BETHEL — Winds gusting to 40 mph on Friday kept six hot-air balloonists in town for WinterFest grounded, but blew man-made snow into place for both the 12,000 square foot snow maze and sledding hill.

Since Wednesday, volunteers have been repairing maze walls damaged by Monday’s 2-inch rain deluge and warm temperatures.

Walter Crites of Auburn, the nine-day festival’s balloon meister, said Friday’s launches were canceled, but they hope to lift off this weekend.

“We need winds blowing less than 7 mph,” Crites said inside the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce where balloonists from Maine and New Hampshire gathered around chamber Executive Director Robin Zinchuk for information.

Weather permitting, Crites said their flight schedule for Saturday, Jan. 30, and Sunday, Jan. 31, is to lift off at 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. both days.

Anyone interested in those rides, which cost $175 per person, must arrive at the chamber an hour before launch time, Crites said.

“Meet here and we’ll go to wherever, but the flight varies depending on conditions, and all flights are weather dependent,” he said. “If anyone is interested in helping out, show up at the same time as the passengers.”

Tethered balloon rides will be offered from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday from the Wilderness House on Sunday River Road and the Bethel Inn Resort. The cost is $10 per adult and $5 for children under 12.

On Saturday from 6 to 7 p.m., all six balloons are scheduled to participate in a Moon Glow event on Festival Plaza.

In the plaza on Friday, a few skaters practiced hockey on the ice rink in 10 degrees Fahrenheit and subzero wind chills.

A snow-making gun borrowed from Sunday River Ski Resort shot snow in the general direction of both the sliding hill and the maze, where volunteers labored to complete repairs prior to Saturday’s reopening.

“The rains came and did some serious damage,” Zinchuk said.

“It’s a big challenge when you get a rainstorm in the winter,” said engineer Jim Sysko, who designed the maze marvel that thousands enjoyed navigating last weekend in picture-perfect weather.

“The sliding hill had melted down to just dirt,” volunteer Bob Westfall said.

On Wednesday, using the snow-making gun, a generator and air compressor, volunteers began making snow to rebuild melted maze walls and the sled hill.

But that created unforeseen problems in the maze, keeping it closed during the week, much to the dismay of a few families, Westfall said.

“We were blowing snow for the walls, but it turned to ice, which bent the walls over,” he said.

“Some walls melted over, but they all stood up,” Sysko said.

However, the maze got too much snow. Walls that were initially 4 feet tall, grew to 5 and 6 feet in places, but the walking path also came up as the packed-in snow froze.

“Now we have contour to the maze, which we didn’t have before,” Westfall said.

“We made so much snow in places, the walls got really narrow and we had to cut them back,” Sysko said.

“It was 25 below zero this morning and the temperature was around 3 degrees, and the wind was just howling, but it also helped us, because it cleared the rink,” Westfall said.

“Who would have thought we’d get 2 inches of rain and 45 degrees, and the wind chills we have now?”

A handful of volunteers worked inside the maze chopping walking grips along the path. Sysko said they might have to add sand in the nearly half-mile of passages for Saturday.

“If we get the crowds we had last weekend this weekend, I’ll be really happy,” Westfall added.

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Bethel WinterFest volunteer Josh McAllister of Bethel readies to toss a chunk of ice to volunteer Bob Westfall of Bethel early Friday afternoon to fix a wall section in the snow maze, which has been closed for repairs since Monday. Walls melted but stood under Monday’s heavy rains and near record warmth. Volunteers using a Sunday River Ski Resort snow-making gun, then made too much snow and ice and were busy Friday carving away the frozen-solid excess.

Chunks of ice littered the outside of Bethel WinterFest’s 12,000-square-foot snow maze on Friday after volunteers had to carve their way through to open up passages for Saturday’s reopening. Heavy rains on Monday and warm temperatures melted the walls, which were then rebuilt using too much man-made snow and ice, creating contours.

A 2-ton penguin carved last weekend by sculptor Ed Jarrett for Bethel’s nine-day WinterFest fared better than the 20-foot-long sliding chute and snow hill behind it after Monday’s rains and warm temperatures. On Friday, the sliding hill remained closed as volunteers rebuilt the hill with trucked-in snow and man-made snow from a Sunday River Ski Resort snow gun operating nearly nonstop since Wednesday. The sledding hill will be reopened on Saturday.

Friday afternoon sunlight filtering through snow being made by a borrowed snow gun from Sunday River Ski Resort, creates a rainbow over the children’s sliding hill in Festival Plaza during the Bethel WinterFest. Enough snow was made to rebuild the hill and the 12,000-square-foot snow maze behind it in time for this weekend’s reopening.


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