Each fall has a number of milestones leading up to the ski season.

Columbus Day weekend is homecoming for several ski areas, with many skiers showing up to secure their season passes. Whether it’s foliage viewing chairlift rides, craft fairs or such events as Sunday River’s wife carrying race, the weekend is always a busy one as skiers renew friendships and plan for the season. It’s a busy time for ski shops, with sales that continue right up until the snow flies.

Speaking of snow, the 16th annual Maine Ski Hall of Fame banquet at Sunday River on Oct. 27 featured enough wet snow to make driving to the event a white knuckle endeavor. The conversations during the social hour included tales of driving and tales of skiing as the area was open that weekend. As usual, the evening was well-attended by skiers who treat the event as a reunion to kick off the ski season, and the inductees were greeted by standing ovations. You can view this year’s class online at www.skimuseumofmaine.org.

This year’s event prevented me from being at another event over at Wildcat. We lost one of the most avid skiers I ever met this fall when Al Risch died at 85. I had known Al since the 1970s when he was patrol director at Wildcat. He was a founder of PSPA (Professional Ski Patrol Association), and served as the organization’s president for many years. He was also an examiner for PSPA, and after I joined that group I worked with Al on many exams and other events. Unlike those of us who didn’t keep up our certification after our active patrol days ended, Al remained fully certified until he could no longer ski.

He could ski anything in any conditions, and I remember joining him on one of his Mount Washington excursions. He used to rent a helicopter and guide skiers up in the snowfields and in Tuckerman Ravine each spring.

On this occasion he had invited me to go along so I could write about the experience. I had skied plenty of days on the mountain, but this would be different. Unfortunately, a week of rain resulted in cancelations so the chopper was unavailable. Six skiers showed up and we drove up the auto road in the back of Al’s pick up to a point about a mile below the summit, where we switched to a snow cat that Al had waiting. We spent most of the day in the snowfields with one trek over to the Great Gulf, which is steeper than the Ravine. Al picked the steepest chute on the Mount Clay side and dropped in. I skied the closer side, which still demanded all my concentration.


I don’t know how many times Al climbed and skied Mount Washington, but I never saw anyone more at home up there than him. He loved that mountain and he created a legacy there.

He decided that the natural habitat of Tuckerman Ravine had to be preserved and he started “Friends of Tuckerman Ravine.” Officially started in 2000, the organization works with the Forest Service and other groups to protect and preserve the fragile ecology of the ravine and its surrounding terrain. Al rounded up the sponsors and donors to get Friends off the ground, and for the next decade traveled to shows and conventions wherever he could secure booth space to sell memberships and gather donations for his pet endeavor.

Go to the website www.friendsoftuckerman.com. This is a real professional site detailing the mission, events and membership. It’s also a good place to start for anyone considering skiing the Ravine or simply climbing on Mount Washington. Friends of Tuckerman Ravine is a fitting legacy for, Al Risch, a skier who devoted his life to skiing and the mountains.

The next big event getting ready for the season is the Boston Ski and Snowboard Expo. As many as 45,000 skiers visit this show at the Seaport World Trade Center. After years of driving to Boston for this show, I tried the bus. The fare is less than the cost of gas and tolls and I don’t have to drive in Boston. Also parking near the show now costs more than the bus fare so it’s as cheap even with two people. Concord Coach takes us to South Station, a 15-minute walk from the show or a $2.75 fare on the T. Check it out if you decide to take in the show next year.

After the show, my next outing was to get in a few runs at Sunday River while checking out the demos the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Unlike a number of recent seasons, most of the major trails were open and the reps all noted that the skis were coming back in good shape, without the dings common in the early season.

The abundant early snow has moved up a bunch of season openings. Of course, Sunday River and Sugarloaf have been open, but they will have a lot of company. Shawnee Peak jumped ahead and opened this past week with a full opening next weekend. Lost Valley will open Dec. 14, and Mount Abram and Titcomb on the 15th. Black Mountain will open on the 22nd.

And here is a bonus: With all the snow, we’ll have plenty of cross country skiing.

This year’s early start brought back memories of what might have been the best season ever, exactly 50 years ago. With over three feet of snow in November 1968, both Sunday River and Sugarloaf opened early, and with over 300 inches of snow the rest of the way it was a most memorable season. Spring saw bumper stickers declaring, “We Survived the Winter of ’69.”

Let’s hope this winter is a repeat of ’69 with no thaws and no rain from start to finish. See you on the slopes.

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