Some errant snow gets caught in the trees behind the Harold Alfond Snowmaking Center this past week during the beginning of snow-making season at Quarry Road Trails in Waterville. The volunteer crew is getting used to new, all-electric snowmaking equipment. Zara Norman/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — This past week marked the beginning of the snowmaking season at Quarry Road Trails, and for the first time, the wintery trails will be created using all-electric equipment.

Jeff Tucker, program director for Quarry Road Trails, said Saturday that the year-round recreation area 2 miles from downtown Waterville will be outfitted for the ski season using a new electric air compressor, purchased with donations from the nonprofit Friends of Quarry Road and the city of Waterville.

“Using fossil fuels, it was smelly, loud, it was expensive, and giving off emissions,” said Tucker of the rented diesel air compressor previously used by the park. “It’s gonna save a ton of money, but it’s super intuitive and easy to use.”

Efficiency and ease in the process is crucial for Tucker and his all-volunteer team. Already it takes a fair amount of training to learn how to position and operate the spraying equipment (called “snow guns”), and the snowmaking gig is not super appealing on paper.

“It’s hard work. It’s late nights in hard conditions,” said Tucker. “It’s often very wet work.”

Tucker said that earlier this week, when firing up the new equipment for the first time, the weather happened to be on the warmer side at around 25 degrees. That meant the two or three volunteers working overnight snowmaking shifts, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., were often spraying slush and icy water pumped from the Messalonskee Stream instead of snow.


Yet, the volunteers, many of whom Tucker said are skiers themselves, take pride in doing it despite the punishing conditions.

“If everything lines up, it’s kind of like magic,” said Tucker. “You’re making winter possible.”

The work is very weather dependent. After the three-night effort this week, there are only a couple of piles of snow at the mouth of the East Pine Tree Trail behind the Harold Alfond Snowmaking Center. But Tucker said the week has been a good learning opportunity, especially with new equipment. His colleague, coordinator Dave MacLeay, said in an email Saturday that the forecast for Saturday and Sunday nights looked much more ideal for production.

Snow-making season has just begun at Quarry Road Trails in Waterville, as crews this past week began to make their first piles of snow ahead of the ski season. The snow will be made with new all-electric equipment this year.  Zara Norman/Morning Sentinel

The rationale behind snowmaking, and the city’s investment in all-new equipment, is to ensure an early start to the ski season, and help make skiing and other wintertime activities more accessible to the whole community with reliable snow conditions in the area.

Tucker said there’s a full slate of programming this winter for Quarry Road Trails. All the snow being made now is for the cross-country skiing trails in the park. Once volunteers have made enough snow during their long, wet night shifts to cover one of the trails — a 1-kilometre loop — Tucker said he’ll be able to start getting kids, as well as high school and college teams, out on skis.

Eventually, they’ll make enough snow (hopefully aided by Mother Nature) to cover the full 8.2 miles of Nordic trails in the area.

Later in December, Tucker said, they will start making snow for alpine skiing on their rope tow ski slope, too.

To find information on all programming, as well as equipment rental and ski passes, visit the Quarry Road Trails’ website. For the first time this year, Tucker said, there will even be a master’s program for adult intermediate-to-advanced skiers.

“The programs have gotten really big,” said Tucker, who created a separate website for skiing at Quarry Road Trails this year due to its expansion. “We’re just really excited.”

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