For most skiers, the offseason is just that – time off from the sport between the close of the lifts and the first snow flurries. At ski areas, however, the summer is spent making improvements to facilities and programming, in ways big and small.

All over Maine, mountains have pumped time, energy and creativity into preparing their resorts for the 2016-17 season.

At Lost Valley, Chair No. 1 has been refurbished and a new variable speed drive has been installed. That’s not the only lift work at the Auburn ski area – a new conveyor surface lift has been added to the learning area. Snow tubing has also been added, and Lost Valley has joined the Freedom Pass program, which means their season pass now gives passholders three days of skiing at a dozen other resorts around the United States. Some of these are as far afield as New Mexico and Alaska, but six (Black Mountain, Bolton Valley, Dartmouth Skiway, Granite Gorge, Magic Mountain and McIntyre) are in New England.

At the Camden Snow Bowl, groomers, lifts and the snowmaking system got their typical offseason maintenance. All the trails were mowed, making snowmaking and grooming a less daunting prospect. New elements have been added to the terrain park.

One of the most exciting changes at the Snow Bowl is the addition of mountain biking and hiking trails for four-season use. Fat-tire bikes will be welcome all winter on the Midcoast Maine New England Mountain Biking Association trail network, which includes a number of black-diamond trails – like Red Trail and Dreadnaught – accessible from the Snow Bowl Trailhead.

Many of the offseason changes at Shawnee Peak will affect skiers before they even snap into their bindings. The rental shop in the base lodge was “gut renovated,” resulting in more square footage and an entirely new layout. This is complemented by additional rental equipment and new tuning machines from Grindrite and Wintersteiger.

The base area has various improvements, including upgraded Wi-Fi, and a new e-commerce system enables skier to purchase lift ticket in advance. On the hill, new snowmaking hydrants and guns were installed on Pine Slope and Exit 48, and a fan gun was placed at the midstation, all of which will allow Shawnee to open faster.

Like at Shawnee, many of the changes at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington were off the hill. A more efficient propane furnace was installed in the lodge, and new drainage plans should keep the lodge basement dry. The drying out of the basement was also occasion for mold removal by a professional team.

On the hill, the Nordic lighting program was completed, with new lights installed, and more added to the stadium. On the program side, Titcomb’s sponsors have ponied up to offer free skiing for four Fridays in February.

Spruce Mountain has added new snowguns to its network, increasing snowmaking capacity. The nonprofit, volunteer-run slope also has planned several fundraising events throughout the winter.

New water pipes were installed at Mt. Abram, increasing snowmaking operations by 35 percent. A large planned trail expansion project adds six trails to Abram’s network, with further expansion planned for the coming years. In a release, Marketing and Sales Director Clay Harvey noted that the changes aim to “maintain the focus on families and provide a space for skiers and riders of all abilities to progress their skills.”

Lee’s Mt. Jefferson, under new ownership since early in 2016, plans to add snow tubing to its offerings this season.

The biggest change visitors to Sugarloaf will see on the mountain is the new Bill and Joan Alfond Competition Center. Located just beyond the base lodge (built in the space that held the old competition center, and before that, the loading terminal of the Sugarloaf gondola), the $2.1 million center has staff and ski club office space, tuning facilities, space for athletes and visitors, and event space for up to 120 people.

Lift technicians installed a communication line on the SuperQuad over the summer, and major rebuilding work was done on the Skidway lift. In the village, Sugarloafers will see a new retail space – a Kuhl Signature Store.

On the hill at Sunday River, the summer saw major improvements to snowmaking, grooming and lift operations. After the news this summer that the top terminal of the Spruce Peak Triple had detached, Sunday River announced it would be replacing both that lift and the top terminal of the similar Locke Mountain Triple. While the Spruce lift won’t reopen until next season, the improved Locke Mountain Triple should open this month.

On the grooming side of things, two PistenBully snowcats were added to Sunday River’s fleets. And in the world of snowmaking, new and replacement equipment brings Sunday River up to an impressive 80 miles of snowmaking pipes, more than 2,000 snowguns, and an investment in snowmaking of over $7 million in the last decade.

And, while there’s little concrete news to report, Saddleback is showing signs of life after being dormant since early 2015. Last month, the Saddleback Mountain Foundation – a collection of Saddleback pass holders and Rangeley businesses – and the Trust for Public Land announced plans to raise funds to purchase the ski area. Commenting on its Facebook page, Saddleback wished the Saddleback Mountain Foundation well, while noting “other qualified buyers” were also “in the process of pursuing the purchase of the resort.”

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at:

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