On Skiing: Thanking those who keep us skiing

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The biggest Christmas wish has already been answered.

Everyone involved in skiing in any way, whether in the business or just a skier, always wishes not only for a White Christmas but for steady-enough cold weather to make and hold the snow.

We have had a brief warm-up this week, but not enough to affect the total cover, which has a substantial number of trails open for the vacation.

As we get set to hit the slopes on those new Christmas skis or in that new ski wear, there are many who deserve our thoughts and thanks. Some of these folks we see, and many we don’t.

Start with your ski shop. We see the sales people on the floor who match us up with the right skis or fit our boots, but what about the folks in the back shop? That’s where the bindings are properly adjusted to protect us, and where the right wax is applied as the new skis are tuned before we take them out.

Often, as we sit in the base lodge late in the day, we see the groomers headed up the mountain, and when we leave we can hear the roar of the snow guns. These folks work through the night to make sure we have perfect conditions on our first runs.

At the mountain, we see the ski patrol throughout the day, but we don’t see what they do before we get on the lifts.

If we arrive early, we might see them boarding the lifts well before we get to ride. Their assignments include checking the unloading areas and safety gates to make sure the lifts will stop if a skier fails to get off. They check out the rescue sleds to be sure they will be ready if needed.

Once everything is in order at the top, ski patrollers head down assigned runs. Their responsibility is to assure the safety of each trail that is open. Maybe a ridge created by a snowcat has to be smoothed out or a call put in for a groomer to fix the problem before skiers are allowed on the run.

It sounds like fun to be out on the hill before anyone else to enjoy the freshly groomed snow, but these runs aren’t speedy cruises. They are slow as the patrollers crisscross the trails carefully checking the conditions. These are the skiers who watch over us from lift opening to lift closing.

Ski instructors are another group deserving our attention, and those who work with the smallest children are especially notable. They not only teach our youngest the basics of skiing, but manage to instill a love of the sport while caring for the needs of those who are cold or bored. These are special people who keep these youngsters happy while Mom and Dad get in their runs.

And don’t ignore those who run the nursery. If we think about it, we realize that ski areas take care of an entire family’s needs and it demands a lot of skilled staff.

One organization has earned a special mention. For 35 years, Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation (started in 1983 as Maine Handicapped Skiing) has been answering the needs of skiers with special needs.

What began at Sunday River for skiers has spread to a number of ski areas and to other sports in other seasons. Veterans No Boundaries is one of the latest programs of Maine Adaptive and is providing recreation for our vets with disabilities, critically important for these warriors who have sacrificed so much for us.

While there is a paid staff, the heart of Maine Adaptive is the corps of volunteers who give their time and work with the disabled in so many ways. A ski instructor can easily handle a class of 6-8 skiers, but disabled skiers usually need one-on-one attention, and often it takes two instructors for one student. You can donate either money or time by checking www.maineadaptive.org.

There are many more who deserve special Christmas wishes at our ski areas, but you get the idea.

While I can express my wishes in this space, it’s important we let those who serve us know we have them in our thoughts. If you ski today, wish the parking lot attendant a Merry Christmas, pass it along to the person in the ticket booth, to the liftie who gets you on your way up the mountain and to the ski patroller that you see waiting at the top of the lift.

If your Apres-ski includes a visit to Blizzard’s Pub at Shawnee Peak, the Loose Boots Lounge at Mt. Abram, the Foggy Goggle at Sunday River, The Bag at Sugarloaf or the new Brewery at Lost Valley, be a little extra generous with your server.

If you’re looking to tryout some new Christmas gifts on the slopes, Sunday River and Sugarloaf will be open Christmas Day, while Lost Valley, Black Mountain and Mt. Abram will be closed. All will be open daily for the vacation.

You can find listings of various events scheduled over the vacation by linking to the ski areas on the Ski Maine website, www.skimaine.com.

Vacation week always has some special events mostly aimed at families. Things will build through the week until next weekend when the windup will come with New Year’s celebrations. A lot of these will require reservations, so be sure to check details on the individual area websites.

One event set for next Saturday, Dec. 30, is the showing of Greg Stump’s 1989 movie, “License to Thrill” at the Gem Theater in Bethel. This benefit for the Ski Museum of Maine will show at 7:30 p.m. Adult tickets are $10.00, and juniors $6.00. If you enjoy extreme skiing, this one is for you.

Of course, the main feature of vacation week is the skiing, and we have plenty so get out there and enjoy it. Merry Christmas.

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