January 6, 2013

Skiing in Maine: Foundation, town working to keep Snow Bowl a treat

By JOHN CHRISTIE

For more than 70 years, the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area has been the home of the Camden Snow Bowl. As a recreation facility built by the work of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, the Snow Bowl has been valuable for generations.

It's been a place for community networking, enrichment, and recreation, providing an environment for people to ski, snowboard, swim, canoe, sail, hike, bike and climb, and for schools and organizations to hold events. Not to mention the annual national toboggan championships.

With access to Hosmer Pond, and creation of one of the state's finest network of mountain biking trails connecting to the hiking trails on Ragged and Bald Mountains maintained by the Coastal Mountains Land Trust, the Snow Bowl is becoming a year-round gem.

As a community-owned facility, the goal has been to provide inexpensive and accessible recreational opportunities, and create economic activity.

But the Snow Bowl hasn't been immune from issues faced by virtually all ski areas; the cost of providing up-to-date facilities, especially lifts, base area amenities, and snowmaking equipment often has outpaced revenues.

Some 21 years ago, enlightened locals and sports enthusiasts who felt the Snow Bowl deserved support from the community formed the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation, whose sole purpose was, and continues to be, supporting the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area and activities at the mountain.

The Foundation has funded improvements such as a tubing hill, terrain park and ski lift for beginners, as well as participating in long-range planning. For three years the Foundation has explored ways to ensure economic sustainability.

The conclusion was reached that construction of a four-season base lodge; improvement of ski area operations with the installation of additional lift capacity and expansion of the existing snow-making network; and broadening the year-round programs were essential.

Six years ago a consulting firm was hired to conduct a feasibility study of the ski operation and a town committee was formed to expand the view to include year-round activities at the recreation area. The town of Camden and the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area Foundation committed funds for initial concept designs by a landscape architecture firm and ski area design consultant.

The plan recommended investing $6.5 million in a base lodge, expansion of the snowmaking system from 45 percent to 80 percent coverage of the slopes, and replacing the T-bar lift to the top of the trails with a chair lift. It also included construction of a beginner and teaching area, and site improvements from burying and upgrading power lines, to constructing a sewage disposal system.

To provide the $6.5 million, a model public-private partnership was forged between the Town and foundation, with the town committing $2 million and the foundation agreeing to raise the remaining $4.5 million with contributions from individuals, businesses and foundations. The foundation established a capital campaign to raise the private funds, with astounding results.

Nearly $3.3 million of the $4.5 million private sector goal has been committed through initiatives, in anticipation of completing the campaign in time for Camden's 2013 town meeting.

In addition to an energetic general fund-raising campaign, three initiatives have been undertaken with meaningful results.

The first provides an opportunity for individuals, businesses or foundations to have a plaque in their name placed on the back of one of the chairs on the new lift at a cost of $10,000. To date, 34 plaques out of an available 100 have been purchased. The new chair lift is stored nearby and awaits installation on the completion of the campaign.

A second initiative honors a member of what is widely considered to be Camden's "First Family of Skiing," the Montgomery family. A room in the new base lodge, to be known as Sara's Room, has resulted in contributions totaling some $335,000, with a goal of $500,000.

The third fund carries a deep emotional meaning. It honors the recently deceased and widely respected general manager of the Snow Bowl, who also served as Camden's director of parks and recreation for the past eight years, and was the moving force behind not only improvements at the Snow Bowl but the redevelopment plan.

Jeff Kuller lost his life while felling a tree at his home in early November. His passing has left a great void not only at the Snow Bowl but the community at large.

An outpouring of gifts in his honor has created the Jeff Kuller Memorial Fund, which grows on a daily basis, and has contributed significantly to the recently announced fund raising total.

The Kuller family has pledged to match contributions to the fund up to $75,000, which will be dedicated to naming the multi-use trail system that provides Nordic skiing, mountain biking, snowshoeing and hiking in his honor.

Recent snowfalls and successful snowmaking operations have allowed the Snow Bowl to open more terrain than is usually available at this point in the year, and the feeling of optimism about not only this season but the long-range future is palpable on the slopes and in the community.

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 ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at:

jchristie@fairpoint.net

 

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