Waiting, just waiting for colder weather to start making snow

Sales, revenue up for season ski passes up at Camden Snow Bowl

Posted:  Friday, December 18, 2015 - 9:00am

CAMDEN — The Snow Bowl has closed out Phase Two of its $8 million redevelopment project and revenue from season ski passes is up 17 percent. Now, what’s left is for Mother Nature to cool her jet stream so snow guns can get to work.

Camden Snow Bowl General Manager Landon Fake said there may be a window of opportunity next week to begin making snow at night, at least at higher elevation on Ragged Mountain.

"The ideal scenario is that the ground is frozen and we have two weeks where the temperature doesn't get above 25 F," he said. "We would fire up once and, running two 12-hour shifts, blow snow continuously, then shut down when we've made all the snow we need for the season. Obviously, it would be unusual to get those conditions."

Still, there is optimism at the mountain despite the lack of cold that has affected ski areas across New England. The bulk of the redevelopment earthworks on the hill is over, and there is $196,196 in fresh revenue from the sale of 1,097 ski passes so far this autumn. Of those, 89 percent were purchased online.

By comparison, last year's early bird discount season pass sale accrued $167,745. In 2013, that early purchase discount period brought in $123,669; and in 2012, $108,750.

And if past patterns are predictive, skiers still buy passes through January.

"Since the end of the discount period, the Snow Bowl has continued to sell passes and expects to, right through January," said Fake.

The total revenue from season pass sales in recent years were:

2012: $191,892

2013: $180,216

2014: $214,578

The 17 percent increase in the 2015 revenue from early bird pass can be attributed in part to the 5 percent increase in season pass prices (see related story, Camden readies Snow Bowl for new season; ticket, season pass price increases included.) But even without the increase in price, revenue would still be up by a margin.

This is good news for a mountain that was due to start the 2015-2106 $81,000 in the red. Last July, the Camden Select Board unanimously approved a $947,464 budget for the mountain that falls under town purview, yet operates with its own budget and does not get managed under the general fund, nor reviewed by the town’s budget committee.


While everyone waits for the snow

Getting the mountain geared up for its winter Alpine and Nordic ski season, including the tubing and toboggan runs, is a major undertaking, and one that the town of Camden is banking on to help keep the local economy oiled through the winter.

Besides drawing skiers to the area, the municipally-run Snow Bowl hosts the annual Toboggan Festival in February, which draws thousands and injects fresh dollars into Midcoast restaurants, lodging and stores.

According to the town’s economic development office, the Snow Bowl winter operation alone contributes $3.5 million annually to the region’s economy by attracting more than 30,000 skier visits and providing more than 60 jobs.

Camden invested in the overhaul of the Ragged Mountain Recreation Area, per voter approval, hoping that optimizing its four-season amenities — mountain bike and hiking trails, skiing and a new event lodge — would help boost the economy. 

The $6.5 million project, which grew to be an $8.4 million project, has had its bumps and cost overruns, but the town’s Select Board has encouraged its completion.

Since winter 2014, the mountain had undergone an overhaul of its trails and equipment, including upgraded snowmaking capabilities, new trail lights, expanded and higher altitude racing trails, a rebuild of a potholed parking lot, and the installation of a three-man chairlift, purchased used from Shawnee Peak, in Bridgton.

Despite project delays and expensive unintended expenses, which included a erosion control violation notice from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and subsequently mitigation measures, the project was muscled forward.

Delayed, however, was the construction of a new lodge, which is now not expected to be built until 2017, while the nonprofit Ragged Mountain Foundation continues to raise $1.5 million more to pay for it.

The Snow Bowl overhaul is a public-private project. Camden citizens kicked in $2 million and the foundation raised $4.5 million, an agreement ironed out in 2011.

And while the mountain works to get open for the season, the foundation continues to raise money to build the lodge. Architects, said Camden Community Development Director Karen Brace, are working on the final drawings.

George Mueller, who sits on the Ragged Mountain Foundation, said this week that foundation is still selling $10,000 plaques that will be affixed on each of the chairs on the lifts as a fundraising mechanism. The foundation also anticipates to hold more fundraising events this coming year. A dinner and auction for the Snow Bowl that was held at the Waterfront Restaurant earlier this year drew $326,000 in one evening.

As for the DEP and the town, there has been no consent agreement do date. David Madore, spokesman for the DEP, said Dec. 17 that a DEP representative make periodic visits to the Snow Bowl to review progress.

“The department has had a long standing policy not to discuss open enforcement cases while we are working with the parties involved to seek remedy/resolution,” he said.



Getting ready for the season

Last week, the Snow Bowl conducted its final load-testing of the double chairlift, which had been dismantled and moved to its new location.

This was a long time in coming, for last year, the double chair did not run at all, given the delayed installation and start-up of the new triple chairlift.

According to a Dec. 15 Snow Bowl press release, the rebuilt parking lot has also been redesigned.

“The surface of the entire lot was finished with reclaimed asphalt over the summer,” the release said. “Constructed by Ledgewood and Ferraiolo Construction, the new parking lot features a large drop-off area and an island in the center to improve traffic flow. Already during summer and fall events the parking lot has proven to be efficient and effective.”

Karen Brace, Camden’s Community Development Director, said in the release that, "finishing Phase II of the Redevelopment is a real turning point for the Snow Bowl. What began many years ago with volunteers pitching in to launch the campaign has now resulted in the project reaching the two-thirds mark on its way to overall completion. It's a real accomplishment on the part of the crew and the community.”

Currently, the Camden Snow Bowl is preparing for the upcoming season with training of the staff, ski patrol, and volunteer mountain stewards. The ski patrol has completed lift evacuation drills.

Several weeks ago, more than 20 Camden volunteer firefighters participated in a night lift evacuation exercise.

At the top of the hill, crews spent the autumn cleaning up brush and clearing trees. That clean-up included brushing, cutting and chipping trees that had been cut last year. The smaller chips are to be used for erosion control, said Fake.

Some small bushes and trees under the power line adjacent to the race start were removed at the suggestion of the electricians, he said.

“A few trees were removed to improve the view from two summer overlooks, both near the top of the triple, while underbrush and blow-downs in several glades were cut throughout the summer,” he said. “A few trees near the top of lift line that the lift inspector required were removed.”

The downhill race program anticipates using the mountain’s new high-start position, at the top of the hill, for a few races this year, said Fake.

“If there are some clear nights with a big lapse rate [decrease in temperature the higher the elevation], we may move some guns up and make snow just up high,” he said. “Making snow at night is not ideal from a labor standpoint: it takes a couple of hours to get everything prepared and running and a couple of hours to shutdown, drain the guns, hoses and pipe. So for eight hours of making snow we are paying the crew for 12 hours. On the other hand, using part of the system for smaller amounts of time can cost less in electricity peak demand charges.”

He said that temperature and humidity (defined as wet bulb temperature, (see chart at right) have to be low enough for the snow-making to work.

“Temperature and humidity have to be low enough for long enough to make enough snow that will last through upcoming warm spells (for example, we had a few nights two weeks ago that were cold enough, but any snow we made then would be long gone),” he said. “The lapse rate, or the decrease in temperature as you go up in elevation, can sometimes be enough to make snow up high when it can't be made down low; cost is a factor (labor and electricity) and can change significantly depending on when and for how long we make snow.

“All that said, the long range weather forecasts, which are unreliable,, predict some nights next week that have a big enough window to make snow a few nights.”


Related stories

Remembering William 'Fitzy' Fitzcharles

Camden readies Snow Bowl for new season; ticket, season pass price increases included

Camden Snow Bowl redevelopment price tag up to $8.4 million, fundraising resumes

Making tracks in some dreamy snow at Camden Snow Bowl (Jan. 30)

Snow Bowl to fire up chairlifts; refunds offered to passholders (Jan 21)

Camden Planning Board to begin Snow Bowl lodge review (Jan. 9)

Camden Select Board brings in old friend to help with Snow Bowl progress (Jan. 7)

• Camden Snow Bowl to start making snow Jan. 5 (Jan. 2)

• Camden Select Board pushes Ragged Mountain redevelopment project forward over protests of many Hosmer Pond neighbors (Dec. 18)

• Snow Bowl progress report to Camden Select Board continues to be positive (Dec. 3)

• One by one, 20 chairlift towers went up at the Camden Snow Bowl (Dec. 1)

 Helicopter to help raise, place 23 chairlift towers at Camden Snow Bowl (Dec. 1)

• Report: Ragged Mountain Redevelopment Project $500,000 over budget (Oct. 8)

 Camden Planning Board approves Snow Bowl lighting plan as proposed (Oct. 6)

 Camden Snow Bowl on target for Dec. 20 opening, weather willing (Sept. 19)

• Camden to contract with South Portland firm to manage Snow Bowl lodge, base area (July 24, 2014)

 Camden Snow Bowl project remains under DEP scrutiny, making progress, more work ahead (July 11)

 Vermont trail builder takes helm with Camden Snow Bowl project, new phase gets under way (July 10)

 Camden Snow Bowl prepped for more rain, assembling working group to assist with next steps (July 2)

• Snow Bowl mountain mud runoff causes headache for neighbors, town (July 1)

 Camden Snow Bowl anticipates ending season in the black; work begins on Ragged Mountain (March 19)

 Homage to Camden’s Big T (March 15, 2014)

 By wide margin, Camden voters approve Snow Bowl improvement bond (Nov. 5, 2013)

 Camden voters consider $2 million Snow Bowl bond, three zoning amendments (Nov. 3, 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)

 Ready for packed powder? Camden Snow Bowl to make it quicker, sooner with updated snow guns (Sept. 12, 2012)

Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657