Tuesday, March 11, 2014
There’s really nothing quite like the excitement surrounding the first day out on the slopes, especially if it’s also the first day of the season for the ski area you’ve picked.
I resolved to hit as many opening days as possible, and hit four areas.
Besides great skiing, opening days have at least three things in common:
First, there’s the unmistakable camaraderie in the parking lot, the locker room, and the impatient line waiting for the first chair. Skiing and boarding friends who hadn’t seen each other since last spring shook hands, embraced, joked and got caught up on each other’s lives.
Second, there’s the annual jostling contest to see who makes it onto the important First Chair. At Sugarloaf, when I arrived at about 7:30 a.m. in anticipation of the 8:30 opening of the Superquad, I knew Chair #1 was out of the question for three of my buddies and me; I saw a foursome who had arrived an hour before that, I’m told, with their breakfast cooking on a grill near the loading area and their skis already lined up in Position A on the ramp.
Third, the enthusiasm of management and staff is palpable. They are overjoyed that their long, hot summer of preparation is over.
Helping Mt. Abram celebrate its opening day was the Lewiston High Air Force Junior ROTC presenting the colors, along with a delightful rendition by a young soloist of the national anthem for enthusiasts assembled in the base lodge.
Opening day at the Camden Snow Bowl Dec. 20 was one for the books. Faithful locals skied both groomers and a nice patch of undisturbed powder off the lower T-bar, and anticipated one of the earliest openings in memory of the double chair on the following day.
It was close to a record opening date for the mountain’s principal lift.
Fitzy Fitzcharles, operations chief at the Snow Bowl, was not only excited about the unusual amount of early-season natural marketing snow, as he calls it, but about the temperatures that not only froze the ground before snow-making commenced, but contributed to his crew’s ability to lay down a durable base upon which the two storms were able to put a blanket of fluff.
On top of that, his early tests of some state-of-the-art snow- making equipment that will be part of next summer’s first phase redevelopment project already has him salivating.
The small coastal area, not unlike all of the ski areas in Maine, depends in great part on revenues generated during the holidays, and this year is shaping up to be a winner.
Saddleback’s opening day on the first day of winter, Dec. 21, was hampered a little by an inversion that had temperatures above freezing on most of the mountain, resulting in some fog and tough visibility.
But that hardly dampened the enthusiasm of the regulars, and I was especially impressed with the large number of youngsters enjoying their first lesson of the year on the friendly terrain below the base lodge, under the careful guidance of members of Mark Robie’s now-legendary ski school.
And the fact that there’d been about two feet of natural snow during the preceding week on top of a nice man-made base made for some delightful trips off the big chair.
I had even toyed with the idea of getting in a few early runs there and then trekking to Squaw Moutain in Greenville to hit its opening day as well, but Mother Nature and the resultant road conditions had different plans for me.
But that’s OK. I’ll be able to get to Squaw in the next few weeks and I’m especially eager to report on the revival of one of my favorite mountains by the dedicated group of locals who banded together to again open up skiing opportunities on the lower part of the mountain for skiers and boarders in Piscataquis County.
I left Rangeley early enough in the day to check in on the way home with my old friend, Megan Roberts, who’s managing Titcomb Mountain in Farmington, where the conditions, she reports and I could see, are about as good as they’ve ever been this early in the 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, write columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at: