To paraphrase the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur, ski seasons don’t die, they just melt away.

It appeared in late March that this season was rapidly melting away. That was more than 30 inches of snow ago, and as long as we get cold nights, this season could go on into May, but it won’t.

The skiers will quit before all the snow melts, which is why Saddleback will wind things up today with free skiing and Sunday River and Sugarloaf next weekend. They might try another weekend, but as soon as the golf courses and tennis courts are open, skiers will turn to other options. Ski resorts will close, not for lack of snow, but for lack of skiers.

And this column will retire until November.

Before we go, a look back at a strange season is warranted. I say strange because the early season almost didn’t happen. I say strange because, although seasons without early snow are common, the warm weather we had right into mid-January was unusual.

Skiers learned that no matter how technologically advanced the snowmaking systems have become, cold temperatures are still needed. Yet, the snowmakers did come through. Taking advantage of every opportunity, often going back over trails a second and a third time, the snowmakers gradually opened trails. As a result, we had the majority of trails open by mid-February, when we finally got the snow that set everyone up for a record vacation week.

That snow, along with frequent storms in the mountains right through this past week, has given us midwinter skiing right into mid-April. In spite of the late start, this season had some notable highlights. Skiers turned out regardless of conditions for a wide variety of fund raisers.

Perhaps the biggest ever was held at Sunday River in late March. The 22nd annual Skiathon for Maine Handicapped Skiing raised a whopping $329,012, a record amount. A total of 630 skiers and riders joined 135 volunteers in the one-day event, where the participants gathered pledges for distances skied. The winning team, “Both Sides of the Pond,” raised $31,296, led by Bethel and London resident Andrew Pipe with $24,836. The team won five days at an eastern ski resort, and Pipe, who spends part of each winter with the Maine Handicapped Skiing program, a pair of round-trip tickets on Jet Blue.

While we were trying to juggle our schedule to take advantage of the good days, we were watching competitions to see how the U.S. Ski Team athletes were doing, especially those with Maine connections. We were encouraged when Kirsten Clark finished 8th in a World Cup downhill, a sign that her comeback from injury was coming along well. Unfortunately, a bad crash intervened, and we watched Clarky make her retirement announcement. After 13 years and seven national titles, the Raymond native and CVA grad will focus on a new career, which includes training clinics for young athletes at her alma mater.

Another CVA grad, Sam Sweetser, also suffered injuries in a race and couldn’t recover sufficiently to ski in the Nationals, so we’ll have to wait until fall to see if he can make the team and continue the dream. If not, he’ll be skiing next season for the University of Utah.

Maine has a bunch of young skiers and riders who took part in various national championships this season. We don’t have space to list them all, but you can find those from CVA at www.gocva.com. Results can also be found at www.usskiteam.com.

Next year’s team will be named in late summer and early fall in the various disciplines. For now, the athletes have about a month off, but by June, most will be back in training. As Sam Sweetser told me, ski racing with the U.S. Ski Team is a full-time job.

Looking back, the season had plenty of highlights. Our annual trip to Stratton, Vt., to check out next year’s skis turned up some real values in low- to mid-priced skis. Last weekend, we found great deals on this year’s leftovers. This is a great time to shop for new gear.

We’re also receiving e-mails on next year’s season-pass deals. There are some very good prices out there.

We’re also getting e-mails about ski trips to South America and New Zealand, so even after your skis are waxed and stored, keep them handy in case this is the year you decide to head south for some summer skiing.

After a slow start it was a good season. Now it’s time to think about our own training regimen. Plan an active summer. It may be biking, hiking or walking the golf course, but get out there and do the work, and you’ll be ready by the time these words appear again in the fall.

The resolve here is to walk more on and off the golf course to make sure we’re ready. And finally, mark your calendars, because the next season will officially kick off Oct. 26 at Lost Valley. when the Fifth Annual Maine Ski Hall of Fame induction banquet takes place. Have a great summer.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.


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