When does a ski season begin?

Usually, I can list a number of events that indicate the ski season is upon us. But the pandemic disrupted and changed so many of those events, and some haven’t yet made it back to the schedule.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

The Ski Maine Association used to hold a season launch party in Portland, but that October gathering of skiers disappeared during the pandemic. The Maine Ski Hall of Fame banquet was another but that has been moved to November.

The BEWI Snow Sports Expo in Boston was another big kickoff event, which missed a season or two when Bernie Weischel sold the show and retired. It retuned this year but moved to the Prudential Center, where it was for years before moving to Bayside Expo and from there to the SeaportWorld Trade Center.

One thing that hasn’t changed is my ski tuning.

At the end of the last season, my daughter Debi brought her skis over for summer storage prep. Those will be back for heating and scraping the storage wax to make them ready for the slopes.

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Also on hand and ready for the tuning bench are my granddaughter’s skis, which were new last season. She only brought them here to store until the season starts, but because I store skis with a coat of wax, they will be hand-tuned to make them ready for skiing. I will check the edge geometry and make sure the bevels are correct. The bottom edges will be sharpened using a diamond stone. The side edges will also get the diamond stone treatment, but set in a multi-tuner to maintain the one-degree bevel. Next a coat of universal wax will be ironed in and scraped.

Before I make my first turns, I expect to hand-tune skis for my sister and a brother-in-law. My own skis were tuned and a coat of wax applied to protect the bases over the summer. Heating the wax and scraping made them ready to ski.

PATROL REFRESHERS

This year, I returned to something I did for the 20 years when I was a ski patrolman.

Each fall, ski patrol members attend a fall refresher. As part of the book I’m working on about the history of Lost Valley, I made contact with that ski patrol and learned that their patrol has combined with three others for a combined refresher in November: Black Mountain, Mount Abram and Pleasant Mountain, which has returned to its previous name after being known as Shawnee Peak for many years.

These are commonly called first aid refreshers, and they do go over information and techniques for handling injured skiers. But there is a lot more. Policies and procedures specific to the resort are reviewed with emphasis on the duties of the ski patrol. While lift problems requiring evacuating a lift are rare, they can happen, and every ski area has a plan in place for such an occurrence. These plans are rehearsed during the annual fall refreshers, which at this point are mostly behind us.

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Overall, skiers are safer on today’s lifts than any place on the mountain. Nearly all incidents with lifts occur during loading or unloading and are mostly caused by skier inattention. Stand near the offloading ramp on any chair lift and watch how many skiers approaching the ramp try to raise the retention bar with their feet still firmly planted on the footrest. With most lifts, the footrest is part of the retention bar, and until the feet are removed, the bar cannot be raised. The answer is, of course, simple: pay attention to the signs that say PREPARE TO UNLOAD. And act accordingly.

My intention is not to make this a lecture on skier safety, although I’m sure as the ski season progresses, something will happen to remind me to revisit the topic in a future column. The idea is to make note of some of the things that are involved with my own season prep. Having retired from patrolling in 1988, I no longer need to attend a fall refresher to maintain my status as an active patrolman, but attending some this year put me in contact with a bunch of active patrollers, and I hope to ski with a number of them this season.

NEW GEAR CATALOGS

Another reminder to prep for the season is the arrival of catalogs.

One is World Cup Supply, but it is primarily for ski areas, including all kinds of items for use by each area. Crowd control is an important one, and we will see plenty of this equipment in the form of fencing around base areas and lifts. Race bibs are an important item for all kinds of competition. Locally, we see them mostly at high school races or charity events. Gates to set race courses are part of this catalog’s offerings. Obviously, there isn’t much I need from World Cup Supply. In fact, I have acquired so much for skiing over the years, I rarely need anything new.

One catalog is of local interest but has customers all over North America, the Akers Ski shop in Andover. It arrived at the beginning of November and has just about everything for cross country skiers need.

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I talked with Tim Akers about his shop and catalog and learned that they print about 10,000 and send them to an extensive mailing list. There are a number of high schools and colleges on the list, and many competitive as well as recreational cross country skiers who count on Akers to gear up for the season. The shop is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Another catalog has its purpose in the name, Race Place. This one is filled with items for ski racers. They have race suits, helmets, and plenty for the everyday skier as well. The catalog also features The Beast tuning gear, and they have an excellent summary of tuning how-tos. While I have used The Beast products and they work well, I prefer FK tuning guides, as they are simpler and easy to use. I never let my skis go long enough between touch-ups that they need to go into the shop for a complete machine grinding. As I mentioned, I use a diamond stone, which is adequate as long as the edges are maintained on a regular basis, and mine never go more than a few ski days without attention. The Race Place has a lot of information on tuning and waxing.

Another source for this equipment is Tognar Toolworks in California. They no longer print a catalog, but you can find them online at TognarzToolworks.com.

Your local ski shop also carries tuning equipment, and most will be happy to advise on its use. Your skis should be tuned before you hit the slopes. The need was summed up best by Bob Sampson, a race coach at Waterville Valley, who said, “Skiing on untuned skis is like driving a Porsche with five pounds of air in the tires.” The analogy makes sense. Why invest in expensive high-performance skis if you’re not going maintain them to get that top performance. You may not have someone like me to hand-tune your skis, but do at least take them to the shop and have them release checked as well.

I should also mention that time is limited to shop for the skier on your gift list. I won’t get into recommending skis or boots, as they should be purchased at your local ski shop, preferably a shop that knows your skier and their needs.

I did notice one item in the Race Place catalog that any skier could use. Two full pages were devoted to ski socks, and every skier could use an extra pair or two, I Iike the Darn Tough socks that are thin enough but still have enough thickness to fill the boot, Your local shop probably has these in stock. I wear them every time I ski. Smartwool is another good brand of ski sock.

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Of course, you can always give the gift of skiing. Go to the various ski areas’ websites to purchase gift certificates and lift tickets.

PLEASANT, AGAIN

Now that the ski season is upon us, a little more about name change back to Pleasant Mountain.

The name Shawnee Peak came from the area’s ownership by a Pennsylvania company apparently trying to develop a corporate image. Of course, there were never any Shawnees within 600 miles of Bridgton, Maine. I was asked by then owner Chet Homer in 1988 if he should change the name beck to Pleasant Mountain, and my advice was, yes: “It would be a perfect way to celebrate the 60th birthday of the ski area, Maine’s oldest continuously operated ski area.”

My advice was ignored, but the folks at Boyne, who now own the ski area, thought returning to the original name made sense, especially as many of their skiers never stopped using Pleasant Mountain, anyway. And the name of the mountain never changed, only the name of the ski area.

I don’t know how to handle the name of my book Shawnee Peak at Pleasant Mountain, but I think it will become Pleasant Mountain, Maine’s Oldest Continuously Operated Ski Area — after all, most of the book details the history of the ski area. Look for it along with my other book, The History of Mount Abram, Maine’s Family Ski Mountain.

See you on the slopes.

 

Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist 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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