Just last week, skiers and riders could have used a reminder that although their lawns were bare, Maine’s ski areas were still well covered with snow.

But since then, more than a foot of new snow has fallen in some places, leaving little doubt that a full six weeks, or more, of great spring skiing lies ahead.

Prior to last week’s storm, and discounting some fortuitous dumps in the mountains, it’s been about as snowless a year as many operators have experienced. But thanks to modern snow making technology and a commitment by ski areas to spend the money to manufacture copious quantities of the white stuff, Maine skiers have had every reason to be happy with the season.

It hasn’t been easy for the folks responsible for keeping the slopes in shape, and night-long grooming of manufactured snow has been commonplace.

A perfect example of the frustration ski area operators have experienced was voiced recently by “Crusher” Wilkinson, the veteran mountain operations chief at Sugarloaf, during an Eastern Ski Writers Association meeting.

“How much had it snowed this winter?” he was asked. “About 15 minutes,” he wryly replied.

The lack of natural snow at ski areas has only been part of the problem. The scarce amount of white stuff outside people’s homes also has been detrimental to the business. It’s hard to think about skiing when you don’t see snow.

On a recent visit to the Camden Snow Bowl, I rode the chair with an old friend who lives in town, a scant three miles from the ski area, and I remarked to him that I hadn’t seen him skiing this winter. “I didn’t know there was any snow,” he said. Little did he even realize that the conditions at the Snow Bowl, I can attest, have been great since Christmas. And there appears to be enough man-made cover to last several more weeks. Certainly long enough for midcoast folks to spend a very special day on March 14 with Maine native and snowboardcross Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott, who’ll be there coaching local kids, signing autographs, posing for photos and dining with fans and friends. And as a special treat, he’ll be presenting and narrating an hour-long slide presentation in the evening at the Camden Opera House of a recent snowboarding excursion he took to Antarctica.

Years ago, when I was managing Mount Snow in Southern Vermont and we had some great early spring conditions on more-than-adequate cover, I fielded a Thursday phone call from Mike Strauss, the venerable ski writer for the New York Times. When he asked how the snow cover was holding up and how conditions were, I told him it was great but we were having difficulty getting people to believe it as the flowers were beginning to bloom in Central Park. When he asked “What would you give for another foot of snow on your slopes?” I replied, “I’d give a lot more for an inch in Manhattan.”

Not only is there lots of great skiing all over New England, and especially right here in Maine where it’s the best of all, we’re now entering that part of the ski season when areas plan not only a variety of special events, but they also introduce wallet-friendly pricing options.

As spring approaches, many areas reduce their day rates to keep skiers and boarders coming, and some start selling season tickets for the 2012-13 season that can be used for the balance of this year.

As many skiers and boarders know, March often marks the beginning of the best several weeks of the season, so if you’ve been waiting to get out on the hill, now’s the time to start making plans.

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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