It’s always nice to start the vacation week with a bunch of snow, although I didn’t need half a foot in my driveway.

Sunday River wasted no time in sending out an email citing the 6-10 inches they picked up. But while the news was the snow that fell, the skiing we have for this vacation is the result of a month of snowmaking.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

It’s a fact that ski areas spend the bulk of their snowmaking budgets in the preseason and early season. The goal is to get as much terrain open as possible before this critical time. And in spite of some warm-ups, there is plenty of manmade snow under this fresh snow.

It may not be possible to personally thank all those snowmakers who are out all night dragging hoses around and tending snowguns but do be aware that there are a lot of workers out there every night making sure we have the very best skiing surfaces when we glide off that lift for the first run of the day.

If you have had the experience of riding with a groomer, you know that those snowcats are not the rattling models of years ago that had more air coming through than a car with all the windows open. Today’s Kassbohrer Pisten Bullies and Bombardiers are as comfortable as the finest luxury sedans. Of course, when a machine, once fully equipped with blades and power tillers, can go for nearly half a million dollars, they should be.

But the drivers are still working at night when the rest of us are resting up for the next day’s skiing. We see them heading out on the mountain as we get out of our boots or get ready for dinner. Arriving at the mountain after dark, we see their lights high on the mountain. Some of them drive the big machines so they can ski during the day. It’s one of many jobs avid skiers take so they can ski instead of having a job in the business world. Others work in food services or tend bars.

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The only mountain I’m familiar with that celebrates their snowmakers is Sugarloaf. Each season, they dress their snowmakers in tuxedos and seat them at the head table for a banquet called the Snowmakers Ball. Few ski resorts throw a party the way Sugarloaf does. In the early years of Sugarloaf, they actually held a Dump party, which was not only written up in the ski magazines but made Playboy as well.

We don’t get to thank the snowmakers and groomers as we don’t see them at work the way we see the “Lifties” who help us on to the lifts. But if you do see a snowmaker in the pub at the end of his shift, pick up his tab. And if you get a chance to ride along with a groomer, go along. It will give you an appreciation of what goes into preparing for each day’s skiing.

In the early ’70s, when I worked as the pro patrolman at Lost Valley, as I arrived each morning, I would usually see a Pisten Bully being driven by Wendall Nason as he finished up his grooming for the day. Not long after, I would be booted up and join Wendall over coffee in the cafeteria before going out to check his work. I knew what I would find. Every trail would have a freshly groomed surface created with the Powdermaker, which had been invented by Otto Wallingford a few years before right there at Lost Valley.

Unlike most larger areas, Lost Valley skiers knew their groomer and it was nice to see a full house in the base lodge for a memorial gathering for Wendall Nason.

I expect to ski at Lost Valley at least once before the vacation ends. If you see me and have a Lost Valley story to share, say hello.

On the topic of parties, there will be a reception or two when the National Championships come to Sugarloaf in March. I had the good fortune to be at most of the World Cups at Waterville Valley and I can tell you that owner Tom Corcoran, a former Olympic skier, also knew how to entertain.

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I missed the World Cup at Sugarloaf in 1971. I had to stay and run the patrol at Sunday River, but I sent two of my best patrolmen over to the ’Loaf to assist in that department — Leo Lalemand and John Lander, both from Auburn. So, I heard all about the festivities. I understand the banquet featured lobster and moose meat.

As to those World Cups at Waterville Valley, usually the finals, the last races of the season, there were a number of special happenings. One year, Cindy Nelson announced her retirement after 14 years on the U.S. Ski Team. Cindy retired to Vail, where she is still a skiing ambassador. I actually got to ski with her on trip to Vail a few years later when she got stuck guiding a group of writers around the mountain — one of the perks of being a ski writer.

But the best year of those World Cups at Waterville Valley was the finals in 1990. That was Julie Parisien’s big breakthrough. She led after the first run in GS and hung on with a solid second run for her first World Cup victory. That got the ski world’s attention, as she established herself as one of the team’s top gate racers. Making it even more special was the presence of her parents, Doctor and Jill Parisien, in the stands at the bottom of the World Cup slalom hill.

Her brother Robbie, a member of the men’s team, was also there and they got to see Julie carried away from the podium on the shoulders of her teammates with a gold medal.

I know this started out about snow, but any skier who has been around as long as I have has a lot of memories, and one leads to another. All the snow and the snowmakers have everything set for a great final week of vacation.

See you on the slopes.

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


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