Tuesday morning, I watched the early news and listened as one of our couch potato weather forecasters warn everyone to stay inside unless they absolutely had to go out. Instead of just telling us the temperature would be 17 degrees, he had to add the wind chill, which he claimed could be dangerous.

The forecast wind speeds were 5-10 mph. According to the chart, a 10-mph wind at 15 degrees would make it feel like three degrees. Apparently, this forecaster has never seen the new chart which was updated in 2001. But even the old chart noted that there would be “little danger” until temperatures fell below zero.

Having patrolled on days when the temperatures were well below zero and winds were in the 20-30 mph range, I know a little bit about the so called wind chill. First, note that this a measure of the effects of the wind and cold on exposed flesh. Other than a streaker at an intercollegiate race in the ’70s at Sunday River, I have seen very little exposed flesh on the slopes. Of course, there are sunbathers in the spring, but that’s another story. For the record, a 20-mph wind at minus 10 creates a heat loss equivalent to minus 35. Bear in mind that is on raw flesh. Now look at today’s skiers. Nearly all have wind proof warm-up pants and parkas. Many wear face masks and as many as half now wear helmets which are very warm. There are heated boots and heated gloves and mittens.

Years ago, I questioned the National Weather Service about these wind chill advisories and learned the reason for them. It was a warning for cities and towns to get the homeless into shelters. That makes sense. Most of the homeless are poorly dressed. Many are undernourished and substance abuse is common. All these factors make these people vulnerable. Not so the skier who is rarely more than 10 or 15 minutes from a warm base lodge. Warming huts at the top of mountains are common so skiers can warm up after a cold lift ride.

I could go into the methodology of the old and new charts, but that’s not necessary. The important factor is the conclusions by the researchers. First, the new chart shows no danger at any wind chills above minus 20. The old chart listed all wind chills between minus 25 and minus 70 as “increasing danger” where “flesh may freeze in 30 seconds”. The new chart beaks this down by frostbite times where by it may occur in 30 minutes, with wind chills down to minus 41 and in 10 minutes down to minus 72. Below that where frostbite may occur in five minutes, the wind will be blowing so hard the lifts won’t be running anyway. Obviously, none of us is going to expose much flesh in those conditions.

What are we as skiers to make of these forecasts? Go by our previous experience. We all know that temperatures 15-25 are ideal for skiing. They are just cold enough to maintain powder surfaces, but warm enough to be comfortable for properly dressed skiers. If temperatures are actually below zero and high winds are predicted, take the proper precautions with small children. Call the area and make sure no lifts are on wind hold. If not, get out on the mountain. Try to ski as much as possible on sunny slopes and start the day with a good breakfast. Digestion creates heat. Food is fuel for our internal furnace. Avoid adult beverages until après ski time. If we use our heads, we can ignore Joe Weatherdoom and enjoy some fine skiing.


Of course, hidden in all of this is the fact that colder temperatures have brought us a bunch of new snow as the new year gets underway.

The Saturday after Christmas I stopped by for a few runs at Mt. Abram and found some good skiing. They got hit hard by the thaw and rain, but the groomers had produced smooth surfaces on the runs I hit. I made a point to ski over to West Side to see how things were going with the beginners.

What I found was an area bustling with activity. On the slopes there were instructors with groups and plenty of lower level skiers practicing their turns. The parking lot there was full and the area around the base was filled with skiers and instructors. The Magic Carpet lift was carrying novice skiers for their short learning runs. West Side is as good a learning area as anywhere. The trails have just enough pitch to go downhill allowing newbies to easily control their speed.

Equally important, once skiers have learned to control their speed, there are runs off the top that allow an easy transition to the main mountain. This was the formula that made the area so popular with families in the sixties and it remains so today.

A giant tent structure still serves as the base lodge after the disastrous fire a few years ago, but it works well with a ski shop and lounge along with heated floors, a real treat when the boots come off cold feet.

After sampling the slopes I stopped by the new office building and met Jamie Schectman, the new marketing director. I learned that some big changes could be coming as they explore a change in ownership. They are looking into forming a cooperative with ownership shares ranging from as little as $1000 and up to $100,000. There are a lot of details to be worked out and the final form is still to be determined, but watch for an announcement. You might be able to own a piece of Mt. Abram. See you on the slopes.

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