Located just east of the northern White Mountains, Sunday River is one of New England's largest and most popular ski areas.
In the spring of 1958, the Bethel Area Development Corp., led by President Howard Cole, announced plans to develop a ski area on the northeast slope of Bald (Barker) Mountain. Soon thereafter, the Sunday River Skiway Corporation was formed and work was commenced.
Initial plans called for a 1958-59 opening with one lift and trails designed by Sel Hannah. The company likely ran into issues with funds and a lack of time, resulting in a one season postponement.
Activity began to accelerate in the summer of 1959, as funds were released to cut trails and install a T-Bar. A firm deadline was set for December.
Sunday River Skiway Opens
Sunday River in the mid 1960s
The $90,000 Sunday River Skiway opened on December 19, 1959 as a modest, surface lift served ski area. A 3,200 foot long T-Bar served two intermediate slopes, while a rope tow was constructed on a smaller novice slope.
For its third season, Sunday River expanded to the top of the ridge as it opened the Locke Mountain area. A 2,200 foot long T-Bar was added, serving an extended stretches of the Cascades and Sunday Punch trails. Overall, the ski area's vertical drop improved to 1,400 feet.
The novice rope tow was replaced with a new T-Bar for the 1963-64 season. Known as the Mixing Bowl, the expanded slope would be the site of Sunday River's first snowmaking installation in 1970-71.
Sunday River finally took the plunge into the world of chairlifts for the 1971-72 season, when it installed a 5,100 foot long Pullman-Berry double chairlift to its new Barker Mountain area. The following year, the ski area was taken over by Killington's parent company and, in 1973, Les Otten was named General Manager.
Under the new ownership, the ski area saw numerous under the hood changes, such as improved snowmaking and base facilities.
Otten Takes Over
Les Otten purchased the ski area in 1980 and quickly turned dreams into reality while growing skier visits exponentially.
For 1981-82, Otten pushed through an aggressive expansion program, including the addition of the South Ridge double chairlift, 20 more acres of snowmaking, and 4 new trails.
Sunday River's first triple chairlift, the Locke Triple, was installed for the 1984-85 season. Along with Pleasant Mountain's summit lift, the Locke chairlift was the first triple in Maine. Expansions had only just begun.
The Jordan Bowl circa its debut in 1994-95
Sunday River's growth quickly accelerated as the mid 1980s arrived.
For the 1985-86 season, North Peak was added. For 1986-87, the Spruce Peak was added on the then western end of the resort.
For 1987-88, the first phase of Whitecap debuted with the Little Whitecap trail pod. 1987-88 also saw the installation of the Sunday River Express, Maine's first high speed detachable quad chairlift. The upper portion of Whitecap was added for the 1988-89 season.
Sunday River had started the decade as a minor player in the industry and finished the decade as one of the largest in the East. Despite this, the investments did not halt in the new decade. For 1991-92, Aurora Peak was added, followed by the Jordan Bowl in 1994 and Oz in 1995.
For the following season, the Perfect Turn Express detachable quad was installed. With the American Skiing Company quickly sliding into, this would be the last new lift at Sunday River for over a decade.
For the 2008-09 season, the new ownership made quite a splash by installing New England's first chondola (a combined gondola and chair lift), while also adding night skiing. In addition, Sunday River has continued to see heavy investment in snowmaking, resulting in it having October opening days more often than not.