Maine menu: Beefed-up marketing, upgraded facilities, lots of snow

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Insight logoNew England received some strong early-season snowfalls last year, and that, combined with the recession and the higher airfares to the Rockies and the West Coast, has some East Coast residents taking a second look at ski areas closer to home.



True, expert skiers addicted to hip-deep powder and nosebleed-high mountains may always pine to go west, but for many of today's snow sports enthusiasts, the mountains of New England boast enough vertical drop and varied terrain to satisfy.

And while Vermont and New Hampshire have some of the best mountains in the region, the appeal of Maine is more basic. In the words of an old campaign slogan, it's the snow, stupid.

During the 2008-09 season, the conditions were good enough that Maine ski areas posted their second-best season ever with 1.4 million ski or snowboard visits, just a shade below the record season of the year before.

Resort officials credit good conditions as well as beefed-up marketing for the strong numbers as well as for the 1% boost in the Northern New England market share.

"Although 1% is not a huge number, the fact that Maine is gaining market share in the competitive Northeast market is a very positive sign" said Greg Sweetser, executive director of Ski Maine Association.

This season, Maine ski areas are not resting on their laurels. At Sunday River, for example, one of Maine's premier ski areas, the resort is benefiting from $1.4 million in renovations at both Grand Resort Hotels.

The mountain, which is marking its 50th anniversary this season, also upgraded the White Cap and Spruce Peak chairlifts and the Bark Pump House.

At Sugarloaf, the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel was renovated to the tune of more than a half-million dollars. The resort also beefed up its snowmaking system and created tube parks.

Of course, improvements alone can't guarantee a great season if Mother Nature doesn't cooperate, and so far the weather predictors are inconclusive. The Farmers Almanac foresees a slightly milder winter for the Northeast this season but adds that "significant snowfalls" are also in the offing.

What we do know is that Sunday River opened for the 2009-10 season on Oct. 14, not quite as early as some resorts in the West but a full two weeks earlier than its Halloween opening last year.

For more on skiing in Maine, go to www.skimaine.com.

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