Skiing on opening day is good in the way all pizza is good, or in the way a bad day fishing is better than a good day doing anything else. The skiing isn’t great and it’s not necessarily even that good in a totally objective sense. But it’s worlds better than not skiing at all.

As of this weekend, ski season has begun in earnest here in Maine. Technically. We’re skiing, at least.

Sugarloaf and Sunday River, the two Maine ski areas managed by Michigan-based Boyne Resorts, are open in some capacity. This follows early-opening weekends for each area, followed by skierless and riderless days spent making and maintaining snow. Sunday River opened for its first runs of the season Nov. 3, closed for the week, then reopened Nov. 8 for daily operation.

Sugarloaf was only a week behind its sister resort, opening for the day Nov. 9, then closing for the week. Sugarloaf isn’t quite up to daily operation yet – after opening for skiers Saturday and Sunday, the Carrabassett Valley resort is closing for a few days before opening for good Nov. 21.

Having been at both resorts on opening day, and logging a couple more midweek days at Sunday River after the fact, I’m happy to report the skiing is as good as it gets this early in the season.

At Sunday River, the season opened under bright sunlight and cloudless skies, not to mention blustery winds. I half-jokingly inquired as to whether the lifts had ever been put on wind hold on opening day.

All the elements were largely blocked out by snow guns, busily blasting away on T2. The trail boasted good cover from side to side, a far shot from the white strip of death skiers expect on opening day.

The snow was good, too, a bit heavy and tacky from the warm temperatures but easily manageable on early-season legs. The only real bummer was the lack of top-to-bottom skiing, with downloading from the Locke midstation required to reach the base.

With the download capacity of the Locke Mountain triple only 10 percent of its uphill, the line to get back to the base eclipsed the line to keep skiing by early afternoon.

Opening day was also buoyed by a slightly delayed Halloween celebration, with free lift tickets provided to folks who skied and rode in costume. The best costume I saw was an early Santa, a costume that can serve double-duty thanks to the resort’s 15th annual Santa Sunday on Dec. 7.

By this week things had improved significantly, with more trails, a park and top-to-bottom access available thanks to the Sunday Punch trail. Conditions are still variable, but it’s more than enough to get diehards out on the hill, and only improving as the days go on and the mighty snowmakers flex their muscles.

Sugarloaf opened Nov. 9 with quite a bit more terrain, skiing from the top of the Superquad down the length of Tote Road and King’s Landing.

The opening day was full of hearty Maine stock, with the earliest riders in line for the first chair before sunrise. Skiing was pretty gnarly for early runs, with hard snow and icepack on all the open terrain. But by midday the warm temperatures created an approximation of spring skiing. Like Sunday River, Sugarloaf was able to make wall-to-wall snow cover on each of their open trails – no small feat when the ground is bare and unfrozen in most of Maine.

The credit for these early-season conditions, which are far better than they were even a decade ago, goes to the resorts’ investment in snowmaking technology.

Sugarloaf installed 40 new HKD low-energy snowguns this summer, and Sunday River installed 172 similar energy-efficient snowguns. The guns are able to produce snow at higher temperatures than older models, using up to 90 percent less compressed air, the biggest energy cost while making snow. In addition to the temperature tolerance and the lower energy, the guns simply make better snow.

It’s not quite the genuine article from Mother Nature, but it’s way better than the glorified snowcone machines we used to ski beside during the early season.

And hyping up the technology isn’t to discount the hard work of the snowmakers at the resort in the early season, who are in the unenviable position of making sure these machines are working properly at all hours of the day, in any weather. In fact, the whole early-season crew is important in welcoming skiers back to the hill. I’m always particularly impressed with the lifties on the Locke Triple at Sunday River, who offer unrivaled enthusiasms, whoops, hollers and high-fives.

Maine’s two biggest resorts are up and running, but it’s only the beginning here in Maine. The Ski Maine Association, a nonprofit representing Maine’s Alpine and Nordic ski areas, is hosting its annual ski season launch party Thursday at Marong Falmouth. The yearly bash, celebrating the arrival of ski season, features a reception and silent auction, plus a film and fireside chat about Maine skiing, past and present.

Following the bash, we can look forward to a steady growth in the number of open Maine ski areas. Some have already announced opening dates – Saddleback will open Dec. 13 – while most are projecting early- to mid-December. With skiing already this good so early in the season, we have a lot to look forward to.

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

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