It took awhile for winter to arrive, and as far as vacation was concerned, all this week’s storm did was add the finishing touches to what the snowmakers and groomers had achieved.

Since temperatures dropped in mid January, ski areas have been adding trails on a daily basis with most areas offering at least 85 percent operation at the start of February. More snowmaking and several inches of natural snow had everyone in good shape. This past week’s snow moved all areas close to 100 percent, opening glades and other runs just in time for the long weekend and vacation.

One area where snowmaking expansion was a key piece of a multi-year improvement plan is Mt. Abram. A year ago, the area really struggled, but this season the change is noticeable. Last weekend, skiers were scattered all over the main mountain, and the West Side learning area was busy. During the offseason, pumps were either replaced or rebuilt, 10,000 feet of pipe laid, 60 Low Energy tower guns brought on line, and problem areas fixed.

Snowmaking and grooming manager Jeff Knight said that’s just the beginning. Asked about skiing on trails without snowmaking, he gave credit to Mt. Abram founders, “The Cross brothers knew how to lay out ski trails so they didn’t need much snow to open,” he added.

That’s an important piece of the future because when the snowmaking upgrade continues next year with new pumps and a bigger pond, it won’t take as much cover to open a trail. For now, Knight was content knowing he would be able to groom out and open almost every run on the mountain for this important week.

By Thursday morning, it was evident that every ski area in Maine would be in great shape for vacation, and my plans were being made as to where I might ski this weekend and a day or two next week.

Around the slopes

We have already pointed out a number of special events coming up this week, but there are a few that deserve greater detail.

At Black Mountain in Rumford, the second annual Greg Waite Memorial Race will take place Friday, Feb. 23. Waite succumbed to a brain tumor a year ago after devoting his adult life to teaching and coaching in the community where he grew up. Waite, who was only 51, crammed a lot into his too short life. Black Mountain and the Chisolm Ski Club were special beneficiaries of his passion for skiing. He served on the mountain’s board of directors, coached the Mountain Valley Middle School Ski Team, and was a certified National Ski Patrolman. In talking with some folks at Black, and Ron and Ken Jacques of Ski Depot, I learned Waite was outstanding for his many contributions in a place where a tradition of volunteering has carried on for generations.

One of his favorite programs was the Black Mountain of Maine Alpine Race Program. The event is set up for teams of four racers. Cost per team is $100 (lift tickets extra). Individuals may enter for $25 and will teamed up by drawing for the race, a handicapped giant slalom. Prizes supplied by Ski Depot and other businesses will be awarded for the top three team places and individuals. Team slots are limited and pre-registration is requested by calling the base lodge at 207-364-8977. Race time is 6 p.m.

Black’s Marketing and Development Manager Craig Zurhorst said that this was more than just a charity race. It’s a celebration of Greg Waite’s life and all he meant to Black, the ski club and community.

An additional attraction will be the Ski Depot Equipment Demo Night and the “Blues are Back at Black” with Paul Lowell playing from 7 p.m. until closing.

Another special race next weekend takes place Saturday at Shawnee Peak.

The Russ Haggett Memorial Race is sponsored by the Downeast Ski Club and benefits the Russ Haggett Memorial Scholarship for two Lake Region High School seniors. Haggett, a member of the initial Maine Ski Hall of Fame Class of 2003, was a founder of Pleasant Mountain (now Shawnee Peak), and served as manager of the ski area for 39 years. He was responsible for installing the state’s first T-bar and chair lift.

His vision and persistence in pursuing the dream made skiing a vital piece of Lake Region’s winter economy. But local kids knew another side of the man, one who made sure kids got to ski whether their families had the money or not. The race begins at 11 a.m. with registration from 8 a.m. to noon. The entry fee is $10 with door prizes and awards at 2:30. For information, call Shawnee Peak at 207-647-8444 or Kim Hutchins, Downeast Ski Club Race Coordinator, at 207-787-2036.

The CVA 2007 Big Raffle and Auction will take place next Saturday evening at 6 p.m. at the Shipyard Brew Haus in the Sugarloaf Inn. The event will raise funds for the CVA Scholarship Fund. For information, call Laurie Bisson at 207-237-4468.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.

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