Once again, it’s time for our Christmas wishes. The best holiday news came with the weather. After a warmer than normal November, temperatures finally dropped. Going into the vacation season, trail counts have been growing steadily, and everyone is optimistic.

One of the happiest stories this year came out of Jay where it was announced that Spruce Mountain would not open after more than 50 years. Otis Mill had always supplied the power for the local rope tow at no cost. A pair of transformers leased from CMP was necessary when the mill was operating, but when the mill closed, CMP planned to pull them. This would have left the area with no power. Ken and Ron Jacques led a campaign to keep the area operating, and once the higher ups at CMP understood the situation, they came through, agreeing to leave one transformer in place with no rent until May. Ken told me that residents in the towns of Livermore, Livermore Falls and Jay, pitched in, offering money and support. The bigger ski areas and Ski Maine all offered to help in whatever way they could. The area will have to pay for power this season and find a way to install and pay for power in the future, but this decision by CMP gives them the time to make the arrangements and raise the necessary funds.

Spruce Mountain will open the day after Christmas, just as it has every year since 1956. Volunteers from the three towns, along with a few paid help, will make skiing available for another crop of kids, adding to the thousands of Spruce Mountain kids who learned to ski there over the decades. Merry Christmas to all those kids, and the kids who are learning to ski all over Maine.

We also want to send along our thanks and best wishes to our military personnel and their families, especially to those who are deployed away from home. Some of Maine’s ski areas are helping out. Since 2003 Shawnee Peak has offered free skiing to any service man or woman who was deployed within the last 12 months. Spouses and children of deployed personnel are given free season passes. Last year, 625 were issued. All military personnel are offered a season pass for $250.

At Saddleback, CEO Warren Cook, a Marine veteran of Vietnam, announced the day before Veteran’s Day that the Rangeley resort would offer veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who served in 2009 a complimentary lift ticket. Spouses of deployed military personnel can get a day ticket for $25 and their children $20. There are other programs and special military rates at some other Maine ski areas such as Lost Valley, where the military rate is $25 for an all-day ticket. Merry Christmas to those who serve and the ski areas making it easier for them to enjoy our sport.

This time of year we need to thank the folks we seldom see, who do most of their work at night. Each morning we cheerfully ride the lifts knowing that we will make first tracks on beautifully groomed new snow, the product of the guys and gals who man the snow guns and drive the grooming machines. Without them, we would not enjoy the fine skiing we have come to expect. Today’s super comfortable heated cabs make driving the groomers a lot better, but it still takes a lot of skill to create the perfect skiing surface. The snowmakers even with computerized systems and tower guns still have to drag hoses and move snow guns during frigid nights. They all deserve our thanks and best wishes of the season. Think of them when you make those morning turns.

Our sport is filled with volunteers. They can be found running races and other competitions, and most of all, they work with the handicap at the various programs at our ski areas. Maine Handicapped skiing at Sunday River and Sugarloaf is the biggest with hundreds of volunteers dong everything from registering the participants to teaching them. Shawnee Peak and Lost Valley have programs and all work with disabled veterans. Give them your best wishes this year or, better yet, join them.

One of the finest programs is getting school children outdoors in winter. Whether it’s on skis or snowshoes or just getting active outside, Winterkids is working with schools all over Maine. Thousands of kids are learning to enjoy the outdoors in winter thanks to this special program.

Have you ever been at a ski area such as Lost Valley or Shawnee Peak in mid afternoon when the school buses arrive? It takes real teamwork to get busloads of kids into their rental equipment and onto the hill for lessons. Merry Christmas to all involved, especially the instructors who have the patience and understanding to keep up with these kids. Teaching skiing calls for special skills and giving a new skier the gift of a lesson would be a fine way of recognizing them.

One group comes in for special thanks. Only ski areas have highly trained personnel to watch over our safety. We may take the ski patrol for granted, but when all we have to think about is tuning our skis for the season, they are training to hone the skills to care for the injured. But there is a lot more. They are on the hill checking lifts and trails each morning before we go up, and they are the last off the mountain at night. This week that means they will come down in the dark.

Merry Christmas to all ski patrollers and to all at ski areas who give us great enjoyment in winter, and to all of you who read these words.


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