It seems as if every year ski areas announce new lifts. Now that those lifts are often detachable high-speed quads, a T-bar doesn’t get much notice, but the new one at Sunday River is significant.

Those of us who skied Sunday River in the early years rode a T-bar that was the first lift on Barker Mountain. There was a narrow lift line that ran up what is now the left side of Monday Mourning looking up.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

The T-bar was taken out in the 1980s, no longer needed with the Locke Mountain triple accessing all of the trails reached by the upper and lower T-bars.

Now a new T-bar is in place on Monday Mourning, and I’m sure many skiers are wondering why. The answer comes from considering how often Monday Mourning and T2 are used for racing. Whether racers used the Locke Mountain Triple or the Barker Quad, they wasted time with a long lift ride and in getting from the top of the lift to the race course.

In addition, some skiers were intimidated by seeing racers wearing bibs on the trails on the way to the race course.

One point is important: In my 20 years patrolling and more than that covering ski races, I can state that racers rarely present a problem. They ski fast but under control. Far more dangerous are the not-so-good skiers skiing at speeds beyond their ability.

The extra time getting to the race course meant the racers were not getting the time they should with coaches and running gates. Effective practice calls for training under the eyes of coaches. To give the racers proper race time, Sunday River teamed with Gould Academy and the Sunday River Ski Club to install a T-bar up the side of Monday Mourning. This will make it possible for those in a racing program to quickly get back to the starting point after completion of each run, better for the racers and better for the coaches

While we won’t get to use this new lift, except possibly if we’re in some kind of race, it will get the racers off trails such as Ecstasy so all skiers will benefit.

T-BAR MEMORIES

This new lift brought back memories of various T-bars, most now long gone, but some still in use.

From 1961 to 1971, we rode two T-bars to get to the top at Sunday River. After riding the 3,000-foot lower T-bar, we climbed a bit to ride the 2,200-foot T-bar to the summit. That lift exited right on top of the ledges that rise above the off-ramp for the Locke Mountain Triple. It was totally exposed to the wind, which blew the snow off the rocks. It was always a challenge to keep the landing area covered, a job that fell to those of us on the ski patrol.

The lift had another challenge, a hollow about halfway up the line. In the early season, before it filled with snow, shorter skiers could find their skis lifted off the snow. Until that lift was taken down in the 1980s, we used to haul rescue toboggans up the lift — slide a loop on the end of one of the handles over one side of the T, and we would sit on the other side as the lift carried us to the top, where we slid off without stopping the lift. I doubt if today’s insurance rules would allow this technique today.

Other T-bars included the five at Sugarloaf. Only No. 3 remains. But it’s always handy for getting racers to starting places on narrow Gauge, and it’s comfortable when the wind is whipping across the face.

Mount Abram still has a couple of T-bars, but their use is limited. One was the main lift when the mountain first opened and accesses most of the runs, but it is used only if there is a problem with the summit chair.

T-bars have their stories, like the one recently taken out at Lost Valley. Years ago, school kids would use it to avoid lines on the chairs and to get back up the hill faster. Collisions were common as more than one tried to get into the long narrow run to the lift at the same time.

We can be thankful for today’s modern lifts, but T-bars can still have their place.

JANUARY FUN

Back when ski wear was not nearly as good as it is today, ski areas came up with all kinds of ideas to get skiers out in what is usually the coldest month.

The reasons may be have changed, but there are still plenty of happenings this month.

Of course, Maine’s ski areas received a January bonus when the legislature made Martin Luther King day an official state holiday. Three-day weekends are always a boost, so mark your calendar for three straight days of skiing Jan. 18-20.

Among the special events Shawnee Peak is the Moonlight Challenge (Jan. 31) in which teams will raise money to fund the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.

Mount Abram has the Vertical Challenge on Jan. 12. There are divisions for all ages to race and qualify for finals later in the season.

Both Sugarloaf (Jan. 5-8) and Sunday River (Jan. 5-10) have children’s festivals. Sunday River hosts Seniors Week (Jan. 27-31) and the ’Loaf has the Charity Summit (Jan. 25-26) with the Special Olympics (Jan. 26-27).

At Lost Valley this is the month when all the race leagues get underway, so check to see if there are still openings to sign up. That could be the case at other areas as well. Signing up for a team is a great way to be sure of getting in at least one ski day a week. As always check the websites on skimaine.com for more information.

The various evening entertainment offerings are too numerous to list, but you can find out where your favorite band is playing on the websites as well.

See you on the slopes.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer who hails from Westbrook. He has been contributing to the Sun Journal for many years as a ski columnist, and is among the most respected ski writers in the Northeast. He also is the chairman of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at [email protected]


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