January 9, 2011

Skiing in Maine: Novices get nudges to embrace winter

By JOSH CHRISTIE

Believe it or not, there are people who don't like going out in the snow, wind and cold of Maine's winter months.

click image to enlarge

Chatim Kouk, 6, gets ready to ride at last year’s Welcome to Winter Festival in Portland. This year’s event is on Jan. 22.

Staff file photo

MORE ONLINE

FOR INFORMATION on introductory deals, go to www.skimaine.com/deals.php#learntoski

FOR MORE on the Welcome to Winter Festival, www.winterkids.org

SPOTLIGHT ON SKI AREAS

NORDIC HERITAGE CENTER, PRESQUE ISLE

HOW BIG: 12 miles of groomed trails; 15 miles for backcountry skiing; 15 miles of marked snowshoe trails

WHY IT'S COOL: It's a world-class center in a part of the state where the welcome mat is always out and there is always snow.

NEW THIS YEAR: A World Cup Biathlon event Feb. 4 to 6.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT: The center offers not only ski trails and rentals, but lessons, a dining hall, locker room, wax building and sauna.

TICKETS: Trails are free; ski and snowshoe rentals for adults, $10; children's packages, $7; snowshoes, $7.

HOURS: 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

HOW FAR: 287 miles from Portland; 234 from Augusta; 160 from Bangor

CONTACT: 762-6972; www.nordicheritagecenter.org

-- From staff reports

This month, two programs aim to convince these nonbelievers how much fun skiing, snowboarding and other Maine outdoor activities are. Not only is it National Learn to Ski and Snowboard month, but the statewide nonprofit WinterKids is hosting the 7th annual Welcome to Winter Festival in Portland on Jan. 22.

Both the national and state programs have one objective -- get people outside and playing in the winter weather.

If you've got friends or family who (for some strange reason) don't wish for snow every day of the year, January seems like the month to change their minds. Maine is joining 33 other states in celebrating National Learn to Ski and Snowboard month. Founded in 2007 by a loose coalition of resorts, the effort has spread to more than 300 resorts this season.

This month, Maine resorts are working with the national program to get locals out on the hills by offering reduced rates for first-time skiers and riders.

With a ski season that can run from October to May and 18 Alpine ski areas, it's surprising how many Mainers have never strapped on skis or a snowboard.

"Mainers have close access to outdoor winter sports, but many have not taken the first step to try skiing or snowboarding," said Ski Maine Association director Greg Sweetser in a press release about the program. "Highlighting January as a Learn to Ski Month has motivated people to think about getting outside."

Both of the initiative's ambassadors have deep Maine connections. The two faces promoting it are Olympic gold medalist Bode Miller and "extreme skiing" pioneer Glen Plake.

Miller is among the most famous graduates of Carrabassett Valley Academy and earned his racing stripes on Sugarloaf's Comp Hill and Narrow Gauge.

Plake gained national prominence (some may say infamy) after appearing in "Blizzard of Aahhhs," a groundbreaking ski film made by Shawnee Peak freestyler Greg Stump.

Though Maine's official Learn to Ski week has already passed, many ski areas will offer special rates and packages for first-timers through January and the rest of the season. Most offer packages that include a lesson, equipment and a lift ticket.

While its goal of introducing Mainers to winter recreation is the same as the national program, the intended audience for WinterKids' Welcome to Winter Festival is a bit different.

The free event in Portland's Payson Park runs from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Jan. 22. The festival is also an introduction to winter for hundreds of immigrant and refugee families. For many, it is a chance to experience the thrill of sledding and snowshoeing for the first time.

WinterKids, whose mission is "helping children develop healthy lifelong habits through fun, outdoor winter activity," teams with the Portland schools' Multilingual and Multicultural Center to put on the event.

It isn't all fun and games, however, as experts will also be on hand to teach families how to stay warm in winter, indoors and out. Vendors will also provide healthy food and drinks, and offer information on food that will keep kids full and energized during exhausting winter play.

Last year, city crews had to lay down some man-made snow to make the outdoor activities a reality. This year, so far, mother nature seems all too happy to do the job for us.

This year's slogan for National Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month pretty much says it all -- "Humans were never meant to hibernate."

Young or old, from away or a lifelong Mainer, the winter is too long and too dang fun to spend it indoors. Now, get out there and revel in the icy, windy, sub-zero Maine weather!

Actually, putting it that way, I guess I can understand the reticence of those who don't yet know the joy of snow.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime ski enthusiast. He writes this column every other week, sharing the space with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

joshua.j.christie@gmail.com

 

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