Now that virtually every Maine ski area is in full, or nearly full, operation, thanks to a little help from Mother Nature, the arrival of what is traditionally the coldest stretch of the winter from mid-January through mid-February, and the extraordinary work of snow making crews whenever temps have allowed, perhaps it’s time to stretch your ski legs a little by exploring the rich variety of terrain and facilities that Maine has to offer.

For a lot of us, we get so comfortable skiing familiar terrain, with the same winter-time friends at an area that’s easiest to reach or where we have a season pass, or even a vacation camp or condo, that we short-change ourselves by missing out on some other great options.

Remember, the best weeks of the season are still ahead of us, with a good three months of skiing left if it turns out to be an average year. And, of course, all of us know how much more enjoyable the skiing can be as the sun stays longer every day on the slopes, daytime temps almost make us forget the frigid winds and frostbite in January, and sun-warmed buttery snow allows to us make effortless turns.

I even have several older, retired friends who, for reasons I’m incapable of fathoming, spend about three months in Florida each winter to escape the cold, but have the good sense to return in early March to get in, for them, a full ski season during arguably the two best months of the season.

And since some of the western mountain areas can hold skiable conditions into May, and a few of us hardy fools will trudge to Tuckerman into June, one could argue that the 2011-12 ski season is just getting started, with the worst of it now behind us.

So why not make some plans to revisit some areas you might not have skied in years, or visit some you may have never even explored. If you do, I can promise you, you’ll be in for a treat.

My only hint as you make your plans is that if you plan to visit one of Maine’s larger areas — Sugarloaf, Saddleback or Sunday River, for example — take along or hook up with someone familiar with the terrain. Even if you’ve been to one of those resorts before but haven’t visited in recent winters, the changes can confuse you and you might miss out on the best lift and trail options without the help of someone who’s a regular there. For example, a day I spent last winter skiing Sunday River with season-pass-holder friends was my best day there in years, as I followed them from peak to peak via the best possible routes.

And speaking of peak to peak, wouldn’t this be a great year for you to take the Ski Maine Association’s Peak to Peak Challenge? It’s not only a way to force yourself to ski or ride some different mountains, but you stand the chance of winning some great prizes as well.

The Challenge is pretty simple: ski or ride as many of Maine’s 17 Alpine areas as you can during the 2011-12 season, keep track of your visits, and register for a chance to win some great prizes, from lift tickets to accommodations to gear.

Getting started is simple. Go to www.skimaine.com, click on the Peak to Peak link and sign up. There’s a registration form you can fill out online, and once you’ve done so you can download your personal Peak to Peak Challenge form. On that form are listed all 17 participating areas, with a box to check and a line for someone at the area to initial, verifying your visit. You can register by calling the folks at Ski Maine at 207-773-SNOW.

Once you’ve completed and tallied your visits, return the form by May 14 and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win some exceptional prizes. And the more areas you visit, the more valuable the prizes. For example, if you visit all 17, you will be entered to win a ski and lodging package; visit 12 and you have a chance to win a $100 gift card at Kittery Trading Post; and you’ll even qualify to win a prize if you can only get to six areas this season.

So what are you waiting for?

This could be the year that you make that long-deferred trip to Big Rock in Mars Hill. And while you’re up there, venture to Lonesome Pines in Fort Kent. On the way south, why not swing by Mt. Jefferson in Lee. If you haven’t explored Casablanca and Brackett Basin at Saddleback and Sugarloaf, or ridden the new Skyline quad at the latter, plan a trip.

You might even win some great prizes.

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 ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at [email protected]


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