New snowmaking technology isn't just a new way of doing business at Maine's big mountains. At the state's small mountains, it's a game-changer as well.
At Titcomb Mountain in Farmington and Black Mountain in Rumford new snow guns purchased last year have helped the areas hold national events and offer cheap lift tickets.
"This year we're focused on making skiing affordable to everyone in the state of Maine," said Andy Shepard, president of the Maine Winter Sports Center, which owns Black Mountain of Maine, "so we're offering $150 season passes for unlimited skiing at all of MWSC's ski areas and $15 day passes. Day in and day out, it's going to be $15 a day. We knew if we did that, people would expect (snow). So snowmaking became the thing."
The mission of the MWSC is to introduce more rural communities to skiing and inspire a more active lifestyle. Shepard said a new snowmaking system at Black Mountain was critical.
Last week at Black Mountain a new electrical system that will run the six new computerized cannons was installed. The mountain spent $500,000 on six new cannons, a new electrical system and a new water pump so more pressure could be run through the system. This weekend the computerized cannons will fire up and begin a new era with more snow.
"With the new computer system, it allows us to maximize every minute of available temperatures. These new systems require significantly less labor, and they make better snow and are more energy efficient," Shepard said.
At Maine's smaller mountains, warmer temperatures in winter have put a question mark on skiing. Even at 980-foot Big Rock Ski Area in northern Maine, warmer temperatures in recent years have made opening day a tough call.
"The way the climate is acting lately, even with our northern location, we really do have to augment," said Mark Shea at Big Rock Ski Area outside Presque Isle.
At 750-foot Titcomb Mountain, 14 new snow guns purchased in 2011 provided the technology to bring in a United States Olympic development ski race last winter. The guns were bought by the Farmington Ski Club, which runs the mountain, with a $60,000 donation from two area businesses.
"We've had snowmaking since 1995, but we upgraded to low-energy guns that are similar to the big mountains. They can operate in marginal temperatures. With the new ones, there is double the production," said Karleen Andrews, the mountain manager.
The United States Ski Association's Eastern Cup Nordic race at Titcomb was held on a small 7-kilometer loop during a dry January. But without the new snowmaking system, Andrews said it wouldn't have been held at all.
"On Jan. 15, there was no natural snow here. We were able to make a small loop. It was pretty cool. That was a pretty big deal for us," Andrews said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: