One thing all winter sports enthusiasts learned this winter is that Mother Nature is a fickle friend, and she’ll occasionally let us down.

Even more importantly, especially for skiers, it was proven to us week after week that although we might be dubious about the conditions we’d find on the slopes, we were able to put in enough quality days to satisfy even the most avid of us.

As of this writing, my day count stands at 66, only nine short of my goal and, given the recent cold spell and the willingness of a few cooperative area operators to crank up their guns to assure at least a couple more weeks of spring conditions, I’m expecting once again to ski my age.

Not only did we learn this season that even under the most adverse weather conditions we could find plenty of skiing, we also found that every operating area was going above and beyond the call in respect to grooming what snow they’d made or that had occasionally fallen into consistently superior conditions.

The season for all of us Alpine skiers began, as it has in recent years, with the expectation that there would be skiing by late November in Maine, on man-made snow alone. But this didn’t prevent ski areas from offering a variety of terrain to visitors early in the winter, thanks to both the extent of the acreage served by snow guns, and the realization by ski area managers that the best insurance against the drought that ultimately ensued was to manufacture as much snow as possible.

The ski areas that not only laid down as much snow as possible, on as many trails as possible, but stockpiled reserves in terrain parks and other appropriate places have been able to continue operating, generating revenue and satisfying pent-up demand by those of us still eager to squeeze as many days as possible out of the season.

Such creative anticipation allowed Sugarloaf to host a full 500 Brits to ski during the last week in March — a group that booked in Vermont but opted for Maine because of the assurance that a good part of the mountain would have decent coverage.

I have fond memories of a visit to southern Vermont early in December when there was absolutely no natural snow on the ground, yet Mount Snow opened with more than a dozen lifts operating and over 50 trails.

Management there told me about their recognition that although a huge percentage of their trails were served with snowmaking pipes and guns, a few of the more popular and difficult trails were not. So a commitment was made to expand the system so that terrain for every ability of skier would be opened as early and consistently as possible.

In Maine, even the relatively small Camden Snow Bowl has targeted $1 million to an ener- getic expansion program to increase coverage from 45 percent to 85 percent of their acreage.

On the flip side of that coin, Mad River Glen in Vermont, an area that has long eschewed investments in snowmaking, has suffered through a very difficult year because of its inability to provide anything more than minimal conditions.

Although snowmaking is expensive, ski areas have learned that if they want to be in the game, it’s the price of admission.

For the first time in memory, both Sugarloaf and Sunday River cranked up their equipment in late March, and the result has been some surprisingly good skiing on a wide variety of terrain.

Another important lesson folks in the ski business were reminded of this past season is that just because they’ve been able to provide great skiing, folks who live where there’s no snow on the ground need to be reminded, and reminded again.

Building a better mousetrap is no assurance the world will beat a path to your door.

This year provided a perfect case study for area operators from which they should benefit. Although media advertising isn’t cheap, it pales beside the folly of running empty lifts just because your customers don’t know you’ve got decent skiing a few hours away from their bare lawns.

So it hasn’t been an easy season for enthusiasts and ski areas alike. But we’ve all learned some valuable lessons and if the law of averages prevails, next winter will be a huge one.

It’s that optimism that fuels all of us who love winter in Maine as much as we do.

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 can be reached at:

[email protected]