As always, the one word that accurately describes spring skiing is “variable.”

Winter conditions lasted through the third weekend in March this year, and when we left for Quebec on the 18th, it was still firmly in place. Our first day of skiing at Stoneham, just north of Quebec City, was on a firm base, and we found more of the same at Mont Ste. Anne the next day.

Rain and fog changed that very quickly, and our last day at Mont Grand-Fonds was in snow turned heavy by the warm air. Back at work on Monday, I heard from skiers who reported rapid loss of cover at some local areas. That’s how fast it changes this time of year, but if we can get freezing nights in the mountains we could still have some very good skiing for a few more weeks.

It’s true that some areas are wrapping up this weekend, and most will close over the next three weeks. Only a handful will consider going beyond Easter. There will be enough skiing, though, for those who wish to continue in the April warmth.

My reason for being in Quebec was the annual meeting of the North American Snowsports Journalists at the Manoir Richelieu in Charlevoix, the region 90 minutes northeast of Quebec City. Those meetings are seldom a topic in this space, but occasionally there is something of interest to Maine skiers. This year we had two such items.

First, for the second year in a row, the members voted Bode Miller as Competitor of the year. He joins Picabo Street (twice) and Phil Mahre (four) as the only multiple winners. Auburn has had two winners, John Bower in 1968 and Julie Parisien in 1991. Yarmouth’s Sarah Billmeier was recognized in 1998.

With Miller getting better every year, he could easily be America’s top competitor for a few more years and challenge Mahre’s record of four.

The second was a high moment for me personally. The organization set up a new award one year ago in honor of Bob Gillen.

Some may recognize the name of Gillen as a former editor of SKI Magazine, which is where I first got to know him. Gillen went from covering skiing to being part of the business as director of press relations at Crested Butte. He later worked in PR and Marketing at Sugarbush and Stowe, and many of us worked with him over the years. He knew both sides of press relations, and his untimely death from cancer two years ago was a great loss for the sport and for many of us personally.

In his memory, the committee created the Bob Gillen Award each year for the person in ski marketing or press relations that best exemplifies his example. The winner should be one who serves his employer by making sure we writers get the information we need in prompt and accurate fashion.

A week ago Saturday night, I had the honor of presenting the Bob Gillen Award to a friend of many years; indeed, a friend of many skiers in Maine.

Everyone who has taken part in special events at Sugarloaf/USA knows Chip Carey, and anyone who thinks about his contribution to that ski resort understands why he deserves this recognition. My memories go back to the 1970s when I would wind up in Chip’s office after a big race. He had a cramped space in the basement of the lodge, and while I was writing my story he would be in the darkroom developing the day’s film. It was out of this office that he promoted events such as the Heavy Weight Race and Yellow Nose Vole Day.

His biggest event at Sugarloaf was the Celebrity Cup. The primary outside market was Boston, and Carey figured the best way to capture it by picking the right celebrities. He invited the ski writers from the two big papers and local TV personalities and filled out the field with Boston sports heroes including John Havlicek and Jim Lonborg. Over a period of years, the event raised more than $1 million for the Jimmy Fund and Children’s Hospital and put Sugarloaf in the papers and on TV.

During his 20 plus years at the ‘Loaf, Carey made it a point to get to know those in the press so he could fill their needs. He was one of the first to utilize the internet, setting up before many of us were using the Internet. Now he is enjoying Utah powder at the Canyons and still making a splash. Last year, he scored one of his biggest hits when the Today Show broadcast from the Canyons throughout the Olympics.

I know that Maine skiers and Sugarloaf regulars will be pleased to learn that their own Chip Carey has been recognized as one the best in ski resort marketing and PR. It was a well-deserved award, and I am confident that most readers of these words join me in congratulating our friend. And I know that every “Sugarloafer” was with me in spirit when I handed Chip the award. It was a high point of my season.

There will be more ski days before we finally prepare the skis for summer storage, but as you read this we will be on our way to a place where we can ski mornings and hit golf balls in the afternoon. That will be next week’s topic as we begin the transition from a season that is fading to one that is coming to life.

Dave Irons is a free-lance writer who lives in Westbrook.

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