Runoff from the Barker base area of Sunday River. 📷 Mark Duchart on Facebook

Sunday River Impacted by Flooding

Sunday River appears to have been ground zero for storm damage from this system as far as ski areas go. Reports suggest somewhere above 5" fell near the resort and with upsloping the mountain itself likely more rain fell and combined with snowpack and frozen ground the runoff was enhanced even further. Many of the issues at Sunday River were associated with runoff collecting in Barkers Brook which runs along the primary access road and is spanned by many culverts. Other drainage channels feeding into Barkers Brook were also overwhelmed by runoff near base areas of the resort where many of their facilities are located.

The area around Rt. 2 along the Androscoggin River in Maine is experiencing severe flooding and the river reached 7 feet above flood stage last night, the 3rd highest level ever recorded there. Roads near Saddleback, Sugarloaf, and Black Mountain of Maine are closed at this time along with those leading to Sunday River. Some bridges have been damaged cutting off communities. Smaller rivers, creeks, and drainage channels have caused damage to many other roads in the area. We don't yet have rainfall estimates in for the entire region, however the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Longfellows of Maine were expected to receive between 4" and 6" of rain in the final NWS forecast before the storm hit and a trained spotter for the NWS in Kingfield, ME near Sugarloaf reported 6.06" of rain.

We also saw notable flooding in the Whites, Greens, Berkshires, Catskills, and Adirondacks, though generally outside of ski areas which is of course Snowology's focus for coverage. The most widespread problems are being experienced north of the Killington latitude across 4 states. There are many road closures in northern areas and ongoing flooding that will affect travel and access today and in some cases beyond.

This is a critical time of year for both ski areas and connected businesses with both holiday shopping and ski vacations. Losing snow to a heavy rainstorm is impactful enough on its own during the start of peak ski season, but flooding in surrounding communities will be especially impactful with some businesses unable to operate for at least a short time.

Sunday River Impacts

Sunday River was open on Monday, though due to high winds and possibly other concerns they only operated two carpet lifts as the flood waters rose lower in the valley. While the resort announced being closed on Tuesday there is little doubt that this will be extended and it would be wise to stay clear of this and other recently heavily flooded areas at least several days so that emergency responders, work crews, residents, and employees can attend to their more immediate needs. There were rescue operations today for flooded homes and vehicles, many people are stranded, and utilities are also impacted. Access to the resort is currently impossible by land.

We are not aware of any notable damage to resort infrastructure in the Northeast outside of Sunday River at this time, though it is possible that some others sustained damage and there are certainly widespread issues outside of ski areas from flooding. This is the worst winter flooding we have seen at a ski area in the Northeast in recent times though tropical systems in warmer months have caused similar impacts. It doesn't appear that any catastrophic damage occurred at the resort, but roads, buildings, and also the new Barker 6 were affected by flooding, and possibly other parts of their operations.

The new Barker 6 lift experienced erosion and likely some water intrusion as water overwhelmed their retaining pond and flowed over the rear retaining wall. It appears that up to 4 feet of soil was washed away around the lower terminal. This video was shared by Mark Duchart on Facebook.

Posted by Mark Duchart on Monday, December 18, 2023

The upgraded culvert in the Barker Base area appears to have handled the flow well after this same area experienced issues in 2007 and then again in December of 2020. Both of those times their main snowmaking pumphouse was affected and that building can be seen on the right side of this video, seemingly not notably impacted, however other videos shared on social media show that water was flowing rapidly on the other side of the building and it's not clear if there are impacts to their snowmaking operations at this time. This video was shared by Mark Duchart on Facebook.

Posted by Mark Duchart on Monday, December 18, 2023

The area in front of the South Ridge Lodge, the resort's primary lodge, also experienced some flooding from runoff, though it is not clear if the building itself sustained damage. A retaining wall for the patio at the eastern side of the lodge was damaged with runoff. This video was shared by Sean Theriault on Facebook.

Posted by Sean Theriault on Monday, December 18, 2023

Along Barkers Brook many culverts were overwhelmed and flood waters sliced through many side roads cutting off access to homes and facilities. The video below shows the metal culvert give way on the only road accessing Sunday River's Grand Summit Hotel.

There were also unconfirmed reports that a section of Sunday River Road, the only access road to the resort, was washed away near the Matterhorn Ski Bar near where it passes over Barkers Brook. Flooding was also seen on parts of this road.

Wet Slide at the Gould Academy Competition Center

There was a wet slide that released from the bottom of the Cascades trail which slid into the Gould Academy Competition Center just west of the Barker base area. This sort of slide has happened before in the Northeast, most notably in December of 2020 when Belleayre's Overlook Lodge sustained damage and flooding from a similar break that occurred in the early morning. Heavy rain and warm temperatures can cause water to run under the manmade snow, undermining it, and then break off and slide along with debris. There are signs of the runoff on the surface and underneath the snowpack in the following videos shared by Mark Duchart on Facebook showing damage to the academy's building.

Posted by Mark Duchart on Monday, December 18, 2023
Posted by Mark Duchart on Monday, December 18, 2023

It's probably a good thing that Sunday River was not operating aerial lifts on Monday. There may have been other examples of this in the Northeast that we are not yet aware of. On the same day in 2020 that Belleayre experienced damage from a wet slide, Mount Snow also had a similar slide mid-trail on Lodge which came close to hitting a lift mechanic. We did see a slew of other mountains close in the Northeast after this occurred, though we are not sure if that was connected to safety concerns or nearby flooding.

It would probably be a good idea for ski areas to cease operations when 3" or more of heavy rain and warm temperatures are forecasted. Snowology did alert to the potential of this occurring based on observations from the 2020 storm and similar conditions. Given that this was predictable, operators should take note of the potential safety hazard for both guests and staff. There is little to be gained by operating in these conditions.

When Will Sunday River Reopen?

While speculation can be unfounded in many cases, some things are clear. Access to the resort is currently impossible and restoring that access may take some time. The damage at the resort itself will also take time to assess and repair. We are unable to predict when they will reopen and they have not offered guidance yet, but it is clear that it will take several days at a minimum just to address the main roads and side roads will take longer. They're going to have to move a lot of dirt into areas of the resort to fill in what has washed away and address many other things that they likely aren't even aware of at this moment. Surely they will attempt to reopen as fast as they can even if they aren't operating at full capacity. The Whitecap and Jordan bases may not have been as heavily impacted as the Barker and South Ridge areas, though the lodges at those bases are necessary for operating at full capacity.

Social media communities can be especially helpful in sharing important information in real time about various impacts, and we made heavy use of information shared in the Sunday River Enthusiasts group on Facebook for this article. We recommend this as a resource if you have a vested interest in effects and recovery efforts at Sunday River. Operational impacts and plans will be addressed by Sunday River's communications staff on their website and social media channels.