CAMDEN, Maine — The sub-zero temperatures that swept across Maine last winter can be a hindrance to the snowmaking process for ski areas.
But on top of the freezing conditions, snowmakers at the Camden Snow Bowl had to deal with another complicating factor: beavers.
The water used for making snow at the Snow Bowl — midcoast Maine’s only ski mountain — comes from Hosmer Pond, located at the base of Ragged Mountain. The beavers that call the pond home have taken to damming up the intake pipe that brings water to the ski area’s snowmaking guns, delaying the process until the pipe can be cleared.
“It didn’t allow us to make snow efficiently,” Camden Snow Bowl general manager Beth Ward said. “This has been a learning experience for all of us.”
This season, the Snow Bowl has enlisted a diver to remove the beavers’ handiwork every time the snowmaking process is about to start. While Ward said the beavers are still trying their best to clog the pipe, preempting the delay in the process by hiring a diver has made for much smoother snowmaking.
With season pass sales up from last year, the ability to make snow without a hitch has been a boon for the town-owned ski area, which is trying to get past a few years of controversy and financial missteps.
In 2017, an auditor found funding problems with the ski area’s $6.5 million redevelopment project. The auditor called the project “terribly mismanaged” and concluded that town leaders improperly transferred more than $700,000 from Camden’s general fund to the Ragged Mountain Redevelopment Project.
Following the audit, the town was also fined by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for destroying a section of forest on the mountain during the redevelopment project.
Prior to the controversy surrounding the handling of the redevelopment project, both the town manager and the Snow Bowl’s general manager resigned after a vendor was allowed to operate at the ski mountain without following zoning rules.
Ward, who previously served as assistant manager at the Snow Bowl, took over as general manager last year. As general manager, Ward is focused on keeping the ski area as financially efficient as possible.
“We’re just trying to be as efficient as we can. We’ve kind of been under the microscope […] for the last few years. So we just want to make a great product and have people come out,” Ward said.
After a few seasons of financial losses, Ward said the Snow Bowl was able to end last season slightly in the black. The Snow Bowl has an annual budget of about $874,000.
Last winter’s late snowfall in March helped propel the ski area to end on a positive financial note. Season pass sales were down for last year and Ward said the lack of snow in February caused some struggles, but the “massive” snowstorms in March allowed the mountain to stay open longer.
Ward believes that the snowstorms at the end of the season contributed to season pass sales surpassing budget goals this year.
“It’s kind of a trend, if we come off a snowy winter, the following season pass sales are up. If we struggle to have snow, our season pass sales are down,” Ward said. “It’s like what people remember from the end of the season.”
As of Jan. 1, Ward said the Snow Bowl is about $30,000 ahead of its budgeted revenue, which she contributes largely to the spike in season pass sales. ‘
With the beaver problem under control, and favorable temperatures, Ward said snowmakers were able to start making snow in December and have the mountain open for the December school break. As of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, all of the mountain’s trails were open.
“Our snowmaking team has just done a fantastic job. We’ve had some good windows and have made a lot of snow,” Ward said. “I think [the weather is] better than last year in terms of how we make snow.”
In a little more than two weeks, hundreds of thrill seekers and sledding enthusiasts will be flocking to the Snow Bowl for the 29th annual U.S National Toboggan Championships. There’s no word yet on what the beavers have in store for them.