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The Downhill Report: Openings and expansions to look forward to

It's slope season.

In addition to a new lift erected by necessity on Spruce Peak, Sunday RiverSunday River Resort

As ski areas and resorts across the region open for business with a smooth coat of snowmaking magic (or as was the case in Stowe, Vermont, over the weekend, 18 inches of the natural stuff at the summit of Mount Mansfield), it’s an entirely different story in western Maine, where folks in the Rangeley area can only hope that Saddleback Mountain reopens for business this season.

Saddleback, which boasts one of the most unique skiing and riding experiences in all of New England, never opened last season after the ski area’s owners were unable to raise $3 million for a new chairlift. Rumors of a sale percolated, but it wasn’t until October that a newly-formed nonprofit of Rangeley-area businesses and season-pass holders came forward with the intention of raising $4 million to cover the down payment and operating capital of the resort. But there’s still no guarantee when Saddleback will spin its lifts again.

That’s not the case in Londonderry, Vermont, where new investors Ski Magic LLC have purchased the cash-strapped Magic Mountain, giving stability to a local favorite that may have otherwise gone dark for the season like Saddleback did a year ago.

“We’re not looking to change what’s great about Magic,” president of Ski Magic Geoff Hathaway said. “The terrain, the character of the place, in terms of it’s a real throwback ski area. The people like the fact that there’s a mix of snowmaking trails and natural trails, a lot of tree skiing, They like the fact that there aren’t a lot of lines. What they don’t like, and what the problem has been, is the delivering of a consistent product. That comes down to snowmaking, That comes down to lift service.”

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Magic’s new path was one of the most encouraging stories to develop during the offseason, all lending to new wrinkles across New England.

In response to last winter’s lack of snowfall, Wachusett Mountain, in Princeton, expanded its snowmaking system with the X2 Snowmaking Project, including a new snowmaking pump house and installation of new computer-controlled technology.

“It’s something we’ve wanted to do, but last year really emphasized the need,” Wachusett spokesperson Tom Meyers said. “This new snowmaking project will certainly allow us to make up.”

But what else is there to look forward to this ski season? Here’s a few:

— There’s an ambitious development happening at New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley, where the Green Peak Expansion includes the addition of 10 new trails over 45 acres. It will be the ski area’s largest major in more than 30 years.

— In North Conway, New Hampshire, Cranmore Mountain Resort broke ground on the first phase of the Kearsarge Brook Condominiums in September. The $50 million development aims to be open next October.

Stowe Mountain's Spruce Peakopened a new $90 million Village Center and $25 million Adventure Center — collectively offering shopping, ice skating and educational and children's programming this winter.

Loon Mountain Resort, in Lincoln, New Hampshire, is celebrating its 50th birthday this winter with its Golden Anniversary Weekend (Jan. 28-29). Loon will also throw it back to its roots by showing off its restoration of one of the original gondola cabins that transported skiers from 1966 to 1988.

— In addition to a new lift erected by necessity on Spruce Peak, Sunday River, in Newry, Maine, will add a new dining destination in cooperation with Maine restaurateur Harding Lee Smith. That’s in addition to the food trucks, including Maine-ly Meatball and The SaltBox Café, that will be on hand to feed hungry skiers and riders.

—Elsewhere, Cannon Mountain spent spent $4 million on its Mittersill improvement project, including 50 new snowmaking guns and a new t-bar on the Taft Training Slope, where all training and races, including the 2017 NCAA Alpine Skiing National Championships, will take place beginning this season. Bretton Woods introduced a new rental fleet of fat tire bikes. Wildcat Mountain will debut the more than 80 acres of new glades, and increased snowmaking on Attitash’s Pinball Alley trail, will allow for easier access to Bear Peak, likely music to the ears for those who frequent the Bartlett, N.H. resort.

 
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