December 30, 2012

Skiing in Maine: Just resolve to hit the slopes soon

By JOSH CHRISTIE

As skiers and snowboarders in Maine, we have it pretty darn good. We have resorts lauded by the national press, with Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Saddleback noted as three of the Northeast's best. Skiing is easy to get to, with community slopes less than an hour from each of Maine's urban centers. This fall, as it does every year, the Ski Maine Association sent a press release detailing the dozens of improvements to snowmaking, terrain and facilities.

It isn't enough. To paraphrase Louis CK; everything is amazing, but I still want more. Rather than making resolutions for 2013, I'm making a wish list for skiing here in Maine.

1. Snow -- Real and Natural

After last year's disappointing winter, snow is on the top of every New England skier and snowboarder's list. We've received what felt like a Christmas miracle with some Maine mountains reporting over 40 inches of December snow. With sources from AccuWeather to the Old Farmer's Almanac predicting a snowier-than-usual winter, Mother Nature may make our dreams come true. Even if we're left high and dry, an influx of new snowmaking equipment (particularly bleeding-edge variable-flow snow guns) at some Maine resorts should ensure a white winter.

2. A New Day at Saddleback

One of the biggest pieces of news is the announcement that Rangeley's Saddleback ski area is up for sale. After a decade and some $40 million in improvements, the Berry family has listed the mountain with a Portland broker for $12 million. The expansion at Saddleback since the Berry family purchase in 2003 has built the mountain into one of the East's best for expert skiers, and one of my biggest wishes for 2013 is that the owners will find a buyer or partner that will keep the great ski area operating long into the future.

3. More Skiing for Families

Though it may not seem that way to diehard season-pass holders, skiing and snowboarding are (as my wife is always quick to remind me) expensive sports. Programs like the WinterKids Passport for all Maine fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders and reduced lift ticket and rental prices are a big help, as are the $15 day tickets and $150 season passes at Black Mountain and Big Rock. Here's hoping all Maine mountains remember that the only way to ensure the future of our sport is to make it accessible to children and families.

4. Civility on the Slopes

Thirty-five years after Jake Burton Carpenter founded Burton Snowboards and introduced a whole new sport to slopes around the world, it's time for a d?nte between skiers and snowboarders. While most members of both camps now get along, there's still plenty of folks (mostly skiers, I regret to say) who insist that the others are ruining the hill. Quite simply: Stop it. There's a minority of rude people, inattentive people and beginners who scrape snow off the trail, and neither skiers nor snowboarders have a monopoly on bad behavior. With the growth of both sports stalled and mountain visits declining, can't we all just get along?

5. Excitement off the hill

If you've ever skied out west -- in the Rockies, or even as far "west" as Vermont -- you may have noticed the differences between their base villages and the ones here at home. Basically, they give skiers plenty to do once the day ends. Here, we're often left with a choice between the upstairs bar and the downstairs bar. The skiing itself is king, obviously, but is it too much to ask for some stuff to do on a Friday night? Sugarloaf's revamped base area, with new additions like 45 North and Downhill Supply Company, is a step in the right direction.

6. Chairlift Chats

I'm the first to admit that, like many others, I ski with my iPod in one pocket and my cell phone in the other. I have no qualms with anyone who wants a bit of music or needs to stay connected on the slopes. However, I implore you -- turn the things off when you're on the chairlift. Skiing is a social sport and you're better off spending the few minutes of a chairlift ride talking with your liftmates than zoning out to your earbuds. They might even be able to point you towards some secret powder stashes.

7. Don't Ration Passion

Last year, snowsports participation dropped 10 percent, according to SnowSports Industries America. A more striking stat is the nearly 9 million self-described skiers and snowboarders who have not participated in the last two seasons. Don't be a part of either statistic. I know how easy it is to make excuses not to go to the hill -- cost, time, distance and weather are easy excuses. Fight that urge. Once I've gotten myself to the mountain, I've never wished that I'd stayed in bed.

With nearly three dozen Nordic and alpine areas in Maine, my biggest wish for 2013 is that everyone resolves to get out there and explore.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be reached at:

joshua.j.christie@gmail.com

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