AlpineZone Challenge 2006 – 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 Swain, Communications Manager of Sugarloaf/USA  in Carrabassett, Maine, took the AlpineZone Ski Area Challenge and provided the following responses on 9/8/2006:

thetrailboss: Bill, great to have you on board again. I have never been to Sugarloaf and was wondering what I can expect on my visit(s) this season? What is new? What advice do you have for a first time visitor (expert skier)? I will have an ASC Student Pass, so how can I stay overnight if on a budget?

Bill Swain: Your Sugarloaf experience actually begins a few miles south of the access road when you come around Oh My Gosh Corner. It’s the famous bend in the road that when you come around the corner, the entire mountain is presented before you. It’s awe inspiring. Once you’re here, we do our best to make it easy for you to find your way around. Having a single base area and a single summit makes it pretty easy to navigate your way around the resort.

I tell expert skiers to go east (which is to your left as you look up the mountain). Experienced Sugarloafers will tell you some of the best terrain is east of the Spillway chairs and includes groomed steeps like Gondi Line or untouched New England masterpieces like Bubblecuffer. The King Pine Bowl is rarely crowded and there is some killer terrain to discover. The locals will hate me for this, but snow drifts from west to east, so after a big dump, the farthest east trail – Ripsaw – can be buried in snow that’s many times deeper than the actual snowfall.

As for lodging deals, we have some amazing deals, especially for college students during their holiday break. The week after Christmas is made for college students. We also offer lodging-only and passholder lodging offers that are fairly inexpensive. If you’re not already signed up to get our e-newsletters, I would. Subscribers get first crack at our best deals before we make them available to the general public. You can sign up on our homepage at

New this year at a glance

All new monster terrain park that’s more than twice the size of anything we’ve ever offered

Village beautification to include signage, landscaping, and building exteriors

A new competition facility at the base of Comp Hill

Base lodge renovations to consolidate children’s programs on one level and bring ski and snowboard rentals to the top floor, directly adjacent to the slopes

More low energy snow guns for better early season coverage Introduction of biodiesel to fuel fleet vehicles

Vegetable oil from on-mountain restaurants will fuel a shuttle bus all winter long

Terry: Some questions about the lifts. First, there were problems with the Superquad being out of commission, or being extremely slow last year. Are the problems with this lift all ironed out? I heard some grumbling on another website that it was due to lack of maintenance. Any truth to that? Second, it seems a lot of the lifts are aging. Are there any plans for replacements or upgrades? Third, will we ever see a base to summit lift again? The biggest complaint about Sugarloaf it the amount of time it takes to get to the summit. I really enjoy skiing up there so keep up the good work!

Bill Swain: I can assure you that all of Sugarloaf’s lifts are very well cared for by a large team of skilled mechanics. Most of the guys on the team have many years of experience and are considered among the best in the business. That said, lifts, as with any mechanical device, are bound to require servicing, particularly something as complex as the Superquad. Last summer we rebuilt the drive motor which is a huge 800 horsepower electric motor. This is something that you have to do for all lifts at this stage in their life. The issues it had during the season, I believe, were traced to components that the company the rebuilt the motor installed that we had no way of testing. Once we found the problem, it was corrected and the Quad is back to 100 percent for the coming season. We ran the lift on its diesel drive while the motor was being rebuilt for the second time. Fortunately, the Quad can run at full speed on the diesel drive. You see it running on diesel occasionally as part of the continuing maintenance program.

As for the other lifts, sure they’re old but they still get the job done. It’s hard to beat the reliability of a solid fixed grip lift. I know what you’re saying, though. At some point they will need to be replaced and it is a part of planning for the future. A specific time frame for lift replacement projects has not yet been established.

The problem with a base to summit lift is it’s just not practical given the conditions, skier volume, and cost. The path the Timberline lift takes really is the best route to the summit because the Snowfields are completely exposed to the elements. Timberline kind of sneaks up the shoulder of the mountain just below tree level with the prevailing winds at its back instead of perpendicular to the line, which is what would happen with a base to summit lift.

loafer89: I skied at Sugarloaf on Easter Weekend 2006 and while I was pleased with the ski conditions for the most part, I was less than pleased with the amount of lifts that were opened. My son is a low intermediate skier and not a single lower mountain lift was operating for Easter Weekend except for the Superquad. We skied at your competitor (Saddleback) on the Saturday before Easter Sunday (in the rain) and ALL of their lifts where operating, including the lower mountain areas. Please explain why this is? I am a long time Sugarloafer (nearly 20 years) and travel better than 400 miles to ski the mountain; honestly this ruffled my feathers a bit. Can we look forward to a later April closing or will there be another change in policy?

Bill Swain: I’ll admit I had to look it up to answer this one because I didn’t remember exactly what lifts were running that day. The three lifts we had running provided coverage all for our open terrain. Easter was pretty late last year and as a result of the bizarre weather we had experienced that was our last day of the season. We often close before the snow is all gone because there are so few people using the mountain. We schedule lifts to make the open terrain accessible and to meet the skier demand for that day. If I remember correctly, there weren’t any lift lines on Easter Sunday.

This year our tentative closing date is April 22, which is 2 weeks after Easter.

Angus: Some questions on promos and events. Can you give us some details on Reggae Fest? Also, is the resort pursuing any marketing tie-ins (some may already exist that I’m unaware of) with Seth Wescott? He’s a great spokesman – anyone who was at the appreciation day would have been amazed at his presence and how well the whole day worked out – good job on the resorts’ part as well! Last, what are the dates for next years children’s week?

Bill Swain: The 19th Annual Bud Light Reggae Festival is set for April 12-15 and plans are still in the works. If you’ve never been to a reggae fest at Sugarloaf, it’s an event like no other. Knock on wood, but for the past several years, the weather worked out nicely with mild temperatures and sunny skies – perfect for hanging out with a few thousand fellow Sugarloafers grooving to the sounds of the Caribbean. One thing to keep in mind is daytime events are open to all ages, but the evening events are 21+.

We appreciate the compliment on Seth’s homecoming. I’m with you in thinking that was one of the most memorable things that I’ve seen here. I was with Seth at a press conference at the hotel so we had no idea how many people had come out. When I popped out from the Widowmaker and saw the enormous crowd I was blown away. What an awesome day for Seth and everyone who was there.

You’re also very right in saying that Seth is an outstanding spokesman for the sport who we are proud to support. How can you not admire a guy who sat down and signed 2500 autographs in a single sitting! We are currently discussing potential events with him and hope to have something to announce very soon. But don’t worry, Seth is a Sugarloafer through and through so I’m sure you’ll see him around.

On children’s weeks, we have 4 this year including two Nickelodeon-themed weeks. Our annual Children’s Festival week is Jan. 8-12. Then we have Kids-n-Teens week Presented by Nickelodeon on Feb. 5-11 which will include live music from Hot Peas N Butter from the Noggin Network’s Jack’s Big Music Show and special appearances from Spongebob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer.

Our next Nickelodeon event is March 5-9 with the Nickelodeon and Sugarloaf Winter Fest. Again we’ve got great music, games, events, and special guests all week long.

The final children’s week is March 19-23 for Kids-n-Teens week when kids and teens ski free when they stay with their parents for 3 or more nights.

We are adding more details on the web as we get them so be sure to check out for the latest.

loafer89: Please explain the new trail that we see/read is being cut on the lower mountain. What is its name, length and degree of difficulty? What sort of trail will it be? Are they just going to use the old terrain park as a regular trail now?

Bill Swain: The new trail is going to be home to our new and greatly improved terrain park. It was cut between the SuperQuad and Lower Narrow Gauge and runs from Peavy Cross Cut to Schipper’s Streak, which is the second hook off of Lower Gauge. This trail is twice the acreage of the Stomping Grounds and is up to 400 feet wide and 1800 feet long. It was cut specifically to be our a terrain park because it has ideal topography to accommodate a park with bigger and more jumps than we’ve ever had.

We will also have rangers in the park every day to make sure it’s in pristine condition all the time. Lots of great stuff happening with terrain parks this year and we hope to involve as many Sugarloafers as possible. We’re going to stat by letting you guys decide the name of the trail/park. We’re going to have an online contest that we expect to unveil in the next few weeks so start thinking of your best names.

The old park – Chaser – is going to return to a traditional trail with its former name, Lower Double Bitter. We do expect to use the trail to host boardercross events at select times throughout the season. Look for a mini-pipe and a set of small features for first time park riders at the site of the in-ground halfpipe.

shwilly: Some questions on facilities. I love the mountain, but the base lodge showed serious signs of neglect last year. The roof leaked (unfortunately relevant in a year with lots of unfrozen precipitation) and one infamous urinal didn’t work for most of the season. Is the lodge getting the needed attention this off-season? Second, when one visits the summit gondola station, it is distressing to see the amount of garbage–broken glass, wire, wood, beer cans, etc – that litter the summit area. This combined with the old gondola station, is a real eye-sore. Can you solve this issue?

Bill Swain: The base lodge is getting quite a bit of work this summer including moving Mountain Adventure from the top floor to the ground floor and moving ski and snowboard rental to the top floor. These renovations will improve both facilities and make them more accessible.

As for the summit building, the last time I was up there in the spring it was pretty well cleaned up. But I will agree, it is disheartening that some people don’t carry out their own trash and it does get to be a problem up there. While the summit building isn’t the most attractive, I think the real eye sore you’re referring to is the mid station on Gondi Line. We would love to get that thing taken down but it’s just a matter of priorities. I’d guess that taking it down will probably cost more than it did to put it up and other projects are ahead of it on the list. Not to get too sentimental, but Some Sugarloafers see it as a window into the past.

Angus: Here is a question that I’ve always wondered about. Bill, are you aware whether Sugarloaf did a formal product placement (or some other story behind) the Sugarloaf bumpa’ sticker in Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket” – the VW van at the end of the movie? See here for more information:

Bill Swain: I haven’t seen the movie but I will now! Part of what makes the Sugarloaf sticker such an icon is we don’t place it, Sugarloafers do. The sticker appears all over the world because of the honest and heartfelt connection Sugarloafers have with this place. If you see the sticker somewhere, snap a photo and send it to us. We love to see them and we’d like to share them online and elsewhere.

loafer89: I have heard that Bombardier uses the mountain as a testing/training ground for their equipment. How long has this been going on and what benefits does it have for Sugarloaf?

Bill Swain: I could tell you, but . . . . Seriously, we are a test site for grooming equipment and, although it’s not really a secret, the arrangement prevents us from discussing it publicly. I will say that some of the equipment that only comes out at night is probably not something you would see at too many other resorts. It’s definitely a good thing for Sugarloaf. I wish I could be more specific.

awf170: Are any more glades or trails being cut this summer? Is there any plan to expand to Burnt Hill anytime soon? I’ve also heard rumors of hotel being built over at the base of West Mountain. Why there? And would you plan on adding a HSQ or a new lift if you built a hotel over there? Thanks.

Bill Swain: Burnt Mountain was drawn up for development years ago but to date, there just aren’t quite enough Sugarloafers to warrant going over there. As for the hotel, the rumors have been prompted by new master planning that is currently underway. The area that was identified as the most likely candidate for new development, such as a hotel, is about a quarter of a mile to the west of the access road at the golf course road. That’s just one of many concepts on the drawing board. Again, new projects like that are demand-driven so it’s impossible to put a time frame on when we would see something like that.

thetrailboss: Bill, we’ve had a lot of conversation in here about Sugarloaf and the other ASC resorts. I’m wondering if there is something that you would like AlpineZoners to know about Sugarloaf…something that we don’t know and that you think would help put things in perspective for those of us who don’t work in the industry. To elaborate, many folks in here are armchair resort operators. What is something that you have found interesting or has surprised you in your experience in the industry?

Bill Swain: I would say that even though we are part of a larger organization (ASC), the overwhelming majority of decisions regarding Sugarloaf are made right here by people who care very much about Sugarloaf. Our staff is full of people who have been here for years (decades in some cases) and we proudly boast one of the highest retention rates of any seasonal business (77% last year).

The other thing that some folks forget is we’re the first ones who would love to see things like Burnt Mountain or a base to summit lift project happen. The reason they aren’t happening right now has less to do with our parent company then the actual market demand. As with any business, there have to be reasonable expectations that investment in new opportunities will result in incremental revenue and profit. “Build it and they will come” works in the movies but not in investment banking.

I’m the first one to sing Sugarloaf’s praises for the future because I truly believe that we offer one of the best vacation experiences and mountain lifestyles out there. As a result, some of the “drawing board” projects will happen, it’s only a matter of time. You can help speed up the process by spreading the word and bringing your friends to Sugarloaf often!

As usual, lots of great questions.

I hope you all find your way to this magical place this winter.

One last shameless plug – We really do expect to sell out of All For One Passes before the Oct. 10 deadline so I wouldn’t wait until the last minute if you want one because they might be gone!

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