January 14, 2013

Getting back in the Black: The little mountain that could

The small ski resort that thinks big, Black Mountain opens its first backcountry trail, begins grooming and remains an affordable $15.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

RUMFORD - The staff at Black Mountain ski area certainly could be said to have some Moxie.

click image to enlarge

Ski Patrol chief John McElrath, only on a snowboard instead of skis, ventures down Black Mountain’s new expert-only Moxie backcountry trail, accessible by the summit lift by hiking or post-holing, depending on individual preference.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Paige Carter, marketing director of Black Mountain, skis the Allagash Trail, which offers a panoramic view of neighboring mountain ranges.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Map: Black Mountain of Maine

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Black Mountain of Maine

They named their new backcountry trail after the river of the same name, in keeping with the other trails at Black Mountain, which all are named for Maine rivers.

But the mountain staff also could be said to have some chutzpah as well because of their recent refusal to be a little mountain. This year the nonprofit ski area opened up its first backcountry trail with plans to add more. And they groomed for the first time the 2-year-old summit-to-base beginner trail that now is the longest on the mountain yet, at 1.5 miles.

They want to offer something for everyone here at this mountain with the $15 lift tickets.

The backcountry, expert-only Moxie Trail is accessed off the big lift by hiking, or post-holing as it were, depending on your preparedness.

Showing up without skins or snowshoes could make getting to the 1,380-foot summit difficult, but on a quiet weekday Ski Patrol Chief John McElrath had no problem leading two visitors.

"I love to bring people up here," McElrath yelled over his back, as he walked in snow that was thigh-deep on Friday.

South-facing Black Mountain is the fourth-highest ski area in Maine. And in the past year the staff has made accessible to beginners 1,250 feet of that vertical with the new Allagash Trail, another unique offering.

The Allagash Trail is something of a destination for beginner skiers: At 1.5 miles long it's a meandering, long run with views as good as a National Scenic Byway. Yes, it takes in the Rumford mill's smokestacks in the distance, but it also shows Mt. Blue, Tumbledown Mountain, Mt. Abram and the rolling foothills of the western mountains.

"It's a beautiful mountain," said marketing director Paige Carter of her hometown ski area.

In the years ahead the staff here will develop a backcountry trail off of Moxie, approximately 1.8 miles along the mountain's ridge line. As early as next winter there might be a T-bar put in to cut out the backcountry skinning needed to get to the summit. Then all manner of expert terrain could be opened, including in the two bowls where 80-foot drops and prime glades could attract new skiers and riders.

For now, McElrath said the Moxie trail is open to ticket holders who inquire and receive some measure of safety instruction.

Carter and McElrath grew up skiing here surrounded by their friends. As McElrath proudly puts it, they are "TFRers," members of the unofficial "Team From Rumford."

"It's not a person, it's an idea," McElrath says as he cuts into powder.

So it is that these enthusiastic locals who have taken what the Libra Foundation started here a decade ago and run with it. They took the money infused by the nonprofit in a new lodge, snowmaking and lifts, and on their own found ways to make more of a mountain of Black Mountain.

They're proud where they came from; but they are also proud of where they're taking it.

"Everyone in Rumford knows everyone else. So growing up you'd come to the mountain and know everyone here. Now it's exciting, you see people from Portland and from other parts of Maine," Carter said.

To learn more about Black Mountain of Maine, go to http://www.skiblackmountain.com.

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


Twitter: Flemingpph


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

A snowboarder walks up the main access road to Black Mountain, long a local attaction that now is marketing itself for an expanded clientele.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

John McElrath finds the deep snow on the new Moxie trail to his liking during a test run at the Rumford resort.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer


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