In 70 years, any business can have its ups and downs. At Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, down is up as the ski resort entered its eighth decade when it opened Saturday.

In many ways, the opening was like the others in the first or second weekend of December. That is just the way owner Chet Homer, his employees and the loyal skiers flocking to runs on Pine and Rabbit Run slopes would have it.

It means Rod Good drove up from Kezar Falls to operate the Pine Quad chairlift. For 29 years, Good has greeted skiers with a handshake and questions about how their family is and their summers were.

Nearby, Peter Young, who learned to ski at Shawnee Peak and became a national freestyle champion, passed on his skills to younger skiers.

In the base lodge, Bob Fitzsimmons caught up with friends after about three runs; he and a group of 25 to 30 loyalists will spend much of the season skiing midweek when the pace is a bit calmer, but opening day is opening day.

Plans for the anniversary celebration are still tentative, but Melissa Rock, director of marketing and communications for the resort, said a dinner dance and gala to benefit Camp Sunshine in Casco is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2008. The actual anniversary date for the resort is Jan. 23, 2008.

Shawnee Peak, once known as Pleasant Mountain, dates back to the days Bridgton Academy students and faculty first cut trails into Pleasant Mountain. What eventually became the Jack Spratt trail was created as a project to put people to work in the Great Depression through the Civilian Conservation Corps.

From that work to the construction in 2006 of the East Slope Condominiums, Shawnee Peak has produced skiing champions, began making its own snow in 1981, installed lights for night skiing and a half-pipe for the burgeoning sport of snowboarding, all without ever losing sight of the primary purpose of the resort.

“Recognize your market and don’t over-promise,” is how Chet Homer assessed the strategy to keep Shawnee Peak popular and profitable. Homer, once an executive with Tom’s of Maine, a shareholder in Ocean National Bank and former owner of the Portland Pirates, bought the resort in 1994 as it faced a financial crisis after the Shawnee Group defaulted on loans and the resort fell under bank ownership in 1992.

Even in years when warm spells or a lack of natural snow make conditions less than prime, Homer said he puts the profits back into the resort, ensuring maintenance and improvements are always made.

The resort has also made green steps forward by using electricity generated by wind power and automating the pump for snowmaking so it runs as efficiently as possible.

The rope tows pulling skiers uphill are long gone, and Fitzsimmons no longer gets his bindings from a harness maker as he did when learning to ski in New Hampshire more than 60 years ago.

Lights, quad chairs and snowmaking ensure Shawnee Peak Resort can stay open seven days a week and into the night from December through March. Homer’s realization that lakeside homeowners are often not from Maine has led to marketing efforts targeting the Boston area. Condominiums built at the resort draw skiers who bring family and friends.

The balance between red and black ink can still be tenuous as the resort is limited to a December to March season and offers no summer activities.

‘You can’t charge people to climb up a mountain,” Homer said.

The constant after 70 years is family.

“You can’t be all things to all people,” said Homer. “But parents can drop their kids off and know there is only one place they can be when they come back.”

Skiers like Bill Ralph of Yarmouth may choose Sugarloaf or Sunday River more frequently, but remain aware of the virtues of Shawnee Peak.

“This is a great place to teach the kids to ski,” Ralph said as he waited with his daughter Ellie, 6, for another daughter Cate, 8, to finish a run on Rabbit Run.

Nearby, Peter Young and Ivy Jordan were teaching new skiers. Jordan has been teaching for two years, coming to Shawnee Peak since she was 10, and her 9-year-old son Isaac is now on the resort ski team.

There are few slopes in America Young has not tried, Shawnee Peak remains a favorite. “This is one of the most cozy and comfortable places. You don’t have to worry about your kids and it is close to Portland,” he said.

Youth is well served with the classes, ski team and night skiing, but loyalists who test the slopes in midweek after teaching their children to ski at Shawnee Peak have yet to see the luster wear away.

Bridgton residents Fitzsimmons and Peg Miller have been skiing at Shawnee Peak since 1963 and 1959, respectively. Miller’s husband Ken has been on the slopes since 1938, although it appears medical problems may keep him from taking any runs this year. At the 65th anniversary of the resort, Ken Miller was one of two skiers lauded for having been there from the beginning.

“For a small area, you can ski all day and not get bored,” Peg Miller said.

A skier before taking his first runs at Shawnee Peak, Fitzsimmons said his first pair of skis came from Sears and Roebuck and lacked edges for turning. It was his brother who came to Shawnee Peak first, racing on the Jack Spratt Trail as a college student at the University of New Hampshire.

When the season hits full swing, as many as 350 people may be employed at least part time at Shawnee Peak, but the familiarity between employees and skiers is an emphasis for Homer.

“It is the culture we try to maintain. Loyal skiers come back and like to see the same people – it is like a circle,” Homer said.

This guide to Pleasant Mountain dated around 1970 shows the resort at about half the size it is now and about a decade before snowmaking began.Shawnee Peak on opening day in 2007. “It is comfortable and cozy ,” said Peter Young, a former national champion freestyle skier who learned on the slopes at Shawnee Peak and has returned to teach at the resort.Rod Good of Kezar Falls mans the Pine Quad chair at Shawnee Peak. Good has been working at the resort 29 years.


Facebook comments