The skiing was so good, in fact, and the lift tickets so cheap, I kind of felt like I was getting away with something.
I do, which maybe explains why I also love Black Mountain in Rumford, one of Maine’s most famous paper mill towns. In some ways, Black Mountain is a much more traditional kind of ski mountain than Bigrock. When you get to the top of the chairlift, you see not potato fields but Maine’s magnificent western mountains (Black Mountain board president Roger Arsenault says that the hill’s biggest challenge is that it’s “caught in the middle of ski country”). But it’s also true that from the top of Black Mountain, you’re likely to get a strong, sweet whiff of the Rumford mill. And when I say that smell is sweet, I mean this witgh absolute sincerity.
The thing is, when I visit one of the Northeast’s headliner ski resorts, I get the alienating feeling that these places exist not in Maine or New Hampshire or Upstate New York, but rather in the independent state of Alpinia, which celebrates its own culture and has all its food brought in by Aramark. In a place like Black Mountain, though, you feel you’re skiing someplace where actual people live and work, where the fate of the mountain and the town are inextricably intertwined.
The result is that the place is full of characters, folks like Wendell “Chummy” Broomhall, a nonagenarian Mexico, Maine, native who competed as a Nordic skier in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. Broomhall has been heavily involved in creating the Nordic trails at Black Mountain, and he’s full of interesting stories about the grisly ski jumping accidents he used to witness before the insurance companies stepped in and ruined everything. Broomhall grew up skiing around Rumford, and board president Arsenault learned to ski on Black Mountain. The pair are emblematic of another characteristic of mountains that are tied to their towns: they’re full of folks who carved their first turns there and are now teaching their kids and grandkids to ski there too.
You feel like you’re skiing someplace where actual people live and work, where the fate of the mountain and the town are inextricably intertwined.
This is especially easy to do at Black Mountain, where lift tickets start at $15. Yep, you read that correctly. How, you might wonder, can a ski area possibly stay in business when its lift ticket costs less than a nice lunch at Sunday River or Saddleback, just up the road? Black Mountain’s theory is that low prices are, in fact, the best way to stay in business: when you’re surrounded by great ski hills, you have to distinguish yourself somehow, and price is one way to do it.
The formula seems to be working. According to Arsenault, business has tripled since Black Mountain lowered its prices, and I’m not surprised. When I went last February, a foot of light, powdery snow had just fallen, and the skiing was perfect. The mountain itself is big enough (1,380-foot vertical drop) and the trails varied enough to welcome skiers of all skill levels. As general manager Jim Carter put it, “This is not a $15 mountain.” Okay, so a life ticket costs $25 on weekends, but Black Mountain is no $25 mountain either. It’s worth much more than that, and my oldest son and I were so happy skiing there.