Friday, March 7, 2014
Auburn’s Lost Valley is the quintessential family ski area. From the convenient location (less than an hour from Portland), to the Technicolor chairlift, to the gentle slopes and family-friendly lodge, it’s a paradise for beginning skiers. Even the expert slopes, while not as challenging as their neighbors in the western mountains, offer some easy thrills.
As is often the case with community ski areas, there’s more to Lost Valley than meets the eye. Certainly it’s a great place for families and beginning skiers of all ages. Dig a bit deeper into the history of the Auburn slopes, and you’ll find that Olympians and pioneers also came from the 240-foot hill.
Lost Valley was founded more than 50 years ago by Otto Wallingford and Camille Gardner. Otto, an orchardist, found himself bored during the winter months. He partnered with Gardner, whose land was adjacent to his, to open the little community ski area.
The area opened in 1961, served by a single rope tow. A T-bar was installed the following year, and the mountain’s first chairlift came three years later. A second chairlift was installed in 1971, and a few more trails were cut. Aside from a handful of minor changes, the Lost Valley of the early ’70s – two fixed lifts serving just over a dozen trails – was strikingly similar to the one you’ll find today.
Lost Valley’s lasting impact on the ski industry came from Wallingford’s inventive nature. At the family orchard, Wallingford had nearly tripled output by creating an apple-grading machine and a controlled-atmosphere storage building.
Turning to winter sports, he revolutionized both grooming and snowmaking. Early snowmaking systems (tower guns, the “Otto-matic” fan guns and air-dried systems) and groomers (the “Powdermaker,” which dragged a giant roller to pulverize snow) sprang from his fertile imagination. The legacy of his 1960s Auburn inventions is seen in grooming and snowmaking systems around the world.
Despite its small stature, Lost Valley has spawned a number of skiers who reached the world stage. Karl Anderson, the first Mainer on the U.S. Olympic Alpine team, logged serious time on Bull Moose and other Lost Valley trails. Anna, Julie and Rob Parisien, the “first family” of Maine skiing, who grew up just three miles from Lost Valley, all went on to compete in international ski competitions.
U.S. Nordic team member and Auburn native John Bower didn’t learn to ski at Lost Valley, but has his own connection to the mountain: He managed the resort for the 1965-66 season.
Lost Valley is a hoot to ski. The trails are well-cut, and many follow the fall line from summit to base. Bull Moose, a black diamond, doubles as the race slope and makes for a quick shot to the bottom. Squirrel Run, a green cruiser that skirts the northern boundary, provides a leisurely path from the top to the base lodge. There’s also a top-to-bottom park, dubbed “Bear Terrain Park.”
All slopes lead to the lodge, a homey base with a large deck and lovely fireplace.
You can also buy trail tickets for 15 kilometers of Nordic skiing trails maintained by the Auburn Nordic Skiing Association (www.auburnnordic.org).
To get the full experience, ski on a weekday afternoon, when hundreds from local school ski groups descend on the mountain. Given Lost Valley’s pedigree, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these skiers in Pyeongchang in 2018.
Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be contacted at: