Warming up to spring skiing

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This is the time of year when we expect to peel off a layer or two of ski wear, but we don’t usually get down to a single layer with a vest as we did a week ago in March. Taking off for our usual St. Patrick’s Day skiing with a forecast of temperatures in the fifties, we got out early to ski groomed granular. By late morning, the snow was softening and we had to go into the lodge to remove a layer. We skied through the lunch hour and by 1 p.m., the snow was getting heavy and so were the legs. We called it a day as skiers were gathering on the deck, some with shirts off in the sun. I’m sure the scene was repeated at ski areas throughout Maine and New Hampshire, and elsewhere in the Northeast. That’s the spring routine, and in spite of weather that is more conducive to golf course openings, we still have a few weeks left.

During the heaviest rains of a couple of weeks ago, the mountains actually picked up some snow, and with a return of colder nights, we will be able to go through mid April. Some of the lower areas have been hit hard by the warm weather. Shawnee Peak and Mt. Abram wind up the season today both with plenty of trails open. The bigger mountains will continue, how long depending on the weather.

Next weekend, Saddleback, Sunday River and Sugarloaf will all have Easter celebrations. Saddleback will have the usual Easter Service at the warming hut, an egg hunt and parade on Sunday, which is also Maine day so Maine residents can ski for $35. But the biggest event will take place Saturday, which is Roger and Patsy Page Day. There will be pond skimming at 1 p.m., followed by festivities celebrating Roger and his wife Patsy at 2:30 in the Swig N’ Smelt Pub.

Without Roger Page, there might never have been a Saddleback ski area. After attending the first meeting in 1958, he threw in his $100 and joined the corporation. He then hit the road to sell stock and raised enough money for the first two T-bars and the area opened on the last day of 1960. Twice he served as manager of the ski area and oversaw the installation of the first chair lift in1963. He operated the ski shop and the ski school into the ’70s when he directed his focus entirely on the ski shop. He and Patsy have been a key part of Saddleback for more than 50 years and this day is well deserved.

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Sugarloaf will carry on their Easter tradition with a variety of activities and three service options. The Superquad will be open from 5:40 to 5:45 AM to carry skiers up for the Sunrise service and that will be followed by a breakfast at Bullwinkle’s ($10) and Earl and Pam Morse will have a skiing service that moves down the mountain, stopping in scenic spots. There will also be a service at the Dick Bell Chapel. The Easter Bunny will make an appearance to kick off a parade, scavenger hunt, and paper-egg coloring.

A big weekend is planned at Sunday River starting with family movie night at the grand summit Hotel Friday night and continuing Saturday with an all mountain family scavenger hunt. Sunday there will be a sunrise service at North Peak at 7 a.m., with the Chondola opening at 6:30 to get the skier up the mountain. An egg hunt will take place at South Ridge where the Easter Bunny is scheduled to arrive at 9:15.

The following weekend, April 9-11, will also be a busy one. Saturday, the 10th, Saddleback will have its third annual Park Shark Challenge — their last scheduled event of the season. That same day, Sugarloaf will have the annual Dan McKay/Mike Waddle scholarship race. The biggest weekend will be Parrot Head Weekend at Sunday River with a bunch of bands and entertainment from Friday night right through Sunday winding up with pond skimming Sunday afternoon.

For details on these and other events, check the individual area Web sites or go through www.skimaine.com. How long the season will go is anybody’s guess. Sugarloaf actually has events scheduled the next four weekends, but the weather and skiers will determine the end of the season. With normal April weather in the mountains, the snow could last into May, but if skiers turn to other pursuits, the areas will close. There has to be enough skiers buying lift tickets to pay the bills so in a way it’s up to us to keep the areas open.

In addition to the three Maine areas still operating, there are some in New Hampshire with a tradition of providing late spring skiing. Both Wildcat and Bretton Woods have high base elevations, and after they close, those willing and able to climb can head across Rte. 16 from Wildcat and ski in Tuckerman Ravine. There are a few things we need to think of in preparing for spring skiing along with getting out the sunscreen and sunglasses.

My preparation is already underway. I start with the skis. First I clean the base using a citrus based cleaner to get rid of any grime and old wax. Next I check the edges for any burrs from the last outing and smooth them with a diamond stone in a guide set to the proper edge angle. Any gouges in the base are filled with P-tex and the base flattened. Finally, I iron in a coat of a universal wax with a wide temperature range, 32 F up to 50 F. I also take along some rub on Swix F4 which is good for warmer temperatures. This way I can handle any conditions that come along and remember the one condition we can count on in the spring is “variable”.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.

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