilities sound good to you, let me tell you about the prices.

A full-day ticket (9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday or Sunday) is $29 for an adult, $25 for juniors ages 6 through 17, and $25 for those of us in the 62 to 74 category. After that, it’s free, as it is for kids 5 and under. And to encourage any Maine student in kindergarten up to second grade to take up skiing and snowboarding, season passes for that age group are free!

There’s night skiing, summit to base, from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday nights (the third day of the week the area operates) for $4 added to the regular Friday rate of just $10. There’s even a bar in the base lodge for apres ski.

And here’s a bonus: Thanks to the generosity of Bangor Savings Bank, Medcare, Pine Tree Cellular, Advantage Insurance and Oxford Federal Credit Union, Friday skiing the past three weeks was absolutely free.

This coming Friday, Feb. 18, you can ski free as the guest of Franklin Savings Bank, whose president, Peter Judkins, has been a moving force behind the Ski Museum of Maine in Kingfield, as a member of its board.

I encourage you to discover, as I rediscovered, this special treasure.

It’s only 45 miles from Lewiston, 55 from Augusta and 85 from Portland.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at:

[email protected]