On Skiing: Perfect conditions, and settings, for spring skiing

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A few weeks ago, it looked as if an early spring had arrived. That was before two-plus feet of snow hit the mountains, and even along the coast the totals were close to that number.

Since that storm we have had warm days but nights have been well below freezing, ideal for spring skiing. It keeps the base intact and firm and the surfaces soften nicely during the day. If this continues we can expect to ski until Easter (April 16 this year) and beyond if skiers keep skiing. I say if skiers keep skiing because the skiers always quit before the snow melts. Some may have skied enough or they are on to other pursuits.

A year ago we went to the annual Portland Golf Expo and a number of courses were already open. This year the show was a week later and all the fairways were under a foot or more of snow. With the snow keeping the sun off the ice, ponds and lakes will be unavailable to boaters for some weeks yet. In other words, skiers don’t have many alternatives so they should keep skiing.

I have long felt that March can be the best month to ski. The sun is high so we rarely have to deal with flat light. We can also ditch the heavy ski wear. Unlined powder pants over poly pro are plenty and shell tops over a fleece or a vest can be enough. No need for boot heaters or hand warmers. On really warm days those lightweight cross country gloves can be enough.

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I don’t recommend discarding the helmet, but it will help if you have a well-vented model.

When I checked web sites only two areas in Maine list any events beyond next weekend. Both Shawnee and Mount Abram are still open but all of their big events were scheduled earlier this month. Also, some areas limit operating days mid-week, so check those web sites for updates. How late they stay open will depend on the weather and the number of skiers buying lift tickets.

At Sugarloaf you have two more days to watch the National Alpine Championships, which wrap up Tuesday, and mid-week there won’t be the usual lift lines. The next big event is the annual Snowmaker’s Ball April 5th. This is a celebration of the great skiing these folks produce and is one of the best parties of the season at the Loaf. The next big celebration is what is billed as the East Coast Pond Skimming Championships on the 15th. Of course, there will be the usual Easter Celebration.

Next weekend is Spring Festival at Sunday River with Passholder’s weekend and BBQ April 7 and Pondpalooza (Pond Skimming) the 8th. April 15th is the annual Tailgate Party in the Barker Parking lot. The Ski Museum of Maine’s Skee Spree day will feature a silent auction in the Barker Base Lodge. That’s where you will find me.

With Easter on the 16th, you can expect the usual parades, egg hunts and sunrise services. You’ll have to go to the various web sites for details such as times, lift openings and so forth.

While there are special events, the big attraction is the skiing. As crowds dwindle, lift lines will be shorter. It’s always important to get out early for the best skiing, but it’s even more important in the spring. First thing in the morning, hit the groomed runs in the sun. They will soften early and be the first to get heavy later in the day.

At Shawnee Peak, the trails on the east side are the place to start. At Sunday River, the runs off North Peak catch the morning sun. For more challenge, White Heat can soften quickly. At Sugarloaf, King Pine Bowl is the first to feel the morning sun.

Mostly, you can look at the trail maps and determine where the sun will hit first. Follow the sun around the mountain and be aware of changing conditions. Skiing into a shady spot you can go from soft spring snow to a firm surface. Being ready for changing conditions is a requirement for spring skiing as conditions can change throughout the day and even from run to run. If temperatures really rise, the snow can get heavy which is why we need to get out early.

My plan is to ski until the snow starts to get heavy and go for lunch. After lunch just relax on the deck and watch the other skiers or enjoy the music and entertainment that many areas will be providing. There are some very special spots at our ski areas for enjoying the sun and revelry. As most ski areas are built on the north side of the mountains, base lodges almost always face the sun.

One of the sunniest spots is the deck and patio at Shawnee Peak. This time of year there are more skiers on the deck than inside Blizzard’s Pub. The area immediately in front of the Base Lodge at Sugarloaf is known as “The Beach.” Even in January there are skiers hanging out here by a fire pit with the sun adding its warmth. Sunday River has three spots, and the big patio in front of South Ridge is always busy with food and beverage on hand. Some entertainment is on hand outside the White Cap base and the old-timers tend to congregate at Barker, which was the original Base Lodge.

Naturally, this time of year the snow will last longest at the higher elevations, which makes Wildcat a great spring place, and they have a busy deck over the brook, usually with a BBQ.

These are some of my favorites. There are more, but be sure to take advantage of the rest of the season.

See you on the deck.

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