Did you ever wonder what the job description of a weather forecaster is?

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

Watching many of them, I get the impression they feel it is their responsibility to keep as many people indoors as possible. Of course, the folks who market ski resorts want to get as many outdoors as possible, especially if they can get them to buy lift tickets.

I can understand the focus on winds, with the weather we had across the country the week before Christmas. While I was not concerned about the wind chill, I was certainly concerned about power outages. In fact, the biggest concern with the wind when skiing is if it blows so hard the lifts have to shut down. An early example of the wind and lifts occurred at Sunday River, when we had nothing but T-bars. It was cold, but the wind was the big concern.

If you are familiar with the very peak of Barker Mountain (now called Locke Mountain), you know that that peak is nothing but ledge and totally exposed to the wind. On this particular day, I was sitting in the top shack with a couple of other patrolmen when the GM called to see how the wind was. As we talked there was a loud clang. Sepp Gmuender, the GM, asked about the noise, and I explained that a T-bar had hit the tower. That was followed by an even louder noise, which I explained to Sepp was a T-bar hitting the top shack. After which he ordered the lift be shut down.

As you can see, there are things of more concern than the wind chill. At least if you’re on ski patrol.

It’s true, we had to watch for skiers exhibiting signs of frost nip (true frost bite is quite rare). Usually skiers are smart enough to get in out of the cold when toes and fingers start to hurt. Naturally, we have to watch out for children who sometimes stay out longer than they should, but adults should know enough to go inside and warm up.


Even on the biggest mountains in the East, all but the least-experienced skiers can get inside within 15 minutes, either in a top shack or base lodge. With today’s ski wear, most skiers are well-protected and with face masks, goggles and helmets, we see very little exposed flesh, which is what is susceptible to wind chill.

Speaking of exposed flesh, one college fad in the 70’s was streaking — mostly young students running naked through public places. During a Can-Am intercollegiate ski race at Sunday River, a racer stepped into the starting gate and Bob Harkins, who was starting the racers, questioned who he was. It was the women who were running, but the guy said he was a forerunner, so Bob let him go. At that point, he stripped off his parka and warmups to reveal EVERYTHING. He ran the entire course down Lower Cascades naked. It was a warm, sunny spring day, but not that warm. His coach told me later that young man had run his last race for UConn.

I don’t know what happened to the rest of his college racing career, but we should have realized the fix was in when we saw the women at the start pulling out cameras. We learned that a collection had been taken and this young man received $150 for his exposure. So far as we know, he didn’t suffer any wind chill. And his co-conspirators were waiting behind the timing shack at the finish with his warmups.

We often forget that racers are most vulnerable when riding lifts. At a Nor-Am downhill at Sugarloaf in the 70’s, the spillway chair shut down for about 20 minutes in high winds and with temperatures near zero. I happened to be in the top shack of that lift when those girls came in after their ordeal. Maine’s Gail Blackburn was one of those US Ski team ladies. That day, she won the race but if you ask her about that day, it will be that cold time sitting on that stopped lift that she will recall. Often their warmups are still at the start and they ride the lift in their downhill suits, not very warm even with an extra layer of underwear beneath.

How cold was it? In those days of film, motor drives were useless, as the brittle film would break up. Trying to advance the film quickly to get a second shot of a racer could also break the film. It was that cold. Imagine sitting in a stopped chair 20 or so feet above the trail totally exposed to the wind.

While I think the weather forecasters over-do the wind chill, I do understand how it feels to be stuck on a chair lift with no protection in that kind of weather. And I will admit that I no longer ski in those conditions. As a ski patrolman, I had no choice, but I can now pick and choose my ski days and I choose to be comfortable.

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 DaveiSkiGolf@aol.com.

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