There’s something extra special, for me anyway, about those early, first-of-the-season days back out on the slopes.

First there’s just the sheer joy of initiating those first few turns and realizing that to some degree anyway, you’ve still got it. Granted, there’s the first-day tendency to sit back a little, the surprise that comes from finding some slick and ungroomed terrain over a mound of man-made snow, and the occasional half-open water bar. But all in all, there’s really nothing that can beat the exuberance shared by the hardy company of November skiers.

Added to the physical thrill and enjoyment of getting the chance to point ’em downhill again, there’s the emotional rush associated with rejoining kindred spirits in a familiar environment, knowing that whatever you’re feeling is shared by your “family” of equally committed skiers.

There are a bunch of other things, I was reminded a couple of weeks ago on opening Sunday at Sugarloaf, that make this part of the season so special. For me, the fun of knocking off a run with son Josh (who already had beaten me by a week, having helped Sunday River welcome the new season), and feeling the pride and satisfaction of a father who had the sense to introduce him and his brother to the sport lo those many years ago. And remembering those days when he used to chase me down and realizing the tables had turned drastically as I watch him get some air off a mogul and disappear down Chicken Pitch. As my friend Warren Miller once said, “One day your children will ski as well as you do. The next day they’ll ski better.”

Seeing old buddies, many of whom I hadn’t seen since closing day last spring, reawakened for me that wonderful feeling of camaraderie and familiarity that it seems only devoted skiers share. Despite being reminded by more than one of them how much I appear to have aged in less than six months, I knew the banter in the locker room and the lift line would be repeated dozens and dozens of times in the months to come.

Those first days back on the mountain give you a chance to see whatever changes and improvements may have taken place and been made while you were off enjoying your summer pursuits. Even the trip to your favorite area on roads you may have not been on for half a year can reveal some new homes and businesses – not to mention summer grading and paving – adding to the excitement of that first trip to the area.

And since early-season crowds tend to be pretty sparse, you can get a pretty uncluttered look at what’s new at your favorite area. At Sugarloaf, for example, despite plenty of terrain and some very good skiing, cars barely filled a single parking lot the past couple of weekends. Added to that benefit is the fact that we’re still far enough removed from the winter solstice and the foreshortened days (and colder temps) of December and January, there’s plenty of light early and late in the day, and no need to bundle up and worry about where you packed away your face mask last spring.

One early-season rite that many of us enjoy is to take the trip south to the Boston Ski Show, as we did last Saturday to really get the juices flowing. Seeing old ski friends from around the country manning their impressive booths and displays is always a treat for us; checking up on what’s new in the resort world as well as in equipment and apparel is fun; and formulating plans for the months ahead is the stuff of upcoming daydreams.

That first trip back to the hill can give you a great chance to try out any new gear you may have picked up in anticipation of the season ahead, and, for me anyway, the opportunity to make some turns on skis that I fortunately remembered to get tuned after last spring’s abuse in the mud and rocks.

All in all, these past couple of weeks, and the days ahead leading to Christmas, can constitute for many skiers some of the most enjoyable ones of the year.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at:

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