Winters in Maine can resemble a roller coaster ride. This ski season has been no exception, with as many ups and downs as a ski patrol on a chairlift. Here is my recap of the highs and lows in Maine skiing.

The season started on a high note, with Sunday River opening first in the East at the wickedly early date of Oct. 14, eclipsing its own tradition of opening on Halloween the previous few years.

October and November flip-flopped. October felt like November, and November felt like October. Everyone but skiers and snowmakers were giving thanks for the balmy temperatures through Thanksgiving. Sugarloaf had to delay its opening until Nov. 28.

December’s high point had to be Sunday River’s 50th anniversary celebration. The resort rocked like it was 1959, with a record number of revelers at the South Ridge party sampling food from local restaurants, and watching fire dancers and fireworks.

The new year brought new snow, up to 3 feet, to the delight (and salvation) of Maine ski resorts. Saddleback unveiled its new glade trail, Casablanca. This 44-acre tree-lined terrain is the largest glade in the East. Conrad Klefos, director of marketing at Saddleback, said, “Now Saddleback skis bigger than Jay.” Klefos should know, as he was Jay Peak’s marketing director for 20 years. Casablanca is only one-third developed, so look for more acres of glades in seasons to come.

You can’t think of February without remembering Olympic fever and Seth Wescott’s repeat gold medal performance at Cypress Mountain. Bode Miller banked another three podiums to make Carrabassett Valley Academy’s medal haul bigger than any other ski academy in the world.

Late February’s big dump made skiers and riders delirious throughout the state. Admittedly, 5 feet of heavy snow caused more than a few quirks for lift operators, but resort folk never complain about too much snow.

It was enough snow to get lost in, literally. Thankfully, the four snowboarders who dropped beyond the boundaries of Sugarloaf Mountain were found (and fined). That was both a Maine season highlight for the boys and the rescue team, and a lesson to all not to ski beyond resort boundaries or you could be spending a cold night in a snow cave, then spending money on your rescue — or worse.

March, typically Maine’s snowiest month, had minimal snow for the second year in row, but the state’s big three ski areas — Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Saddleback — will all be skiing well into April, with a combination of man-made depths and occasional elevation snow.

Mt. Abram concluded a successful season last weekend with pass sales up 5 percent and increased day traffic as well, thanks to specials such as Two for One Thursday and Carload Fridays where everyone in the car skis for $75, according to Kevin Rosenberg, director of marketing at Mt. Abram. New events such as Friday night racing for school kids and full-moon hikes — where skiers hike up and ski down to the Loose Boots lounge for live music, were also well attended at Mt. Abram.

Shawnee Peak wrapped up last weekend. Shawnee celebrated 20 years of night skiing with a new low-priced night pass that sold in record numbers — more than 1,500, according to Melissa Rock at Shawnee Peak.

Saddleback introduced a hugely successful student season pass campaign. The Maine Peak Pass was just $49 for any Maine student achieving the honor roll. Saddleback issued more than 2,400 Maine Peak Passes, Klefos said. “We smashed every expectation this season — we were hoping to do about 1,000 Peak Passes.”

WinterKids, the Maine organization focused on improving kids’ health, saw “record-smashing success this season,” said Fran Mullen, executive director of WinterKids. “We taught 2,363 kids how to get active outdoors in winter at schools across Maine. That’s 49 percent more children than last year, which also broke records.”

During National Safety Awareness Week, WinterKids gave 156 new ski helmets to Maine kids, thanks to the Barbara Bush Pediatric Trauma Team. WinterKids also introduced 100 kids and their parents to skiing and snowboarding at Cooper Campbell Day at Shawnee Peak, held in memory of a Portland teen who loved skiing but died tragically two years ago.

The Maine Ski-A-Thon’s 25th annual fundraiser took place at Sunday River last weekend, raising more than $300,000 for Maine Handicapped Skiing.

Big Rock celebrated 50 years this season. Next season, expect big news and anniversary parties at Saddleback, celebrating 50 years of skiing, and Sugarloaf for its 60th year. Season passes are already on sale at most mountains for next season at considerable savings.

Of course, this season’s roller coaster ride hasn’t come to a halt yet. Some of the biggest events in Maine skiing will roll out over the next two weekends. Sunday River’s Parrot Head and Bust ‘n’ Burn are next weekend, along with Saddleback’s Park Shark, and The Loaf’s legendary Reggaefest is April 15-18.

I hope to see you on the slopes. And thanks for reading this season.

Heather Burke is a ski/snowboard journalist from Kennebunk. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]


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