I think Dave Irons, author of “Sunday River: Honoring the Past, Embracing the Future,” put it best when he told me, “I can think of no sport where the end of the season is celebrated as we do in skiing.”

To commemorate the season, I pulled together a panel of skiers, snowboarders and ne’er-do-wells to discuss late-season skiing in Maine and the Northeast. I posed just a pair of questions to each — what’s the best thing about end-of-season skiing in New England, and do you have any favorite spring ski memories?

There’s no single experience that defines spring for New Englanders, but the general consensus is the month-long party that ends the season is a reward for putting up with cold, windy and sometimes miserable Maine winters.

Ryan Heisler, a Saddleback season-pass holder, recalled skiing in 78-degree weather a few springs ago — a full 100 degrees warmer than the coldest days of this season.

“I was so exhausted by the end of the day. I was coming down for my last run, and I just sat down out of a turn. The snow was as easy to cut through as warm butter,” Heisler said.

It’s hard to think of another sport where the end of the season feels so radically different from the beginning.

Everything — the snow, apparel, temperature, even the length of the day — changes completely.

Inhibitions are shed along with parkas, and you’ll see people skiing down the hill in T-shirts. Sometimes, in less.

“There’s something to be said about slushy park jumps, half-naked people slashing down the hill, and the sun shining,” says Mike Rogge, a former member of the Meathead Films ski crew (and currently associate editor at Powder magazine). “That something said is, ‘Awesome!’“

Rogge’s fondest spring memory is a “bump slaughter-fest,” skiing moguls with the Meatheads on Killington’s closing day a few years back.

“While (Radio Ron) was busy chatting with the kids and gathering a crowd, we were ripping beneath Super Star, tossing spread eagles and mule kicks off every decent-sized bump in classic one-pieces from the ’80s. I can’t remember a day filled with more laughs, smiles, neon and grass stains.”

Maine and New England certainly have one of the longest ski seasons in the country.

Sunday River started this season in October, and Sugarloaf was close behind. Both of the big ski areas plan to stay open until May.

If you don’t mind hiking for your turns, the season can stretch into June. This is especially true at Tuckerman Ravine, the snow sports paradise on the southeast face of Mount Washington.

Many skiers count times at Tuckerman among their favorite late-season memories.

Greg Stump, the visionary behind ski movies like “The Blizzard of Aahhhs” (and a man with deep Maine roots) recalls a time at Tuckerman before he was the extreme skier he became in the ’70s.

“At age 10, I was so petrified of the steepness I stood there for a half hour not daring to make the first turn,” he said.

The average pitch of some of the steeper spots at Tuckerman exceeds 45 degrees.

“When I got to the bottom where Dad was waiting, he was very curious as to my problem. I said, ‘Dad, I never saw anything so steep!’“

Irons fondly recalls the return of the Inferno in 1969. It was an April race down the ravine on the 30th anniversary of Toni Matt’s famous straight-line descent of the headwall.

“The rerun was from the summit to the floor of the ravine, and it was a huge celebration. A couple guys had somehow gotten a keg of beer up there, and were selling drafts for a buck. In those days the beer would have cost about a dime, but the beer in that keg would have weighed about 120 pounds. They earned their profits.”

Spring also brings out the daredevil in snowboarders, inspiring riders to go big or go home. For many, the self-preservation switch turns off.

“It’s not about milking the season anymore,” according to Ryan Lilly, former manager of the Sugarloaf Board Room. “If we get injured, so be it!”

Along with huge hits at the Sugarloaf park in spring, Lilly’s favorite spring memory is “snowboarding” around the base of Sugarloaf on a wheel-less skateboard deck.

End-of-season feats aren’t a new phenomenon. I found an interesting news item in the March 17, 1971, issue of Vermont’s Deerfield Valley News, featuring the Maine Sunday Telegram’s other ski columnist.

“Thanks to the season’s heavy snow, Mount Snow general manager John Christie was able to ski off the roof of the Base Lodge into a giant snow drift,” the newspaper reported.

As for yours truly, nearly all of my best ski memories are from late-season antics. Sunny days on Sugarloaf’s snowfields, skiing through Saddleback’s glades in a T-shirt, and sunburns from sunrise-to-sundown treks around Sunday River are all cherished recollections. Of course, that leaves out all the spring stories that aren’t exactly fit to print.

Don’t break out the boat shoes and golf clubs quite yet. There are few things as enjoyable as spring days in the mountains of New England.

Have a great final few weeks on the hills, and remember — we’re only six months away from the first chair of next season!

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

[email protected]

 


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