With plenty of great spring skiing left, thanks to the unusually cold winter and plenty of snow in the mountains, this ought to be the year that you really take advantage of the sweetest season of all, with long days, warm sun and soft corn.
And here’s a tip from someone who relishes March and April, a time when I take the opportunity to visit some areas that I haven’t had a chance to, or just avoided because of the frigid winter weather: Put Big Squaw in Greenville on your must-visit list.
Having spent one of the best days of the season recently at the rejuvenated Piscataquis County mecca, I can promise you that you’ll be in for both a surprise and a treat.
If your memories, like mine, go back to the halcyon days when Big Squaw operated under a variety of ownerships and management, both public and private, and then you sadly watched its ultimate demise several years ago, you might find it hard to believe that there’s a rebirth and energy there that will remind you of what fun the place used to be.
A day spent there will confirm that you don’t need a couple thousand feet of vertical to enjoy skiing or boarding to its fullest. It comes down to hospitality, ambiance, variety, views, comfortable uphill transportation and careful grooming … not to mention very reasonable pricing.
And the new Big Squaw has all of those in spades.
With plans to operate on natural snow until it runs out, the dedicated group of local volunteers, with a paid staff of about a dozen employees, is clear evidence that if committed citizens feel strongly enough about providing winter recreation for their neighbors, young and old alike, virtually anything is possible.
Back in 2012 The Friends of Squaw Mountain, a soon-to-be recognized 501C3 nonprofit corporation, was formed for the purpose of reviving a portion of the dormant ski area that hadn’t operated for several years as the result of an unfortunate lift accident on the aging chair to the summit that had been installed in 1967, as well as associated financial difficulties.
A little history: Squaw Mountain opened in December 1963 with a T-bar climbing about 600 vertical feet, a warming hut and four trails. The next year, a second beginner T-bar was installed to service a teaching area. Three years later a new double chair ascending a full 1,700 vertical feet nearly to the mountain’s summit was put in use, making Big Squaw Maine’s second-largest ski area after Sugarloaf.
Twenty years later, a triple chair replaced the original T-bar on the lower part of the mountain, after which five different groups, including Scott Paper Co. and the state of Maine, kept the place going until it was sold to the current owner in 1995. He operated it for 15 years until its closure.
Enter The Friends of Squaw Mountain and a rebirth. They have spiffed up the original base lodge, put the triple chair in A-1 operating condition and, thanks to longtime mountain man and dedicated volunteer Rodney Folsom, daily trail conditioning is conducted with a state-of-the-art Prinoth groomer.
When you visit, and you really should, you’ll be reminded that even from the top of the triple you can enjoy the breathtaking Moosehead vista with Kineo and the Spencers beyond. If you’re there on a day like the one I enjoyed recently, the glistening and impressive white mass of Katahdin to the north will look almost close enough to touch.
You’ll also find it hard to believe that although there’s just the one lift, and there’s only a tad more than 600 feet of vertical, there’s such a wide variety of accessible terrain, and tests for most any skill level, that it feels like a much bigger area. For example, the trail map lists about a dozen trails, with several different routes opening up from the unloading station. There’s even a short diamond, Exterminator, right under the top few hundred feet of the lift opening up to a nice cruiser to the base. St. John, a blue intermediate, wanders off to the skier’s right, and several more blues head down to the left, leading to a variety of novice options over in the vicinity of the now-abandoned base area hotel and lodge comprising the former area served by the closed double chair.
The area is open on afternoons Wednesday through Friday, and all day Saturday and Sunday. But you’d be wise to check its website or Facebook page (updated daily) “Friends of Squaw Mountain,” or call 207-895-2400 for a current report.
As a nonprofit, the facility depends on generous volunteers and sponsors. You can purchase a banner on one of the chairs for $500, demonstrating your personal, organization or business support, and strategically located advertising signs can be purchased for $2,500 each. I was impressed with the sheer number of supporters in evidence on my recent, and most enjoyable trip back in time to a genuine Maine treasure.
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 columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at: