Lonesome Pine Trails seeks funds for new groomer
FORT KENT, Maine — When Maine’s northernmost downhill ski area opened in Fort Kent in 1965, it was with only a few downhill trails, a rope tow and a warming hut.
The non-profit Lonesome Pine Trails was founded, and is largely maintained more than half a century later, by volunteers and donors with a singular purpose — to provide the northern Maine community with a great place for families to ski and enjoy the outdoors.
Improvements to the enduring ski area have included the addition of a T-bar in 1985, installation of snow-making equipment in 2003, and new trails and an expansion of what is now the Lonesome Pine Trails Lodge throughout the years, all through fundraising efforts.
“Lonesome Pine Trails has thrived all these years through the support of the entire community and the backs of some of the best volunteers in the world,” Lonesome Pine Trails President Mike Lavertu said.
Although community support for Lonesome Pine Trails has held up over time, the Pisten Bully groomer purchased in 1994 to maintain the ski hill is not as steadfast after more than a quarter century of service, and is in need of replacement.
With the assistance of Fort Kent Director of Planning and Economic Development Steve Pelletier, Lonesome Pine Trails is seeking a $99,000 USDA Rural Business Development Grant to cover 30 percent of the cost of the new groomer.
The cost to purchase the new groomer will be $330,000.
The Lonesome Pine Trails Board hopes to raise additional money for the groomer through its annual Packer Fund.
“It’s Important we have fresh groomed snow; if we didn’t have a good groomer we couldn’t open up our ski tow — it wouldn’t be safe,” Lonesome Pine Trails board member Shawn Theriault said.
Like many volunteers, Theriault has either spent time skiing at Lonesome Pines as a child, has children who benefit from skiing there, or both.
“I spent every hour it was open here, every day as a kid,” Theriault said. “It’s a great little gem we have in this town.”
His sons, Colby, 17, and Kaden, 15, are avid ski racers who also spent their childhoods on the hill.
Theriault said the healthy outdoor activity provided to youngsters at Lonesome Pines is a great alternative to staying indoors watching television or playing video games.
“With so much going on nowadays this is a great outlet for kids to escape from everything,” Theriault said. “Especially now with COVID-19, there’s a lot of pressure on kids and this is a great escape for them; they’re free here.”
Lonesome Pine Trails manager of 28 years Mike Voisine said the popularity of the local ski area continues to increase and season pass sales are up this year by 25 percent.
“I see parents that were little kids who came here when they were 4 years old bring their little kids who are 4 years old now,” he said. “This year I see a lot of grandparents skiing with their grandkids, which is pretty neat.”
Lonesome Pines is operating a 2019 Pisten Bully machine as a demonstration unit they hope to purchase.
Volunteer groomer operator Ryan Malmborg said the new machine is more cost efficient when it comes to fuel and grooming time.
It also has an additional benefit skiers have noticed.
“Most people say they’ve never skied on conditions as good as it’s been since we had the new groomer,” Malmborg said.
Pelletier said Lonesome Pines is an economic asset to the community as it draws tourists to the area.
“Local businesses rely on these tourists throughout the winter months for a large percentage of their ability to do business, stay profitable and retain and hire workers,” Pelletier said. “The new trail groomer will ensure excellently groomed trails that will encourage a healthy ski population and return visits from tourists.”
While Lonesome Pine Trails is beneficial to the area from an economic perspective, the purpose for founding the ski area remains as true today as it was in 1965.
“Everybody is pretty much here with the same focus,” Malmborg said. “We want the kids to have a place to ski forever; that’s why we do it.”