The Road to Winter: Maintaining Sugarloaf in the Summer

By Gabrielle Martin

July 28, 2021

While it’s still summer here in the mountains, thoughts of winter are never far from mind. Although it’ll be a while before we’re buckling our boots for the first runs of the season, the Sugarloaf maintenance team is buckling down on a number of projects to get the mountain in shape for winter. So, without further ado, I present “The Road to Winter”—because, let’s be real, even though it’s August, I’m dreaming of ski season, and I know I’m not alone.

On Assignment 

I was out-the-door of the Admin Building at 8:00am, putting Converse to the pavement (or rather, dirt lot) while passing the maintenance garage—complete with several ongoing construction projects—en route to the Snowmaking offices, where I’d be meeting Dan “Dano” Barker, Snow Surfaces Director. Dano also oversees the mountain’s summer maintenance projects, managing a team of 10 who are responsible for getting Sugarloaf’s slopes set for ski season—that’s snowmaking and trail maintenance staff, plus parks and pipe. Those who have hiked Sugarloaf this summer might have seen them traveling here, there, and all over, traveling in ATVs or white work trucks.

Dano and I were meeting that morning for an on-the-job interview-slash-photoshoot, which began with him offering me a piece of homemade pie he’d baked and filled with fresh blueberries over the weekend; he proceeded to remove half a pie from the white mini fridge he keeps in his office, cut me a slice with a knife kept on his belt, and slid it onto a paper plate. Breakfast.

As I eat, we chat, and I learn that Barker began working in the parking lots at Sugarloaf when he was in high school; this winter, he will celebrate his 45th season at the mountain—meanwhile, the mountain will be celebrating four-and-a-half decades of Dano’s steadfast service.

Some Summer Projects at Sugarloaf 

  • In an effort to improve staff spaces, the summer team is working on breakroom expansion for our sensational snowmakers.
  • Our snowmakers have added 110 snow guns to their stock (Standard HKD, which Dano describes as “old school but efficient”), with another 90 (R4 HKDs, a newer model) coming up from Massachusetts as I write.

110 of our 200 new snow guns

  • The trail maintenance team, in tandem with lifts, has hit the hill with the task of smoothing the lift loading section at the base of Double Runner, removing small section of wooded land—which requires ripping out trees and brush—with the goal of opening up the area and improving lift access.

Trail maintenance smoothing out Base Area and Double Runner load

  • The summer staff have built a deck around the unload area of the Sawduster lift—which crosses through Sugarloaf Village, over the Base Area and Beach, and empties out at the Landing--for weddings.
  • The trails are being moved thanks to Christine Bruen, also credited in the upkeep of Sugarloaf’s disc golf course. When we caught her, she had just finished up on Horseshoe and was heading to mid-mountain next.

Christine Bruen behind the wheel, moving to mow mid-mountain trails and terrain

  • Perhaps the biggest project involves installing air and water snowmaking piping from Bridle Chain down Lower Timberline; the aim of this update is to improve the speed of our snowmaking, expediting the process while making it that much more efficient.

Pipe project on Lower Timberline

  • In other exciting news, the trails team have been marking the lift line for the new West Mountain lift, which involves clearing the lift’s profile to determine how tall the towers will have to be; the length of this lift is comparable to our current West Mountain lift line.
  • The trails crew has been putting in work to reshape the water bars using an excavator.
  • Looking ahead, a mulcher will be on-hill within the next month to clear and expand trails ahead of ski season.
  • Bridge repairs are also the docket, such as those seen at the end of Windrow and in the residential area of the Timbers.
  • The terrain park crew has been working on building several fun, new features as well as updated signage. 

Terrain parks crew members show off new signage

It might be off-season at Sugarloaf, but there’s no doubt that the countdown to winter is on: shoutout to Sugarloaf’s summer maintenance staff for getting the mountain into shape for ski season—and, on a parting note, Dano reveals that the plan is to start snowmaking in October, so there’s something to look forward to!