AlpineZone Challenge 2004 – Bill Swain of Sugarloaf/USA

The AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge was designed to provide a method for our forum members to get official answers to skiing-related questions directly from a ski area representative. Bill SwainCommunications Manager of Sugarloaf/USA  in Carrabassett, Maine, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 4/21/2004:

Greg: Sugarloaf truly is a “magical” ski mountain, which offers a top-to-bottom vertical ski experience that is probably only matched in the East at Whiteface. The most common complaint I hear about Sugarloaf is “it’s so far away” which is in part why the mountain is so intriguing. Is its distance from major metropolitan areas the biggest marketing challenge that Sugarloaf faces? If yes, how do you overcome Sugarloaf’s remoteness? If no, what is Sugarloaf’s biggest marketing challenge?

Bill Swain: There’s no doubt that our location is a factor when it comes to day traffic. Resorts closer to major metros get more day traffic than we do. As far as overnight visits go, I think many of our guests will agree with the statement we like to make: “Spend a little more time in the car and get a LOT more time on the slopes.” A big part of the Sugarloaf experience is the relatively uncrowded slopes, short lift lines, and the local flavor you get from having a smaller crowd.

Joshua B: At what point in the ski season does Sugarloaf suspend snowmaking and why? Besides White Nitro, are any other snowfields equipped for snowmaking?

Bill Swain: We work diligently to get our snowmaking trails open by Dec. 31, weather permitting, and then go back and resurface. On average, we get very close to that goal with the possible exception being Nitro. As you know, the early season conditions can be harsh up there so we wait until conditions are near ideal before we commit to it. It takes several days of round the clock snowmaking on that one trail to get it covered so we need a fairly long window of favorable weather. That is the only line that runs into the snowfields, however, Powder Keg, which is to the skier’s right of Nitro, gets a ton of overspray, so it’s close to having snowmaking on it.

Snowmaking elsewhere on the mountain continues on an as-needed basis. If Mother Nature is dropping plenty of snow on us, we cut back. If it’s a lean year, we make snow into March like we did this year. Because of some unusual weather events this season, we did more resurfacing than we normally need to do. As a result, we had excellent conditions even though we were well below our average snowfall.

Joshua B: How has ASC’s ownership and direction helped and/or hindered the operation?

Bill Swain: There are a number of things we would not have if it were not for ASC ownership. The Whiffletree SuperQuad and the Timberline Quad are what first come to mind.

loafer89: Will the new condos being built next to the Super Quad be on the rental block for next season, and what capacity will they have? I have noticed more of the condos in disrepair. Is there any way to make the owners more responsible for their condition before they are rented?

Bill Swain: The new condos in The Timbers project are not likely to be in the rental pool, although we would welcome them if that is what an owner would like to do. Elsewhere, we do have maintenance requirements for condos to be in the pool. We also incent owners to improve their condos through a rating system. Higher rated units get rented first and more often. I do know there are several major maintenance projects on the schedule with condo associations this summer.

loafer89: Are there any long range plans for a replacement of the Double Runner and spillway chairs? Do you have any plans in the near future to add lifts or put new trails in place?

Bill Swain: I hesitate to say there is a “plan”. Obviously those lifts are getting older and will need to be addressed. At this point, though, no dates have even been thrown out. Despite their age, those lifts are very well maintained and can operate for several years safely. Haul ropes, grips, drives, and other components have been replaced along the way so many parts are not nearly as old as the lift itself.

loafer89: What ever happened to the dog sledding that was available around the base of the access road? Will that activity be returning in the future?

Bill Swain: That was a private operation so I don’t know what prompted the closing. I do know there is another individual in Kingfield who is offering similar services – rides, lessons, trips, etc.

Greg: What factors drive when Reggae Fest will be held? Wouldn’t you expect a larger turnout if you held the event during the end of March? This would still provide a spring skiing experience, but with more open terrain and better ski conditions.

Bill Swain: The target date is the second weekend in April. We pushed it to the third weekend this year because Easter fell on the second weekend. While I agree with you that a March weekend wouldn’t be bad, the weather in April is a little more predictable and we’re more likely to have a couple of stellar days like we’ve been graced with the past few years. Reggae is April 7-10, 2005 if you want to make plans to be there.

Greg: What is the status of the Gondola Line? Is there a plan to remove the old mid-station, or could it ever be reused? Are there any plans to use that route for another lift as an alternative to the Timberline quad for snowfield access?

Bill Swain: That’s a good question. I haven’t heard of any plans to build an alternate lift to the summit on that path nor have I seen anything about dismantling the mid station building. To many of our guests, it’s kind of nostalgic to see the ole’ midstation sitting there. It brings back fond memories for those of us who had the chance to ride the gondi.

MrMagic: Saddleback has really been out of the competition picture for quite some time. Now that they are planning expansions and hotels, are the employees and owners of Sugarloaf worried about Saddleback becoming a major competition?

Bill Swain: Ski resorts are a little like fast food restaurants in the sense that having another one right next door is good for both. Bringing more people to the area to ski and ride is a good thing. Hey, I work here but I still like to ski at other mountains. We all do. The more people who ski in Maine, the better off the industry is as a whole. Having a mountain like Saddleback end up on the list of lost ski areas would have been a shame.

loafer89: Are there any plans to change the dates of children’s week from January to perhaps February or March. The free childcare and children’s lessons were nice, but -20F is a bit cold for children to enjoy the skiing.

Bill Swain: At this time, there is no plan to move those January dates. You have to look at it from our perspective. We create special programs and pricing to help equalize the volume of traffic we see. We can offer special promotions during the week in January because the demand for rooms and mountain services (Perfect Turn, child care, etc.) is not as strong as it is in Feb. or March. Plus, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t see temps like that again next January!

Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you all. Great questions. Individuals with other questions can Email me directly.

Bill Swain
Communications Manager
Sugarloafer since 1992

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