Camden Snow Bowl to start making snow Jan. 5, special deals now for season pass holders
CAMDEN — To say that it's been a tough time at the Camden Snow Bowl during its redevelopment project this past year is an understatement, and the work is not done yet. What with serious erosion issues, cost overruns, incorrect equipment deliveries and uncooperative weather, to name a few, Ragged Mountain remains snow-less and both chairlifts are still a ways away from carrying anyone up the mountain.
Camden Snow Bowl General Manager Landon Fake said New Year's Eve day that he had hoped to be making snow by Monday of this past week, Dec. 29.
"We were going to make snow with our original pump, but in rewiring the pump house for the new pump, we learned we had to rewire the old one too," said Fake. "And on top of that, they sent the wrong equipment."
On Dec. 31, Fake said the rewiring had been completed, and on New Year's Day they planned to pressurize the system to flush and drain the pipes and check for and repair any leaks.
Depending on weather temperatures, the pump is then ready to start blowing snow.
"Leading up to this weekend the weather looks good, but a warmup with snow and drizzle will arrive Sunday [Jan. 4]," said Fake. "But Monday [Jan. 5] looks cool again so we're looking to start making snow then."
While the weather is now challenging the start of the snow-making season, it has also caused delays and redirection of resources on the overall project.
It has been widely reported to the community that many of the waterfront residents and neighbors around Hosmer Pond have been very upset about sediment runoff into the popular swimming and boating spot. Fake said this summer that logging work done in the spring had opened more bare ground than planned and intended, and that the initial erosion measures failed when heavy, persistent rains arrived.
The erosion issues continued into the fall, and frustrated neighbors decided to contact the state Department of Environmental Protection to investigate, which they did. The DEP recommended fixes and requested the town report regularly on the situation going forward, putting off likely fines for the short-term. Rain continued into December, and Fake said that just recently, they seemed to have the erosion now under control.
"During the last two weeks, Farraiolo Construction has been here doing more erosion control around the base of the mountain. They have had two to four guys working full-time, with four or five pieces of equipment, and they have dug three sediment ponds, rip-rapped with crushed stone into ditches, reinforced access roads and installed new berms," said Fake. "It's working well. The last rain storm, we had no significant erosion."
Fake said the positive news was confirmed when a vocal Hosmer Pond neighbor, Lee Schneller-Slight, copied him on an email to Will Gartley, the project engineer, Dec. 26 with the subject "Great results."
"Your 'fix' worked incredibly well – for the first time since spring, Spinnaker looks erosion-free! The other repairs on the face of the hill also look great at first glance," said Shneller-Sligh in her email.
So now, said Fake, the issue is getting the triple and double chairlifts assembled and up and running, in addition to a need for cold snow-making weather.
The triple chairlift would be further along in its assembly, but Fake said incorrect work has stalled finishing and delivery of the chairs. The new triple chairlift carries a total of 162 chairs, and as of Dec. 31, only 38 are on site - laying on the ground and waiting to be strung onto the haul rope.
The remaining chairs, said Fake, are at the galvanizing plant in Connecticut. The reason they are not back in Maine yet is that holes drilled into the frames prior to being dipped into a hot vat of zinc were not drilled in the right place. Fake said the placement of the holes, which have to be specific due to life-safety restrictions, were incorrectly marked by an engineer in Camden.
The holes are necessary between closed welds to prevent the metal from exploding during the galvanizing process.
The holes were drilled before the chairs were shipped to Connecticut, and when the problem was discovered, a local contractor there had to be hired to fix the problem, to move the process along.
"That part is now done," said Fake. "And they have been galvanizing right along. We expect a truck of chairs to come to Camden next Wednesday, Jan. 7."
The haul rope for the triple chair was spliced and strung Dec. 27. In addition, a lot of electrical wiring has been and continues to be done, but Fake said it's been a challenge to get the technicians, who are specialists, to work over the holidays.
He said two different technicians are required, and they need to be scheduled properly because one works on the communications between the top towers and the base tower, and the other, the high voltage technician, works on the components that drive the motor of the lift.
That work, he said, is yet to be completed.
He said that two technicians they have only work on ski lifts, and are from New Hampshire and Vermont.
"We are considering flying in two guys from Michigan to speed up the work," said Fake. "Everybody is busy this time of year, in fact the Michigan guys will push off work in Colorado to come here."
When the chairs for the triple chairlift arrive next week, Fake said he plans to run two to three shifts per day to get the chairs on as quickly as possible. After that work is done, the whole assembly needs to be load tested and certified by a state inspector.
As for the double chairlift, there are still two concrete footings to be poured, one for the tower at the base and one for the top terminal. The tower at the top will be brought up by skidder, and installed by crane as it could not be flown by helicopter with the others a few weeks ago.
"The double chairlift is a much smaller lift now, only nine towers, and it's pretty straight forward work once we get going," said Fake. "It's not new to us getting this lift back together, putting up the haul rope and setting chairs. They are actually easier to install than the triple chairs, as they use clamps instead of clips."
Fake said that the double chair will be the last to go up, and with so many variables, including concrete pouring predicating on the weather and all the other things up in the air at the mountain, he can't predict a date. He also said that the haul rope for the double needs to be spliced yet, the electricians again need to be scheduled to do their work and the chairs need to be strung and load tested.
"It's a definite sequence of events that has to happen," said Fake. "And it's true of the triple too, but the haul rope there is up and the top and base terminals are all in place, so it's further along."
Good News for Season Pass Holders:
Big Rock Mountain, Titcomb Mountain and Black Mountain Ski Resort all are offering Camden Snow Bowl season pass holders “Buy one, get one free” lift ticket deals, with no blackout dates. As of today, they are all open, but check on their days/hours of operation before you go.
More good news!
The Snow Bowl’s snowmaking pumping system is now operational and they started pumping water today. They expect to be making snow by Monday when the weather turns cold again, and opening in a limited way late next week. In acknowledging that their opening is delayed for other than weather reasons, the Snow Bowl is offering a free day of skiing at Saddleback to Camden Snow Bowl season pass holders. This will be available from Saturday, Jan. 3 until Friday, Jan. 16. You will need to show your season pass at the Saddleback ticket counter.
In a perfect world, with consistent temperatures below 10 degrees, Fake said they can cover the mountain with snow, to the top, in four days.
Many people have already bought their season passes, which they do year after year. And Fake said season pass holders are important to the mountain.
"They represent half our skiers and we depend a lot on them," said Fake. "On the one hand, we say on the application there are no refunds, but we are trying very hard to get open as soon as possible and we'll stay open as long into the season as we can so they can get the most ski days."
Fake this week was working on a reciprocity agreement with other ski mountains in the state, to enable season pass holders to get on the slopes for no extra money. (See sidebar.)
In addition to keeping season pass holders happy, Fake said they have been working hard to address the erosion issues that have repeatedly sullied Hosmer Pond, which has also strained relations with some of the neighbors.
"I am optimistic about our relationship with the Hosmer Pond Association moving forward in a positive way," said Fake. "The new president, Bill Buccholz, has been out to visit and look around with us, and is very interested in having a good relationship."
He said that in addition to sending updates to the DEP whenever there are significant rain events, Sligh, the neighbor and persistent watchdog over the project's effect on the pond, has been working on a landscaping plan for the Snow Bowl.
Schneller-Sligh said Friday that she is working on designing a vegetative buffer between the parking lot and Hosmer Stream, which feeds Hosmer Pond. She said her work is strictly design work, and as a volunteer.
She also said that she is bringing in multiple resources to assist and advise, including people from U-Maine Cooperative Extension and the DEP.
She said she will be working on landscaping on an ongoing basis to keep Hosmer Pond healthy, and that she's glad to have the opportunity to have input on that, as it's a "big part of the equation."
"The big breakthrough is we were allowed to have direct contact with Will Gartley," said Schneller-Sligh. "He has been terrific in pushing for the proper erosion control measures. Pushing the town to do them. It was terrific we were allowed to talk directly to him as he understood immediately what was needed and he came up with a simple fix."
Schneller-Sligh and other Hosmer Pond residents appeared before the Camden Select Board numerous times this fall, complaining that erosion control measures were either absent or inadequate, and at times both. At the Dec. 16 meeting, she displayed a set of enlarged and board-mounted photos at the meeting, offering descriptions of damage and failed erosion control measures.
Despite her continuing concerns, though sympathetic at the same time, the Select Board told the group that most of the erosion controls were working but that those that were not would be monitored more closely, and repaired or replaced.
"We were being told repeatedly, it was OK, but it wasn't. We really needed to show someone what was happening out there," said Schneller-Sligh. "You need to actually go and look at. It's difficult to describe and photograph, and that was why I was so upset that I was not allowed to go on the last DEP site walk. But now I have had an opportunity to show Will and he knew exactly what was wrong, and how to fix it."
She commended Gartley for his efforts following that last site walk with the DEP.
"The action that Will orchestrated and put into action was huge, as compared to times past," said Schneller-Sligh. "It's because Will pushed the town to bring in Farraiolo Construction to work exclusively on erosion control that generally speaking, the quality and speed of the remediation was fabulous."
As for where the project stands financially and otherwise, Camden Town Manager Pat Finnigan said she wasn't comfortable quoting a figure at this time. She said that December bills were not yet all in, but that she is aware the project is over budget. Updates on the project at the last few Select Board meetings have mentioned as much as a $800,000 cost overrun, but there may now be some savings put into place to offset that figure.
She also said the town has reached out the Hosmer Pond Association, had a meeting with the new president and told them the town will keep the Association informed as they move forward.
"We want their involvement, as we always have when they are being productive and constructive," said Finnigan. "We are getting prepared to go to the Planning Board to review the site plan for the second phase of the project, and Peter Gross, of the building committee, and Will Gartley have told the Association they would meet with them prior to the Planning Board meeting."
She also said they met with the group to review the lighting plan, and after receiving "good comments" about it, the plan was modified.
"We've taken everything into consideration," said Finnigan. "I want to add that we have had Gartley and Dorsky as a key member of the redevelopment project from day one. They have been an integral part of the erosion controls from day one, and throughout the entire project and they have been advising the town about erosion control measures."
She said the message is that the town has taken the erosion issues very seriously, and has been responsive.
"Some of the things we have done have not worked out how we wanted in the short term and long term, but we are doing all we can to get the mountain ready for this year and next spring," said Finnigan.
• Homage to Camden’s Big T (March 15, 2014)
• By wide margin, Camden voters approve Snow Bowl improvement bond (Nov. 5, 2013)
• Camden committee selects new parks and recreation director (Sept. 6, 2013)
• Camden considers $2 million Snow Bowl bond, ordinance amendments Nov. 5 (Sept. 4, 2014)
• Camden ready to put $2 million bond before voters (Aug. 21, 2013)
• Camden pursues federal money to help with Snow Bowl upgrade (July 10, 2013)
• Camden learns about refurbished chairlifts, woven grips and haul ropes (April 10, 2013)
• Last run for Jeff (Jan. 21, 2013)
• Stellar start to season at Camden Snow Bowl (Jan. 9, 2013)
• Camden’s Ragged Mountain loses a good friend (Nov. 7, 2012)
Editorial Director Holly S. Edwards can be reached at email@example.com or 706-6655.