You skiers and boarders know what I’m talking about when I say that the first day back on the slopes every season is like nothing else in the world. And it seems as if every year it’s even more fun.
Perhaps it’s because we’ve been dreaming about it for so long. Perhaps it’s because when we make those first turns, we realize not only that it’s all coming back to us, and we’re able to still do it, but that we’ve got a whole winter ahead of us. Perhaps it’s because we get the chance to reconnect with old winter friends that we don’t see in the summer who share our passion for the sport and for Maine winters.
Most of all, for me, the first day is my annual opportunity to celebrate what we have here in Maine at our ski tips, and to renew my appreciation of one more recreational treasure that awaits us.
But the first day carries with it its own challenges. Like figuring out where I stashed all my various pieces of equipment when I hung them up after last year’s late-May trip to the East Snowfields on Mount Washington. And making sure everything’s in working order. And remembering that on one of my last runs in Casablanca last spring I caught a spruce branch and tore the crotch out of my ski pants!
This year was especially frantic, as I fully intended to take my first runs on Friday, Nov. 16, Sugarloaf’s scheduled opening day. Then, out of the blue, and thanks to both the weather gods and the resort’s 300 new guns, word began to circulate on Nov. 8 that Double Runner East would start turning the following morning.
Thanks also should go, I might add, to my old friend Bernie Weichsel whose company organizes the annual, and spectacular, Boston Ski and Snowboard Expo, which ran this year Nov. 9-11. The fact that Sugarloaf could promote at the show that they were already open played no small role in their decision to crank up the lift for the weekend.
When I visited with Bernie at the show in Boston on the 10th, I passed along the thanks from all of us who had skied the day before and appreciated the fact he was partly responsible for getting the season started early at Sugarloaf. In fact, it was the resort’s earliest opening in five years.
Anyway, the preparations for my first day that I usually casually spread over an entire week had to be made in 24 hours. Where are the new gloves I was given last spring that I hadn’t yet worn? Don’t I remember my boot liners in my well-worn but cherished Rossignol Race II’s needed a little more duct tape? Where’s the piece of paper I always carry with me in the winter with my ski locker number on it? (This especially meaningful to many of my older contemporaries). Hadn’t I meant to replace one of the straps on my favorite poles? And where in the world is my insulated underwear? And my turtlenecks?
At least I didn’t have to think about putting the ski rack on my Jeep, as the wonderful world of SUVs and short shaped skis have relegated the roof rack to the archives of ski museums. Now, virtually everyone can put their skis and boards right inside their cars. In fact, my old racing buddy, Peter Dumont, remarked to me one day on the lift as I admired his new 150-cm slaloms that he used to compete in his Masters races, that his skis were getting so short that he imagined soon he’d be able to put them in his glove compartment.
I made the mistake of remarking to son Josh, after I had gathered all my stuff and felt well prepared to head to the slope in the dark the following day for the first of many sojourns to the mountains, that I was eagerly looking forward to “strapping them on” in the morning. His reply, “Dad, you’re showing your age. Long thongs went out with the hula hoop. We step into ’em, we don’t strap ’em on anymore!”
I hasten to add that Josh got ahead of me by a couple of days when he sneaked up to Sunday River to claim bragging rights for this season. Now my challenge is to ski more days this winter than he does.
But I won’t come close to most of the guys I skied with on my first day this year, as Don Fowler, Bob Farrar, Rick Chenard, Frank Rogers, Greg Foster, Fred Putnam, Jeff Strunk and a quite a few more of them will hardly miss a day in what all of us hope will be a season that’ll erase the memory of last year’s sparse snowfall.
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, write ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at: