Now that we have passed mid-February, ski reports will change. The much higher sun and longer days are already upon us.

Dave Irons, Ski Columnist

As one who for some years produced radio and TV ski reports, I have a pretty good idea what they mean. Of course, being on the mountain for as many as 100 days a season provided some insight as well. While my skier days no longer reach those totals, the knowledge gained during those pro patrol years is still with me.

I also know that todays’ reports are much more accurate than the so-called good old days, when ski areas would call their conditions “good” to “excellent.” Such opinions are no longer used, having been replaced by a simple listing of facts, such as trail counts and new snow. In my ski reporting days, I would receive calls over night from ski areas giving me the conditions. Most were recorded, but occasionally some would call after 5 a.m., when I was up preparing my calls to stations.

I got to know a number of the individuals who would call. I remember Carl, a night clerk at the Loon Mountain hotel who would call in their report. I finally got to meet him in person during a stay at Loon. Otto Ninow was a legend in the Mount Washington Valley, and in addition to directing the ski patrol at Black Mountain, called in the report each night.

Another Valley legend was Wildcat’s Dick May, known for his dry humor and witty sayings. Dick would always ask after a storm what other areas were reporting for new snow. When I would give him a number that seemed a little high, he would remark, “We throw away our broken yard sticks.” On his passing a few years ago, his family collected a bunch of his sayings, which they called ”Mayisms.” A sign over his desk in the basement at Wildcat summed up lot of Dick May: “Eschew Obfuscation.”

I typed a number of ski reports on the ancient Underwood Manual typewriter on his desk. He would also have it on hand at special events and races that drew a lot of press coverage and chuckle when young journalists would struggle with it to meet their deadlines. They weren’t familiar with any machine that didn’t plug in.


Dick was a World War II vet who told me how he had been assigned to a warehouse in Boston where skis for the 10th Mountain Division had been stored on their way to Italy. Unaware that the wood skis were matched in pairs, warehouse workers had simply stacked them, and Dick spent a couple of weeks matching them up before being shipped to the troops. It’s a good bet that the majority of those skis had been made in Paris Manufacturing’s plant in South Paris, Maine. Growing up in that town, my first several pair of skis came from that factory.

But I’m wandering off topic with my memories. My idea is to explain ski reports and what they mean. One of the standing jokes used to be: “How come they call it packed powder when fair to bare would be a better description?” With today’s snowmaking building deep and firm bases on our ski trails, actual bare ground is rare. Even in late spring, and we have several weeks ahead with good snow cover before we have to be concerned about that aspect of ski reporting.

As the sun gets higher and temps climb, we can expect ski reports to include spring skiing surfaces, which are mostly loose, wet granular that occurs after warm days soften the snow and re-freezing at night give us the soft, wet surfaces that make up spring conditions. As long as the base is firm underneath, this is a very forgiving surface. For much of late spring, only a single word needs to be used much of the time. That word is “variable.” Skiers need to understand that word means conditions vary.

I have a good friend who has worked extensively in the ski business, who summed it up by saying, “Skiing is always great, conditions vary.” I couldn’t say it any better. It means ski conditions vary from place to place on the mountain and through the day as the sun moves from East to West around the mountain. We simply have to be aware of how conditions change as we ski through the day.

Enjoy the sun and I’ll 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

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