Podcast #67: Black Mountain of Maine Leadership
"We were going down the path of all small ski areas."
The Storm Skiing Podcast is sponsored by Mountain Gazette - Listen to the podcast for discount codes on subscriptions and merch.
Roger Arsenault, Chairman of the Board of Directors, and Deanna Kersey, Marketing Manager, Black Mountain of Maine
December 13, 2021
Why I interviewed them
There may be no ski area in America that better tells its story through trailmaps than Black Mountain of Maine. The humble 470-foot bump, T-bar climbing up the incline, circa 1980:
It didn’t look much different 22 years later:
But prior to the 2004 season, Black finally strung a triple chair to the summit. The T-bar stayed, but the mountain ran a new clutch of trails down a full 1,136 vertical feet:
By 2011, the mountain had expanded skier’s right:
Then onto hike-to terrain skier’s left, taking the full skiable vertical drop to 1,380 feet:
Then Black Mountain began acknowledging the voracious work of the Angry Beavers, which had quickly become the most legendary glading corps in New England:
And here it is today:
Has any other ski area in New England transformed its footprint so dramatically in the past two decades? Maybe Saddleback, which undertook a similar clandestine re-ordering under the Berry family. But that was an already-big ski area trimming its edges. Black was a tiny mountain that morphed into a mid-sized one, and like leaves filling out the forest in springtime, no one even noticed until it was there. Hell, no one has noticed yet. How did Black do it, and what was next? I had to find out.
What we talked about
Who owns and operates non-profit Black Mountain of Maine and how it raises funds; how to give back with nothing but time; snowmobile races; surveying the Maine ski scene; how the Maine Winter Sports Center saved the ski area; how the ski area transformed from a 400-foot-bump at the turn of the century to a mid-sized ski area with three times the vertical drop and an ever-expanding trail-and-glade network; transforming the public narrative around Black Mountain; how megapasses are driving skiers to smaller ski areas; how the local skiers responded when the town suspended the ski area’s funds one year; the Angry Beavers and the ski area’s astonishing glade network; the logic of green-circle glades; Black’s unique trailmap; the gradual and understated expansion of Black’s trail network; whether we could see more trails cut off Bagaduce; Black’s unique Osekare uphill trail; possible future expansion; what a Bagaduce chairlift could look like; why the ski area is rarely crowded even when the parking lots are full; potential enhancements to the current summit chairlift; why Black doesn’t have a beginner carpet and is unlikely to get one; why the ski area only offers public night skiing a handful of days per year; $15 Thursday lift tickets and $25 Friday lift tickets sponsored by L.L. Bean; why Black’s season passes remain so cheap; Indy Pass and potential reciprocal partnerships; private mountain rentals Monday through Wednesday and how much they cost; and how 2021-22 Covid protocols will differ from last season and what will be the same.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview
At this point, I think we’re all a little fried: $269 lift tickets, 900-resort Epimegas, liftlines wrapped around the planet. It’s fun to complain about, but not that much fun to do. And you don’t have to. The NSAA says there are 462 U.S. ski areas. Seventy-two are on the Epkon passes. Ninety percent of the rest of them have chairlifts flapping in the breeze. Maine is a big ski state without a lot of big ski areas. Sunday River, Sugarloaf, Saddleback – all excellent. But they’re not everything. Abram and Shawnee Peak are there too, and then there’s Black, which has quietly become the fourth-largest ski area in the state. And no one talks about it, no one knows about it. This is your release valve. You’re welcome.
Why you should ski Black Mountain of Maine
Here it is: the mountain we all say we want to ski: out of the way, unknown, funky, independent, cheap, rowdy, unforgiving, made for and by skiers. Thursday lift tickets are $15. Fridays are $25. A season pass is approximately the cost of a Burrito Supreme. This is Europe in the 1970s. Costa Rica 15 years ago. A bargain now but bound to blow up because how can it not? It’s half an hour down the road from Sunday River, a natural overflow point, the place you go when you’ve had enough and you just say “goddamnit.” What more could a skier want? The answer is nothing. A mountaintop triple chair at the end of the road, in the back of the woods, like you turned left off US 2 into 1964. And you know what? Maybe you did.