Thursday, December 5, 2013
The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer and we're inching ever closer to spring. For many skiers, this all signals a reprieve from the harsh conditions of the middle of winter.
For Maine families, these changes are a sign of something else -- February vacation is almost here.
When the final bell sounds on Friday, most Maine students will have a nine-day vacation. Many parents have a long weekend as well, with the federal President's Day holiday falling on the 18th. With a bit of leisure time built into their schedules, loads of families will be headed out to ski and snowboard.
At least, that's the hope from Maine's many ski areas.
Though weather is one of the biggest factors in determining a ski area's bottom line, season to season, it's followed closely by holiday weekends and vacation weeks.
These are reliable spots on the calendar when resorts can count on families hitting the slopes for multiple days. This means not only lift ticket sales, but lodging rentals, equipment sales, and outings to on-mountain restaurants and events. With the President's Day week as the last big weeklong vacation of the season, it's understandable that Maine ski resorts are pulling out all the stops to pack their event calendars.
• Of all of Maine's resorts, Sunday River has the most in its schedule. Along with offering night skiing, zipline tours and tubing all week, there are bands planned for almost every night of the vacation week.
Other highlights include fireworks on the 16th and 21st, a kid's pizza and movie night on Wednesday, and Bruce Jacques' parody music concert at the Foggy Goggle on Friday.
Various weekend and midweek lift ticket and lodging packages are available, starting at $139 per person for lodging in condominiums
• Sugarloaf kicks off the week with a family-friendly magic show on the 16th, as well as the always enjoyable Maine Ski Heritage Classic. During the vacation week, the Carrabassett Valley resort promises fireworks, family-friendly entertainment, and (of course) plenty of skiing. Sugarloaf offers a "Classic Vacation Week" package starting at $525 per person that includes five days of skiing and five nights of lodging.
• At Saddleback, music is planned for every night of the week in the Swig and Smelt pub. There are also a number of fun night-time events, including a Matchstick Productions movie screening at 7:30 on the 17th, a torchlight parade on Thursday and a rail jam on Friday. Rangeley's vacation week is capped off with a USA Snowboard Association slopestyle event in the terrain park on Saturday the 23rd.
• On Thursday of February vacation week, Shawnee Peak holds Family Fun Day. A day-long event led by costumed storybook characters, Family Fun Day includes a scavenger hunt, snow sculpting, a pie-eating contest and other family-focused games. Though skiers still have to get a lift ticket to hit the slopes, the games are all free. Over February vacation (and every other weekend and holiday), Shawnee is offering lift tickets to families of four for $186.
• Vacation week kicks off at Mt. Abram with an on-slope torchlight parade and family night on Sunday the 17th. Wednesday is "Kids Rule" day at Mt. Abram, with discount of kids' tickets, rentals and lessons, and games throughout the day. The event ends with a 5 p.m. ice cream social. On the 19th and 20th, Mt. Abram will host the Maine Principals' Association Class A finals. It's a great chance to watch some of the best high school skiers Maine has to offer.
Though their schedules aren't quite as packed as the above mountains, all of Maine's resorts are hosting events and specials of some kind over the lucrative vacation week. If none of these events appeals to you, I encourage you to check with your favorite hill to see what kind of fun it has planned.
If you're looking for more adult entertainment over the vacation week, it seems that one reliable feature wherever you go will be Maine comedian Bob Marley. Bob is blitzing through the western mountains over February vacation. The comedian is performing at Shawnee Peak on the 18th, Saddleback on the 19th, Sugarloaf on the 20th and 21st, and Sunday River on the 22nd.
Skiing with the family on a vacation week does take a bit of extra planning, so be prepared. Get to the hill early enough to get prime parking and get to the lifts before most partying vacationers are out of bed. Give yourself extra time to navigate the crowded demo and rental shops, and call ahead to reserve spots in lessons or in other guided programs.
Most importantly, just get out on the hill over vacation week. Though the crowds can be daunting, there's nothing quite as invigorating and heartening as seeing Maine's resorts packed to capacity with whooping, schussing kids and teenagers.
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: