On skiing: A visit to Mt. Abram, and thoughts on the Olympics

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Last Saturday I visited Mt. Abram, and found exactly what I expected: The runs were firm but well groomed and eminently skiable.

Part of the weekend’s celebration of Ullr Fest was a Telefest, and the heel-free skiers were everywhere. At the top of Dudley, I watched for a few minutes as an instructor gave a clinic on changing edges and I thought about how happy I was to be on modern alpine GS skis, which turned with a fraction of the effort. I had been asked on the chair lift if I had tried telemark skiing. I responded that when I started skiing, all bindings allowed heel lift. These were cable bindings, which had two settings to allow more or less heel lift, and I didn’t want to go back to that. This is not to denigrate the tele skiers, but I like the ease of today’s alpine gear.

The telemark skiers turned what could have been a quiet Saturday into a busy day. By mid-morning, the temperatures had risen into the teens and it was comfortable. With the sun now high, most days for the rest of the season will be comfortable, even if overnight lows are in the single numbers.

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In the base lodge, I found Tim LaVallee and Tim Hutchisen conversing with some of the kids in their racing program. Naturally the conversation turned to the Olympics and Maine skiers who would be in Korea. We knew we would have Troy Murphy from Bethel in the freestyles mogul competitions, and Russell Currier and Clare Egan in biathlon. But LaVallee added some names. Sasha Rearick (Gould ’95) from West Bethel is the head men’s alpine coach and Parker Gray (Gould ’97) from Newry is an assistant on the men’s tech team. You might catch sight of him in the start house. Auburn’s Mike Day is one of the women’s coaches working with overall World Cup Leader Mikaela Shiffrin.

It should be noted that this is nothing new. Mt. Abram general manager Bob Harkins (an EL and UMaine grad) was a U.S. Team coach at the 1988 Olympics and LaVallee (Kents Hill and Plymouth State) was a U.S. Team coach. Both were greatly influenced by Tom “Coach” Reynolds of UMaine-Farmington and a long time director of the U.S. Team. It was Reynolds who introduced Harkins to Hank Tauber on his path to the U.S. Team. And I should mention Forest Carey who (CVA and Middlebury) who has been coaching at the U.S. Team level for a number of years and coached Bode Miller. Maine skiers will be well represented in Korea.

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I also took some time to learn more about the Mt. Abram Ski Club from Laurie Fitch, a long time instructor who has been very active in the club. Unlike many clubs, this one is operated by a board of directors and the primary function is education and scholarships.

There is no social membership, but their fundraisers are social events that attract many season pass holders and other regular Mt. Abram skiers. The annual auction, spaghetti dinner and the Loose Boots Golf Tournament are the biggest. The funds are used to bring kids from various schools to the mountain to learn to ski.

The club scholarships fund kids in race programs. Another big event is the annual Fitch Gilpatrick Race named for Laurie’s mother Sandy and Dave Gilpatrick, both longtime patrol members who died much too young.

There is a second very active group, Friends of Mount Abram. Greg Novick leads this group and he explained, “We exist to support young people in Western Maine, often supplying equipment for high school racing which takes place every Friday night at the mountain.”

FOMA bought netting to enhance safety on the race courses and timing equipment. Harkins told me the contributions from these two organizations is invaluable to the race programs at Mt. Abram. 

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Another topic came into strong focus this past week: the Internet.

Sometimes I wonder how we got along before the Internet. I remember listening to radio ski reports to learn what I could expect when I arrived at the mountain. I can also remember being in a general manager’s office and hearing him say into the phone that the skiing was very good to excellent. As I was standing there in my patrol parka having just come in off the mountain, my description would have been a bit different. Of course, we had only limited snowmaking and powdermakers were the only way the area had of breaking up the hardpack.

Radio ski reporters claimed to have skiers at various ski areas who reported to them so they had the inside scoop on conditions. Now we can go online and get instant up to date information.

Other websites provide information on everything skiing, and there are many to choose from. Check them out when you can.

See you on the slopes.

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