I have a tendency – and I’m not sure it’s a good one – to lump Maine’s ski areas into three buckets, based on their size.

There are the tiny community areas, with cheap lift tickets, bottomless hot cocoa, and one or two lifts to cover a handful of trails. Then you have the massive resorts, with hundreds (or, in Sugarloaf’s case, over 1,000) of acres of terrain. And, in the middle, there are the mid-size resorts like Shawnee, Abram and the Camden Snow Bowl – places that pull in the best of both other worlds when managed correctly.

For a long time, I thought of Black Mountain in Rumford as one of those small, community hills. That was a belief that merited reexamination. In the last decade, Black Mountain has grown into one of the most exciting feeder resorts in Maine.

Since its founding over 50 years ago, Black Mountain has largely made its bones as a Nordic skiing destination. The cross-country network, laid out by Maine Ski Hall of Famer and two-time Olympian Chummy Broomhall, is recognized by both recreational and competitive skiers as one of the best Nordic networks in the country. Over its lifetime, the resort has hosted national biathlon and cross-country championships a number of times.

While the cross-country reputation of Black Mountain soared, the tiny alpine area felt like an afterthought. A single T-bar climbed less than 500 vertical feet, serving a handful of trails. Back in the 1960s, a line was cut for a summit T-bar, but the lift never materialized. In the ’90s, a plan to purchase a chairlift for the area faltered. Black Mountain of Maine seemed destined to keep its small footprint, a community slope in the center of the triangle made by Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Saddleback in Maine’s western mountains.

Black Mountain’s fate changed in 2003, when the Maine Winter Sports Center purchased the resort from the Greater Rumford Community Center. Over the next decade, a double and a triple chair were installed, serving new trails and nearly tripling the mountain’s vertical to 1,150 feet. A three-story, 12,000-square-foot lodge was also constructed, housing everything from ticket sales to the ski school to a museum.

In 2013, the Maine Winter Sports Center divested itself from Black, and the future of the area seemed up in the air again. Thankfully, the supportive communities in the Rumford area have rallied around Black Mountain. The resort has operated as a nonprofit ever since, and improvements have continued rather than stalled.

Six hundred feet of snowmaking pipe, donated by nearby Sunday River, has been installed for future use on the Allagash trail. While prices at Black Mountain have risen modestly over the last few years, tickets are still only $20 on Fridays and $37 for Saturdays and Sundays.

They remain the least expensive day tickets for any of Maine’s mid-size resorts, and net you more vertical feet for your buck than anywhere else.

If you, like me, prefer skiing glades or side-country, Black Mountain is among the most exciting areas in New England. This is largely thanks to the Angry Beavers, a volunteer corps of locals that created acres of glades with hundreds of hours of labor.

In addition to their three dozen alpine trails, there are about 16 creatively designed glades at Black Mountain, with more being added every season.

New trails cut this summer open up access to the East Bowl at Black Mountain. The expansion in terrain was the result of loads of volunteer work from the Beavers, as well as some logging done by a neighboring landowner. The cutting has created more than five miles of new backcountry skiing, accessible with a short hike from the top terminal of the summit chair.

Except for Sugarloaf’s snowfields and Bracket Basin, it’s hard to find a similar side-country experience in Maine.

New programs are also on the docket for Black Mountain’s 2016-17 season. The resort’s alpine racing program has been expanded and now includes racers age 2 through 6. Called the “Never Ever Program,” it’s meant to teach the fundamentals of racing in a kid-friendly way.

There’s also a Ski Patrol Apprenticeship Program, created in association with Mountain Valley High School. The trimester-long program will prep students for National Ski Patrol certification, teaching lift evacuation, on-hill orientation, tobogganing, snowmobile support, and first aid.

If you, like me, have ignored Black Mountain for too long, this is the season to remedy that. With nearly a foot of snow just last week, and a planned opening day of Dec. 26, the time is right to visit one of Maine’s best skiing values.

Black Mountain will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day of the vacation week, and is open Friday through Sunday throughout the winter.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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