Here it is, February, the biggest month of the ski season. This is the month everyone waits for. Regular skiers have been skiing for more than two months, but for those skiers who take one week’s vacation to ski and call it a season, this is the time. Some families wait for the school vacation and other skiers simply wait because they believe this is the best month to ski. Simple logic backs some of this thinking. At this point in most seasons, the mountains will have a good accumulation of snow and the snowmakers will have produced even more. The sun is getting higher, even though it may not seem that way, and January is the month when we expect our coldest temperatures.
And with any luck the January thaw is behind us.
My philosophy, if it can be called that, is one of getting while the getting is good. It probably comes from being part of the generation of skies who started before widespread snowmaking. In those days, any skiing before Christmas was considered a bonus and anything beyond mid March was a bonus on the other end. That’s why we skied every weekend from the day the lifts opened until the day they stopped turning.
With a season starting in November and stretching into April and even May, today’s skiers can pick and choose, and many choose February. This year the month is special because of the Olympics.Unfortunately, most of Maine’s hopes for Olympic gold have fallen by the wayside as our top prospects have dropped out with injuries, most notable Simon Dumont and Seth Wescott. The U.S. Team is still looking good in a number of events and Maine will be represented in the coaching ranks.
Greg Poirier of Rumford will be part of the Nordic coaching team working with the Nordic combined competitors. Forest Carey of Kingfield, a former U.S. Team Alpine racer, will be coaching our Alpine skiers. This continues a long tradition of Maine being represented at every Olympics since 1948, most years by either Alpine or Nordic skiers, but often with coaches. In 1956, Andover’s Al Merrill was an Olympic coach and went on to a great career as ski coach and athletic director at Dartmouth. With a little research, we can find Maine skiers throughout the sport and this year’s Winter Olympics will be no different.
Bode Miller’s most recent event was the Hannekahm, one of the toughest downhills in the world, and he skied to a third-place finish. It was a disappointment, as he made a mistake in his run, but that finish establishes him as a solid medal favorite at Sochi. Bode may have been born in New Hampshire, but he honed his skills at CVA and Sugarloaf to become one of the best Alpine racers in the World. Now let’s hope the TV folks give us some live coverage instead of running all the ski events as tape delays in prime time.
Here in Maine, the ski slopes will be busy, not only for the skiing but for a long list of special events. One of the biggest takes place next weekend at the Camden Snowbowl with the running of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships. This annual competition draws entries from all over North America. That event will be sitting down, but at Saddleback the annual Mountain Challenge is a Randonee style race where you ski up the mountain before skiing down. You have to be in top shape for this one. Cross country racers can enter the John Roderick Marathon at Black Mountain next Saturday where the cross country tradition includes hosting races from high school to national and world championships.
February is also the month for high school ski championships, and while they are spread around the state, none of the teams will have travel up to the County. Of course, those teams will have to do some heavy traveling as they always do. Class A Alpine races are set for Shawnee Peak, Feb. 27 and March 1, Class B at Mt. Abram, Feb. 27-28, and Class C at Sunday River Feb. 27-28. Class A Nordic will be at Rangeley Trail Center, Feb.19-20, Class B at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center Feb. 20-21 and Class C at Black Mountain, Feb. 19-20. For details on these events, you can visit the Maine Principals Association web site, www.mpa.cc.
These are skiers who can use some extra support. Instead of competing in an ice arena or on a basketball court dressed in uniforms and gear from the schools, skiers buy their own equipment and have to pay for lift tickets or trail passes. Spectators are mostly parents, and many of them actually work on the courses as gatekeepers or in other capacities. Ski racing is expensive. On the alpine side for example, to be truly competitive, a racer needs both slalom and giant slalom skis. Full retail can be up to $1,200 for ski and bindings. Race boots can go from $500 to $800 properly fitted, and toss in race suits, pads for slalom racing, helmets, goggles gloves, warm ups and parkas, and you get the picture. The good news is, these kids are participating in a life long sport. For most, football, basketball and hockey end with high school. It would be nice to see a crowd at the finish rather than a handful of parents.
There will be a lot more events this month, one of my favorites because it recognizes two lost friends, Sandy Fitch and Dave Gilpatrick, is the Fitch Gilpatrick Memorial Race at Mt. Abram. Both were members of the Mt. Abram Ski Patrol and died much too young. .
Finally, don’t miss the Maine Heritage Skiing Classic at Sugarloaf, Feb. 15th. This biggest annual fund raiser for the Ski Museum of Maine features silent and live auctions, group photo of skiers with vintage ski wear and/or equipment and a reception at the Sugarloaf Inn. Find details at www.skimuseumofmaine.org. See you there.