SKOWHEGAN — How cold is it?
Cold enough to crank up the snowmaking guns and get ready for snow tubing at Eaton Mountain in Skowhegan and skiing at seven of the state’s ski areas this weekend.
“It’s nice to get an early start,” said David Beers, owner of Eaton Mountain, who started making snow Sunday. “In previous years, it was right around Christmas that we opened; and last year it wasn’t until the day after Christmas, so we’re getting at least a week’s head start. The weather has been ideal for snow making — single-digit temperatures with a clear sky is what you want.”
November was colder than it has been for two decades, and Maine ski areas took advantage of the early season snow-making temperatures, said Greg Sweetser, executive director of Ski Maine Association.
“December has continued with below-normal temperatures and several small snowstorms,” Sweetser said. “The weather pattern is setting up to be in our favor. These midwinter temperatures are perfect for snow making; and with the prospect of a major storm moving in this weekend, skiers and snowboarders are excited.”
Snow making continues across the state, Sweetser said, insuring nearly all of Maine’s areas, including Saddleback Mountain in the Rangeley Lakes region, will be open to celebrate the first day of winter Dec. 21.
Sunday River in Newry and Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley have been been open since November and will be joined this weekend by Titcomb Mountain in West Farmington and five others around the state.
Upgrades to the lifts at Titcomb Mountain got a boost this year with a grant from Plum Creek for T-bar cable replacement, according to Ski Maine.
Baker Mountain in Moscow also received a grant from Plum Creek, which, coupled with fundraising by a local ski club, has covered the cost of rebuilding the T-bar lift. Another group in the Bingham-Moscow area is working to create an ice skating rink at the base of the mountain, according to Ski Maine.
Rachel Trembly, director of Baker Mountain Ski Tow Club, said the ski area does not have snow making equipment and has to rely on at least 6 inches of natural snow to open. Trembly said the predicted winter storm this weekend could help determine when the mountain will open.
Beers at Eaton Mountain said he plans to run the snow guns nonstop throughout the weekend. He said he is set up to run three of the snowmaking machines at one time.
Beers, 43, said he has recovered from an accident on the mountain Dec. 4, 2011, when an 18,000-pound snow groomer rolled over him. His jaw was broken in three places, his legs still ache in cold weather and he remains deaf in his left ear.
He said he and his wife, Donna, moved to the mountain permanently from their home in Connecticut and are committed to the business.
The mountain is set up with three snow tubing lanes, each running about 500 feet with a 60-foot drop.
The lodge at Eaton Mountain will open with a snack bar and a newly acquired beer and wine license. Beers said they plan to have weekend bonfires and apres-tubing parties with live music in the lodge, which seats about 100 people.
Beers said he and his wife plan to resume skiing at Eaton Mountain next winter. He said the early cold weather prevented him from installing the ski lifts necessary to accomplish that this year. There will be a short intermediate slope and a novice trail to start with, he said.