December 2, 2012

Deirdre Fleming: Two Maine ski areas offering lift tickets at bargain-basement prices

What can $15 get you today?

The question may come up more as we get into the ski season, because two of Maine's lift-serviced mountains now offer lift tickets at that bargain-basement price.

Nowhere else in Maine can you ski or snowboard for that cheap, unless you're hiking up a mountain or holding a rope tow. And very likely nowhere else in New England is a day of downhill fun that cheap, said Greg Sweetser, Ski Maine executive director.

But every day a lift pass is now just $15 at Black Mountain in Rumford and Big Rock Ski Area in Mars Hill.

"It will stand out. It's a little bit experimental. Certainly, it's turning back the hands of time," Sweetser said.

Just stop for a moment and think what $15 buys today: enough gas to get from southern Maine to the mountains ... but not back; a decent bag of dog food, but not a nice after-dinner bone; a bucket of bait, but not a new ice trap.

An easier question might be: What kind of fun can't $15 buy today?

A really good pizza loaded with your favorite fixings, a zippy snowmobile rental, snowshoe rentals and an ice cream sundae, or studded tires for your mountain bike.

The idea behind the bargain lift tickets isn't to offer the best deal. The point is to get families that don't ski outside, said Andy Shepard, president of the Maine Winter Sports Center, which owns both ski areas.

The nonprofit, Libra Foundation-funded center has the mission of getting more Mainers outside -- active and healthy. After the MWSC put $7 million into Black Mountain over the past nine years, Shepard said it was time for a bold step, and, quite frankly, a $15 deal made sense.

"The (center's) goal is to make skiing accessible to everyone in the state of Maine. We didn't think we had gotten that right with our Alpine prices. We took the revenue for season passes, day passes, discounts and deals and looked at all ski-related visits, and we still were only averaging $15 a skier visit. So why not offer that?" Shepard said.

Last year's ticket price at the two mountains was $35. Black Mountain drew between 15,000 and 18,000 skier visits.

Shepard wants to double that total this year with the $15 lift ticket.

To be sure, there are deals everywhere across Maine's snowy peaks, from car-load days, to Maine days, to half-day steals.

But nowhere else is a full weekend day of skiing cheaper in Maine, not at Lonesome Pine in Fort Kent ($20), not at Lost Valley in Auburn ($45), and not down the road at Sunday River in Newry ($85). Not even at volunteer-run Spruce Mountain in Jay ($25), home of the $1 grilled cheese.

"The idea is not to pull from other ski areas, but to get new skiers into the sport and families skiing more. When you look at the obesity crisis in Maine and the fact that a sedentary lifestyle is a contributing factor ... we have to find ways to break down barriers to the outdoors. Then we all win," Shepard said.

To learn more about Black Mountain, go to www.skiblackmountain.org or call 364-8977. 

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

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: Flemingpph

 

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