While this season had its share of hiccups with a big January thaw, February and March saw abundant snow, and as recently as the last Thursday, I skied on mid-winter surfaces at Bretton Woods. It was firm packed powder, but the high warm sun made the day perfect.

It was probably the last day of such conditions, but with the snow depths on most trails, we’ll be skiing for a few more weeks. Some areas have gone to weekend only operations so a check of reports is advised before heading out. Last week, we looked at how to get the most out of spring conditions. This week it’s time to look back on the season.

The focus as always every fourth year was on the Winter Olympics. Here in Maine everyone looked forward to the possibility of Maine skiers being in the competition. Many may not realize that there was a streak on the line. Maine has had a skier or skiers in every winter Olympics since 1948 when Chummy Broomhall was on the cross country team, and 1956 was a close call but Andover’s Al Merrill was there as a Nordic coach.

This year Seth Wescott was the favorite with hopes that he could win his third straight gold medal. Bethel’s Simon Dumont was a leading competitor in the new Slope Style event. Unfortunately, neither could recover from injuries in time to compete. One by one other Maine hopefuls fell by the wayside, but we were covered by two coaches, Forest Carey of Kingfield in Alpine and Greg Poirier from Rumford in Nordic. He didn’t have the fanfare ahead of the games that others had, but Russell Currier, a 26-year-old graduate of Caribou High, was on the U.S. Biathlon Team and skied in that event in Sochi. The streak that started 66 years ago, and includes 18 Winter Olympics, is alive and well, with plenty of hopefuls coming along for the future. And let us not forget Bode Miller, a CVA grad who won a bronze medal in Super-G.

This past week I talked with Roger Arsenault, a board member at Black Mountain in Rumford. After having the ski area upgraded with a triple chair to the summit expanding the vertical drop to 1,300 feet, snowmaking, grooming a million-dollar plus base lodge by the Maine Winter Sports Center, the local community received the area as a gift. But that also meant the community would have to find a way to fund the operation.

It’s not surprising given the history of the local skiers and the Chisholm Ski Club, that everyone pitched in to raise the necessary money to operate this season. A combination of donations from individuals, businesses and grants kept Black Mountain not only operating but growing in every way. The $15 day ticket along with the $150 season pass brought plenty of skiers. Rates are even lower for cross country passes and that important part is also thriving. A pair of veteran coaches, Mark Thibodeau and Tim LaVallee, have expanded the junior racing program from 16 kids a year ago to 49 this season, and the participants experienced great success in high school competition this season.

The volunteers not only raised funds but earned sweat equity in cleaning up the new Allagash trail, giving intermediates and easy run off the summit. One group calling themselves the “Angry Beavers” have cut nine glades in the past two years, attracting many skiers into the trees.

Arsenault noted that all policies aimed at increasing new skiers have been working. Kids pre-school and through second grade ski free. With $15 tickets for mom and dad, a family can ski for little, and this has attracted families from as far away as Massachusetts. Even with teens, a family of four can ski for $60 a day, less than the cost of a single ticket at some of the biggest areas. Add in a low-cost motel in the Rumford area and a family can afford the weekend.

According to Arsenault, rentals were up 200 percent, one indication of bringing in new skiers and the ski school had 130 kids in the junior programs this season. The base lodge was expanded by 280 square feet to add seating in the lounge area and business has been very good in the food and beverage section. The area isn’t out of the woods yet, but with continued work and fund raising Black Mountain can be an important part of skiing in Western Maine, adding to the history of one the most active ski communities in the east. And you still try it our this season as they will be open next weekend.

This year’s abundant snow has also meant an extended season for cross country centers. I had an opportunity to visit one center recently.

As I returned from a trip to Bretton Woods, I took a small detour and stopped by Five Fields Farms in Bridgton to check out that operation. I climbed into the passenger seat of an ancient Tucker Snowcat and owner Tom Gyger took me on a tour of the trails, climbing part way up the side of 1,150-foot Bald Pate Mountain, and circling back to lower elevations through the orchards.

The farm is at 850 feet so there are views from the winterized farm stand which serves a lodge and retail shop and anywhere there is an opening in the trees along the trail. There was plenty of snow for late March, and cross country skiers could enjoy a few more weeks, especially those further north and inland. While there is more skiing to be enjoyed, this space will give way to spring and summer sports. To see where you can ski for the next few weeks, alpine or cross, country check www.skimaine.com. See you on the slopes and back here in December.


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