AlpineZone Challenge 2005 – 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 6/14/2005:

Bob R: Let me start by saying Reggae weekend is now part of my Season plans for life. Do you have other major events or weekends planned? That would make me want to do more long Weekends here.

Bill Swain: First I would like to say thank you to everyone for the great set of questions and for your patience. I was on vacation for a week and it took me a few days to get caught up. Let me know if you have other questions that I can answer.

Admittedly Reggae weekend is like no other but there are a number of other terrific events throughout the season. White White World Week is a week-long celebration of winter that includes a series of zany on-mountain events like the ever popular downhill dummy jump and nightly theme parties. There is a disco night, tropical island night and falling into the strange but true category is cross dressing night. WWWW is the last full week of January and in addition to the events (all of which are free to attend), we have half price lift tickets and unbelievable lodging specials that have been as low as $59/person/night including lift ticket!

We also have monthly concerts throughout the season. We are currently working with promoters to set the line up which we hope to have finalized by mid-August so everyone will have plenty of time to plan the weekends they want to be here. Sugarloaf has a history of hosting phenomenal concerts for such a relatively small venue and we hope to revitalize our line up this year with some really great acts.

Our full calendar of events that will at the very least include the dates of the concerts will be posted on our website in the next couple of weeks. Here is the link directly to the calendar page.

Skimaine4ever: What is the plan for Burnt Mountain? I have heard rumors that SL has plans on developing it. Is it true? If so is there any plan to develop it in the near future? Besides that, are there any plans for new glades?

Bill Swain: Plans were drawn up for trail, lift, and condo development on Burnt Mountain years ago as part of long range planning based on the explosive growth of Sugarloaf in the 1970s. The driver of a project like that is real estate development. Since those plans were first hatched, other areas were developed for homes and condos — i.e. West Mountain, Village on the Green, The Timbers, etc. As it stands right now, the available and already accessible real estate is keeping pace with the current demand so I wouldn’t expect to see anything happen on major projects like Burnt in the foreseeable future. I’m not one to say it won’t happen, but it’s not likely to happen in the next few years.

Although there are no plans to cut new glades this summer, Sugarloaf is committed to continuing to improve our woods skiing opportunities. We will continue to thin more sections of the woods as resources allow. Plus, glades get better after they have been cut for a couple of seasons and the downed trees pack in and rot. Look for some of the glades we’ve cut in the past couple of summers to be sweet this winter.

awf170: Are there any plans for mid-mountain lift around were the gondola used to be? The Timberline Lift is so far out of the way. I know the wind is furious around there but if it was low enough I think it could work. Any other new lifts in the works?

Bill Swain: I know what you mean about Timberline being a little out of the way but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. As I’m sure you know, some of the summit trails, especially the natural trails, wouldn’t be the same if they had any more traffic then they already do. So in that respect, tucking the Timberline lift a little out of the way is a good thing because it keeps traffic manageable. Plus, that location is by far the best place to minimize the impact of wind.

As for other new lifts, replacements and upgrades are a part of long range planning but at the moment there are no lift projects on the table There are obvious places where newer technology could improve the experience so it’s definitely something we are looking at over the next few years.

loafer89: Are there any plans to convert the summit gondola building into a summit lodge, or at the very least a facility with restrooms? If not, what will be done with the structure?

Bill Swain: At this time there is not a plan to restore the summit building. The expense of running water and sewer lines all the way up the mountain make it prohibitively expensive to get restrooms or a restaurant up there. I know a lot of people would like to see it saved but at this time that does not look likely.

Greg: We broke the news regarding when this year’s Reggae Fest would be during the challenge last summer. Do you have a date set yet for the 18th Annual Budweiser Reggae Festival next spring? The Easter holiday (4/16/2006) will not impact the dates next year like in 2004. That opens up March 30-April 2, 2006 or April 6-9, 2006. Any chance of it being the earlier option? You really lucked out this season with abundant snow and great conditions for Reggae Fest, but I feel holding the event a week earlier provides an even better chance for optimal ski conditions. How much does the fact that many people mark Reggae Fest as the “end of the season” for them impact when it’s held?

Bill Swain: Reggae Weekend is always the second weekend in April unless there is a conflict with Easter. So this year, Reggae will be April 6-9. And while I will admit that this year the weather and conditions were just about perfect, that’s not really unusual. This whole season was closer to the norm than the previous couple of seasons. Even on low snow years we typically have plenty of open terrain for Reggae weekend. What can only be attributed to pure Sugarloaf luck is we almost always have good weather for Reggae. Sure there are exceptions, but the last three Reggae weekends since I’ve been here have all been graced by beautiful weather.

As for it being the season end, unfortunately for a lot of people, that is getting close to the end of their ski season. It gets difficult to keep people coming back to the mountain when there are so many other outdoor pursuits vying for their time — spring sports in school, golf, biking, etc.

loafer89: I skied at Sugarloaf for my family vacation from February 7th-14th, 2005. During MOST of this time Competition Hill was closed for racing, and access to Narrow Gauge was very limited. As a skier who paid $59 for a ticket, will this practice continue in the future? On the topic of ticket price, what will the adult day rate be next season?

Bill Swain: Sugarloaf has a proud tradition of hosting some of the best racers in the world and this past season we hosted 2 Junior Olympic events — the J1 Eastern Championship and the J2 National Championship. Competitions at those levels have very specific requirements as to what trails can be used. Comp Hill and Narrow Gauge are certified for those events and they are the only trails that are equipped with the appropriate timing gear. While I understand your disappointment of not being able to ski those trails, we do our best to accommodate races and our vacationing skiers. For the vast majority of our events, we only close the trails to the public for part of the day. However, larger events, and particularly speed events that require tremendous amounts of course preparation, do require the trail to be closed for several days. If it’s any consolation, trails that have been used for speed events do not offer the best conditions for recreational skiing until they have been groomed a time or two. Racers like the snow scraped off so they go faster.

Ticket prices for adults for next year will rise $3. Junior prices are staying the same as last year – $39.

awf170: Why is the line for the Super Quad always directed up the mountain? It is such a pain standing on that slope. Also is there anything you could do with that little drop before the Super Quad? It always gets moguled and icy and is a death trap for beginners. I would think you could maybe grade it a little bit to make it longer, hence less steep.

Bill Swain: We do what we can to minimize the steepness of that drop with snow but the topography is really calling the shots here. That slope all the way down to the lift terminal is solid ledge so grading is practically impossible. We install a fence across that slope on weekends to require skiers to slow down to a snail’s pace to enter the line area. I wish I could say there was more that we can do but it’s one of those things where we work with what we’ve got.

awf170: I was comparing older and more recent pictures of the snowfields recently. What is the history behind the creation of the snowfields? I ask because I’ve heard rumors that they were created or enlarged with fire and other efforts. Are they natural?

For the most part the Snowfields are natural. I don’t think there was ever a dense forest up there — it’s solid rock. From what I understand, there was a fire up there many many years ago that burned off much of the plant life. It’s not exactly ideal growing conditions up there so what does grow back grows very slowly.

loafer89: There are rumors that ASC resorts are scaling back on the length of their ski seasons for next year. Will Sugarloaf maintain the same amount of operating ski days as before?

Bill Swain: Sugarloaf’s season has been consistent for several years. We typically open the Friday before Thanksgiving and close that last weekend in April. Our seasons range from 145-160 days, depending on how the calendar falls.

loafer89: Paul Schipper’s skiing streak is very unique for our sport. What sort of publicity did this bring to Sugarloaf?

Bill Swain: Paul Schipper’s story may be the most widely publicized story in skiing. To give you an example, when the streak ended, the story appeared in more than 200 newspapers across the country and around the world, and those are just the ones I was able to find online. There were probably hundreds of others that I didn’t find. One Sugarloafer was in Austria this winter and brought me a page from an Austrian newspaper that had Paul’s photo and story in it. Over the years, there have literally been thousands of stories written and produced about Paul including appearances on Good Morning America (Paul’s favorite) and many other television shows, national magazines like SKI and Skiing, and newspapers of all sizes.

So to answer your question, Paul’s story has brought mountains of publicity to Sugarloaf and we are forever grateful for his efforts.

By the way, Paul still gets out there and makes turns just not every day. Look for him on the slopes next season and be sure to say hi.

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