NEWRY – Frozen waterfalls, whispering brooks, and the distant hum of snow guns outside a quiet grove. These are some of the things that make zip line rides in winter so unique.

And that was the reason given by a family from Orlando, Fla., who decided to end a holiday week at Sunday River zipping on Friday.

“It’s different,” said Kevin Connell, moments after his 16-year-old son climbed off the zip tower first, and said the same thing.

“We didn’t miss skiing. The kids love it. Maybe next time we’ll get mom to do it, although she’s afraid of heights.”

Right now at ski areas statewide, any non-mountain fun is becoming more of an option as skiers and snowboarders wait for natural snow to fall.

Certainly with the cold weather that arrived last week, mountains are opening up more terrain. Even with no natural snow many mountains in Maine are doing just fine with man-made snow.

Shawnee Peak was 60 percent open as of Thursday, with more than 20 trails covered by the work of snow guns.

“Quite honestly, we like to be a ski resort and we are a ski area first and foremost. We concentrate our efforts on that,” said Rachel Wilkinson, Shawnee Peak spokesperson. “Once we do the East Side trail next week, we’re not that far from full capacity. We’re behind (from last year), but I don’t know how much.”

And officials at Sunday River says they’re not far off, either, even without nature’s help.

“We have over 50 trails open, and we’re making snow like mad,” said Darcy Morse, the ski area’s spokesperson.

Certainly, nobody like those in the ski industry knows how the weather in Maine can change in a second, and hope is always just around the corner.

“One big storm. It wouldn’t take much to get us back on track,” said Ethan Austin, Sugarloaf’s spokesman.

Still, while Nordic centers wait desperately for a natural blanket of white to even open, most Alpine areas are pointing to other activities for snow sport fans to stay active and interested while everyone prays for snow.

They’ve got snowshoeing trails, tubing parks, and a few are lucky to have skating ponds open despite mild temps.

The Camden Snow Bowl has several nice trails for snowshoeing that make great hiking trails, although they are eager there for a dump so their first section of Nordic trails can open for good.

“We had them open for a day after that Thanksgiving storm. They’re nice. I tried them out,” said Snow Bowl Director Jeff Kuller.

Meanwhile, Sunday River moved its tubing operation closer to the main South Ridge Lodge and opened it at night for free.

Then there are the zip line tours, which were put in at Sugarloaf and Sunday River with just this idea: Add a little extra joy to the mountains in winter and the skiers will keep coming even when the snow isn’t all there.

And new this year at Sunday River is the twin zips, the side-by-side zip run that leaves the woods and ferries riders over the slopes down to the lodge. It’s a natural hit.

“We’re going to do tricks” boasted Lauren Connell, 12, before she and her 10-year-old sister, Hannah, climbed up the zip tower.

The Connell family on Friday felt the seven line, high-wire action was the perfect ending to a rare winter holiday for their Florida clan. First, it’s fast, and then there is the free-falling feeling gliding over the skiers at the base lodge.

The roughly 2-hour-long zip line tours at Sunday River and Sugarloaf were rolled out last summer and have been busy in the good weather.

But when the snow is not ideal — or all there — the zip lines have been a busy outdoor option.

“Wednesday when it rained, we had our biggest day. We normally have two tours. That day we had three tours,” said Sunday River zip line pilot Patty Pittman.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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