Last week’s unseasonable thaw and subsequent cold snap have disrupted plans for cardboard box sledding, snowshoeing and dogsledding in the area, but planned skiing, snow tubing, ice fishing and pond hockey events are proceeding as planned.
Mountainside winter resorts prepared for the thaw by stockpiling snow and kicking their snowmaking operations into overdrive.
“The snowmakers are going to keep going for the foreseeable future,” said Ethan Austin, communications director for Sugarloaf, after the less-than-ideal conditions liquidated large amounts of snow cover.
Although the thaw was “not what we wanted to see,” Austin said, the freezing temperatures returned quickly, which allowed groomers to begin reworking the slopes.
By Saturday, he said, conditions on the open slopes were “pretty good.”
“With 5 or 6 inches of snow, we’d get our natural terrain back,” he said. “We’re hanging in.”
JoAnne Taylor, communications director at Saddleback Ski Area, said that ski area’s staff prepared for the thaw by laying in a deep layer on certain trails.
She said about two-thirds of the trails were open by Saturday, with more expected for Sunday’s Maine Day event, with discounted skiing for Maine residents.
“We don’t like the thaws, but that aside, I think there was a lot of pent-up enthusiasm because people didn’t get to ski as much as they would like last year,” she said.
On Friday, Eaton Mountain workers were eager for people to know that stockpiles of snow would allow for continued snowtubing this weekend.
“If people look out their window and see grass instead of a smooth blanket of snow, many will wrongly assume that conditions can’t be good and will stay home,” David Beers, the ski area’s president, said in a statement.
By the time the forecast thaw hit, snowmaking machines had been used to coat the slopes with a layer of snow ranging from 1 to 4 feet thick, he said.
Perceptions were also a factor in a reduced turnout for this year’s ice fishing derby at Lake George Regional Park’s annual Winter Carnival in Skowhegan and Canaan, director Jeff McCabe said.
While last year’s ice fishing derby had drawn about 250 participants, he said, early estimates for this year were “well over 100.”
McCabe said he suspected that some people would assume the surprise thaw rendered the derby unsafe; but in fact, participants were finding 12 to 14 inches of good, solid ice on the lake.
Turnout also was hurt by the cancellation of the carnival’s popular Sled Box Derby Race, in which children race homemade cardboard sleds down a slope.
“It really helps us to round out the family event, having that,” he said.
The derby, a chili cook-off and other events proceeded as planned.
McCabe said he still hoped to provide a venue for children who might have put time and effort into a souped-up sled.
“Once we get some snow on the ground, we’ll probably invite some kids to at least come out and try their sleds,” he said.
A different kind of sledding race, the Farmington Spring Sled Dog Races, originally was scheduled for this weekend, but organizer Joy Turner said she and her husband, Mark, now hope to salvage a one-day event on Feb. 17 instead.
She said it would take a foot of snow between now and then to cover fully the remains of the corn stalks that lie beneath the trail, which runs over the cornfields of Sandy River Farm.
The trail was fully built, she said, before Wednesday’s warmth washed it away.
“It’s just disappointing to me and my husband because we put in hours,” she said.
Turner said the event has been canceled just once in nine years, although there have been years, like this one, when it had to be rescheduled.
She said she and her neighbors have opposite hopes when they look at forecasts for a possible storm this week.
“I suppose everybody else is praying that it goes away,” she said, “but we’re just doing our snow dance.”
The lack of snow also caused the University of Maine at Farmington to cancel a cross country ski and snowshoe bonfire event that had been scheduled for Feb. 8.
Patrick Guerrette, director of the Maine Pond Hockey Classic on China Lake, said the thaw created some extra work for volunteers, but it won’t disrupt a competition among 15 registered teams scheduled for Feb. 9.
Guerrette said the flooding helped to smooth out the ice surface, but it was so extreme that it also destroyed borders that volunteers had built. He planned to reconstruct them Saturday.
“You always depend on Mother Nature,” he said. “It always messes with stuff, and you just have to hope to dodge the bullet a little bit.”
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287