Let it snow: Maine capitalizes on good powder

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PORTLAND, Maine -- When it comes to choosing Maine over other New England destinations, most winter sports enthusiasts can sum up that state's appeal with just one word: snow.

Last month's East Coast storm dumped up to 48 inches of fresh powder on the region.

"Maine mountains are in a natural snow belt, so we have a lot of natural snow," said Greg Sweetser, executive director of Ski Maine Association, a non-profit trade group based here, representing 18 ski areas. "In addition, we have high elevations in a northern location, which are the ingredients for deeper snow pack."

Another positive factor is the relative lack of crowds on the slopes as compared to Vermont and New Hampshire, he said.

Sweetser cited the easy access enjoyed by Vermont and New Hampshire resorts for their domination in visitor numbers but said accessibility is improving for Maine resorts, as well.

"Portland has a great jetport, and [the airport in] Manchester, N.H., [which serves many Maine ski areas] is also gaining traffic," he said, although most of the state's traffic is by car.

Other advantages the state offers skiers include a commitment to state-of-the-art snowmaking, high-speed quad lifts and a generous supply of ski-in/ski-out slopeside accommodations and shops, said Sweetser.

And with a nod to families, who represent a significant and growing segment of the winter sports industry, Maine resorts offer activities for a range of ages and interests, including cross-country skiing, snow tubing, shopping and spas, he said.

As part of an ongoing effort to sell travel agents on Maine, the state's office of tourism offers familiarization trips and educational materials, and the resorts themselves offer lodging packages, Sweetser said.

A family goes cross-country skiing at Sunday River Resort in Bethel, Maine. "In addition to ease of booking, packaging gives agents knowledge, and that is what the consumer is looking for," he said, adding that Maine's two destination resorts -- Sugarloaf USA in Carrabassett Valley and Sunday River in Newry -- are especially skilled at working with agents.

He stressed that multiple-component packages -- with such add-ons as lift tickets and ski or snowboarding instruction -- increase the value of the overall booking and enable agents to make more on commissions.

For details, contact the Ski Maine Association at (207) 761-3774 or visit www.skimaine.com.

To contact reporter Felicity Long, send e-mail to [email protected].

Winter season updates

PORTLAND, Maine -- Following is what's new for the 2003-04 winter season at Sugarloaf/USA and Sunday River ski areas in Maine:

Sugarloaf/USA. To accommodate increased demand, the first 18 units of The Timbers at Bucksaw, Sugarloaf's newest on-mountain condominiums, will be unveiled for the 2003-04 season. Some 80 additional ski-in, ski-out units are in the works over the next three years.

Fourteen three- and four-bedroom units in the Winter's Way condominium complex also will be ready for the season, with an additional 14 slated for next year.

On the mountain, two new glades will be open for this coming season, suitable for skiers and riders of all ability levels. New groomed trails include Kick Back, for experts only, and Boomscooter, for families and novices. The ski area also will offer expanded snowmaking and grooming capabilities.

A new snow cat, with a seating capacity of 20 passengers, will be introduced to transport visitors to Bullwinkles, Sugarloaf's mid-mountain lodge, for gourmet dinners on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

For information, call (800)THELOAF or visit www.sugarloaf.com.

Sunday River. South Ridge Base Lodge renovations include new retail space and lockers. The ski area also expanded its snowmaking facilities.

Expanding upon its reputation as a four-season resort, the ski area is building an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones golf course, the first nine holes of which are slated to open by July 2004. Also in the works are a golf school, driving range and clubhouse.

For information, call (800) 543-2SKI or visit www.sundayriver.com.

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