Every summer, ski areas add perks and amenities, if not major capital improvements. But across Maine, despite a still struggling economy, big upgrades went in just about everywhere, with new lodging, more snow guns, new trails — and one very big lift.

By far the biggest improvement is the Skyline lift, a $3 million fixed-grip quad that went in at Sugarloaf this fall. It hasn’t carried passengers yet after the mountain opened Tuesday, but Sugarloaf spokesman Ethan Austin said once the snow is deep enough it will hoist skiers and riders to just under the summit.

The Skyline replaces the Spillway lift that broke down last winter, and the new state-of-the-art quad not only will get more passengers up the mountain quicker, it will assure more days running in high winds. Last winter, the Spillway lift came loose and dropped to the ground on a day when winds were gusting well over 30 miles per hour.

The entire mountain closed six days last year because of wind, and Austin said the Skyline will help keep it open. It has the latest in wind-resistant lifts designed by Dobbelmayr that assure a more reliable ride. The lift towers are lower to the ground, the chairs are heavier, and wind fencing went up in exposed areas to minimize the impact on the lift.

Yet mountain officials don’t expect a throng of new skiers or even a jump in visits this winter, Austin said. More to the point, they expect their loyal community of Sugarloafers will love the place even more.

“It will run noticeably faster than Spillway. It cuts down the ride to eight minutes. The whole Spillway East ride was like 11 to 12 minutes,” Austin said.

CHANGES BIG AND SMALL

Elsewhere in Maine, improvements are big, different or just quirky.

New glades went in at Sunday River, which should boost the fun quotient for tree lovers. Jordan Bowl’s Blind Ambition got jacked up from 15 acres of tree skiing to 75 acres, making it the largest glade at the Newry resort.

And that’s only a piece of the $4 million in capital improvements that went in this summer — part of the $30 million spent on the resort since 2007, said Darcy Morse, a Sunday River spokesperson. The resort that boasts six months of skiing the past two years and bought more low-energy snow guns as well as a groomer, which expanded its fleet to 16 Snowcats.

“Right now we have 300 guns going. That’s the most we’ve been able to pull off at any one time,” Morse said. “It will allow us to expand more terrain more quickly.”

One of Maine’s biggest glade skiing areas, Saddleback, added a ski patrol shack at the top of the Kennebago lift. And the biggest upgrade there might be what you can’t see. The Rangeley ski area smoothed out the trails so it will take less snow to open for skiing.

Meanwhile, Shawnee Peak added fun new perks, with a passenger cab on the groomer and wilderness lodging. The groomer cab will be used for moon-groom rides and trips to the top to grab first tracks in the morning before the lifts open.

And a new yurt and a cabin that looks to Mount Washington can be rented for a wilderness experience at Shanwee Peak.

Along the coast, the Camden Snow Bowl added its first Nordic trail as well as a pumped-up glade that is steeper and closer to the top of Ragged Mountain than any of the other new glades.

The Nordic trail is just two miles long but marks the start of the “around the mountain” 10-mile trail that is in the works — and it’s free for the community-owned resort that, like everyone else, is looking toward bigger and better.

“It’s fun, it’s high up, it’s cool and steep,” said Snow Bowl Director Jeff Kuller.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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