Question: What’s a widowmaker? Or a blue devil? Or a spinnaker?

Answer: A tree or a branch blown down by the wind and a trail at Sugarloaf; a hand-tied dry fly and a trail at Saddleback; a large, triangular, baggy headsail and a trail at the Camden Snow Bowl.

The story of the naming of ski trails in Maine, and anywhere for that matter, is a rich tale combining history, local heritage and culture, personalities and more than a little whimsy.

Having had the pleasure — and sheer fun — of helping name a bunch of them at a couple of Maine ski areas, and learning about the history and derivation of others in Maine and around the country, I’ve always found the process fascinating.

I’ve also been impressed by how much the naming process and ultimate selection tell us about the distinct personality of each area.

For example, the decision in the early 1960s at Sugarloaf to honor the timbering tradition in Maine’s Longfellow Mountains by using terminology endemic to that industry, has led to a unique collection of recognizable terms, and also names that evoke the personality of each trail. For example, who would question the black diamond status of a trail called Widowmaker? Or Choker? Or Skidder?

And at neighboring Saddleback, the early tradition of naming ski trails for hand-tied dry flies reflecting the rich angling heritage of the Rangeley Lakes region continued for some 20 years with colorful names like Green Weaver, Grey Ghost, Supervisor and Peachy’s Peril, an especially apt name for a challenging descent.

In fact, when I owned Saddleback and cut a lift line from base to summit, I named it Line, and the trails on each side of it were named Hook and Sinker.

When a successor owner changed the names of most of the trails to a Western theme, the locals were up in arms and were finally placated when the current owners, Bill and Irene Berry, had the good judgment to return the trails to their given names.

At the Camden Snow Bowl, with its spectacular views of Penobscot Bay and its rich sailing tradition, the trails logically bear such monikers as Windjammer, Clipper, Northeaster and Spinnaker.

While local culture has played a significant role in trail-naming at many areas, so have local characters.

At Pleasant Mountain (now Shawnee Peak) there are trails named after an original investor and the long-time manager: Riley’s Run after Ray Riley and Haggett’s Hurdle after the memorable Russ Haggett.

And, of course, there’s Sugarloaf’s first trail, Winter’s Way, named for the mountain’s founder, Amos Winter.

Then there are the trails whose names seem so perfectly appropriate for the terrain that they could bear no other: White Heat at Sunday River, White Nitro at Sugarloaf, and Nose Dive at Stowe in Vermont.

There’s a Maine connection to that Vermont trail, as one day a young ski instructor there was giving a lesson to one Howard Head, who was testing a metal ski he had invented, the Head Standard. The instructor was Roger Page, who migrated later to Sugarloaf to teach and coach in the late 1950s, and then, almost single-handedly launched Saddleback in 1960.

Head had the misfortune to fall and break his leg on Nose Dive, which led to the headline in the local paper, the Stowe Reporter, a copy of which hangs today in the Vermont Ski Museum: “Head Breaks Leg on Nose.”

One of my favorite trails in the entire world is Exhibition in Sun Valley, as its steep, well-moguled terrain runs directly under one of the principal access lifts to Baldy Mountain there. And a narrower sister trail in the woods off to its side is aptly named Inhibition.

You’ve got to love the wonderful sense of whimsy that resulted in the triple diamond Pants Pooper and Skid Mark at a still almost undiscovered treasure in Colorado’s San Juan mountains, Silverton Mountain. And the devotion to heroes of the Tenth Mountain Division — many of whom returned from the war to launch the ski business as we now know it — when Pete Seibert and a crew of veterans cut a trail at Vail and named it Riva Ridge for the World War II victory in which they fought.

And then there’s Patton at Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, whose builder, veteran Ernie Blake, named four other trails after the men who plotted to assassinate Hitler: Fabian, Ouster, Stauffenberg and Tresckow.

At Crested Butte in Colorado, two of the most challenging descents are Dead Bob’s and Body Bag Glades, the latter so named, I’m told by my friend Bob Gillen, who became marketing manager there after retiring as an editor at Ski magazine, “It’s so steep the ski patrol will be waiting at the bottom with a body bag!”

Here’s hoping you have a wonderful, and safe, holiday season.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, will write ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at:

jchristie@fairpoint.net