As the ski season begins to crank up, with some areas already running and opening dates in the near future for the rest of Maine’s 19 Alpine and 19 Nordic centers, visitors can expect to see lots of improvements at many of them.

Sugarloafers already have seen the impact of upgrades to the snowmaking system, with nearly top-to-bottom skiing about as early in the season as they’ve seen. Gondola Line from the top of the Skyline lift has been buried for a couple weeks, and cruising on Tote Road has been on midwinter cover.

Some $350,000 was invested in snowmaking upgrades, including the addition of nearly 40 new low-energy HKD SV10 impulse guns, employing state-of-the- art technology that enables the guns to produce the same amount of snow as traditional devices while using 30 to 40 percent less compressed air.

Half the new guns have been permanently installed on Haywire, with the others mounted on sleds to allow movement to strategic locations as needed. Additionally, some 6,000 feet of new snowmaking pipe has been installed to substantially enhance the area’s ability to make snow in the Whiffletree area earlier in the season. New pipes also have been installed on Tote Road and some other sections of the mountain.

Some 110 miles to the southeast of Sugarloaf, the Camden Snow Bowl has undergone the state’s biggest improvement program, with the installation of a triple chair to the top of the mountain, replacing an antiquated T-bar; the relocation and shortening of the area’s old double chair to serve a vastly improved novice area; doubling of the snowmaking system; major re-contouring, widening and grading of many of the trails; and the installation of a carpet lift for beginners

A temporary addition to the base lodge, precursor to the construction of a new base facility to be undertaken next summer, will provide a little more elbow room in the old A-frame lodge that has served the area for nearly 40 years.

This past Thursday, at Mt. Abram in Greenwood, a commissioning ceremony took place unveiling a 244,915-kilowatt, 803-panel photovoltaic solar project that will produce an estimated 280,000 kilowatts annually, potentially offsetting about 70 percent of the ski area’s annual consumption of electricity. Five years in the planning, this energy-saving leap forward was made possible by a USDA Rural Redevelopment matching grant of up to $235,000.

Mt. Abram also has increased its snowmaking system and capacity to further insure quality conditions at an area renowned for its grooming.

The buzz around Skowhegan is that Eaton Mountain, closed to skiing since 2011, will again operate with a handle tow on the new Lower Bowl, and snow will be made on the lower portion.

At Saddleback, some new HKD low-energy snow guns have been added to the area’s extensive snowmaking system, which will help it get more of the upper reaches of the mountain open to skiing earlier in the season in the absence of natural snow. Work has continued there in the glade-skiing areas, as it has at other Maine mountains such as Black Mountain in Rumford, where volunteers substantially have expanded the off-piste opportunities for adventuresome skiers and boarders.

Over in Newry, Sunday River, as always, spent the summer upgrading and improving Maine’s busiest resort. Visitors will find 10 more acres opened up in the Hollywood Glade on Barker Mountain.

The South Ridge base area has been spiffed up and a new heated concrete deck has been added.

The big news at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington is that the Nordic trails will, for the first time, be lighted and open for cross country skiing any time the Alpine slopes are open. Megan Roberts, Titcomb’s co-manager, reminds us that folks on snowshoes are also welcome at the club-owned gem of a ski area. They will be able to exercise on a new 2-mile single track trail.

For Bangor-area skiers, Hermon Mountain replaced some aging snowmaking pipes with new higher-capacity ones that will add to its already-considerable snowmaking capacity.

At Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, the big news is the replacement of the old beginner double chair with a new triple, as well as the addition of 40 high-efficiency snow guns and two state-of-the-art fan guns. Visitors also will see improved traffic flow in the base lodge with the addition of a customer service/season pass area.

Speaking of snowmaking, Big Squaw will manufacture the white stuff this winter on the trails served by its triple chair. Not to be outdone in the man-made snow and grooming departments, community-owned Powderhouse Hill in South Berwick has installed some snowmaking equipment. It has purchased a snowmobile equipped with a commercial drag for grooming, and replaced the old rope on the tow.

The Friends of Lost Valley was formed this summer to successfully raise money to stabilize operations for this coming season. An immediate goal of the group was to invest in energy-saving initiatives, including new lights and low energy snow guns. Volunteers undertook summer trail maintenance and mowing, so the popular Auburn facility again will echo to the laughter of happy youngsters discovering Maine’s favorite winter pastime.

For updated information on opening dates, conditions, special activities and improvements, go to the website of the Ski Maine Association, www.skimaine.com, where you’ll also find links to each ski area’s website.

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:

[email protected]