Skiing: Enjoy the snow cannons during these holidays
It’s always nice to start the vacation week with a bunch of snow, even though I didn’t need a half foot in my driveway.
Sunday River wasted no time sending an email citing the 6-10 inches they picked up. But while the news was the snow falling, the skiing we have for this vacation is the result of a month of snow.
It is a fact that ski areas spend most of their snowmaking budgets in the pre-season and at the start of the season. The goal is to open up as much ground as possible before this critical moment. And despite some warm-ups, there is a lot of artificial snow under this fresh snow.
It might not be possible to personally thank all those snow cannons who spend all night dragging pipes and servicing snow cannons, but be aware that there are plenty of workers every night to make sure that we have the best ski surfaces when we slide. this ascent for the first descent of the day.
If you’ve had the experience of riding a groomer, you know these snowmobiles aren’t the noisy models of years ago that had more air than a car with all the windows open. Today’s Kassbohrer Pisten Bullies and Bombardier are as comfortable as the best luxury sedans. Of course, when a machine, once fully equipped with blades and tillers, can cost close to half a million dollars, they should be.
But the drivers still work at night while the rest of us rest for the next day’s skiing. We see them heading for the mountains as we take our boots off 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. This is one of the many jobs that avid skiers take so that they can ski instead of having a job in the business world. Others work in restaurant services or run bars.
The only mountain I know that celebrates its snow cannons is Pain de Sucre. Each season, they dress their snow cannons in tuxedos and set them up at the head table for a banquet called the Snowmakers Ball. Few ski resorts have a party like Sugarloaf does. In Sugarloaf’s early years, they actually had a Dump Party, which wasn’t just written in ski magazines, but also made Playboy.
We cannot thank the snow guns and snow groomers because we do not see them at work as we see the “Lifties” who help us to climb on the ski lifts. But if you see a snow cannon in the pub at the end of its shift, take its note. And if you have the chance to ride a groomer, go for it. It will give you an idea of what goes in preparation for each day of skiing.
In the early ’70s when I was working as a professional patroller in Lost Valley, when I would arrive every morning, I would usually see a Pisten Bully driven by Wendall Nason as he finished his grooming for the day. Soon after, I would be started and join Wendall over coffee in the cafeteria before going out to check on her work. I knew what I was going to find. Each trail would have a freshly groomed surface created with the Powdermaker, which had been invented by Otto Wallingford a few years before there in Lost Valley.
Unlike most large areas, Lost Valley skiers knew their groomer and it was nice to see a full house in the base lodge for a memorial rally for Wendall Nason.
I expect to ski Lost Valley at least once before vacation ends. If you see me and have a Lost Valley story to share, say hello.
Speaking of the holidays, there will be a reception or two when the national championships take place at Pain de Sucre in March. I have been fortunate enough to attend most of the World Cups in Waterville Valley and I can tell you that owner Tom Corcoran, a former Olympic skier, also knew how to entertain.
I missed the World Cup at Sugarloaf in 1971. I was supposed to stay and lead the patrol at Sunday River, but I sent two of my best patrollers to the ‘Loaf to help in that department – Leo Lalemand and John Lander, all of them. two from Auburn. So, I heard everything about the festivities. I understand the banquet featured lobster and moose meat.
As for those World Cups in Waterville Valley, usually the finals, the last races of the season, there were a number of special events. One year, Cindy Nelson announced her retirement after 14 years on the US ski team. Cindy retired to Vail, where she is still the Ski Ambassador. I actually got to ski with her on a 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 these World Cups in Waterville Valley was the final in 1990. It was the big breakthrough for Julie Parisien. She led after the first round in GS and hung on with a strong second round for her first World Cup victory. This caught the attention of the ski world as she established herself as one of the best riders on the team. The presence of his parents, Doctor and Jill Parisien, in the stands at the foot of the World Cup slalom track, made this moment even more special.
His brother Robbie, a member of the men’s team, was also present and they could see Julie carried off the podium on the shoulders of her teammates with a gold medal.
I know it started about the snow, but any skier that’s been there for as long as me has a lot of memories, and one leads to the other. All the snow and the snow cannons have everything planned for a nice last week of vacation.
See you soon on the slopes.
Dave Irons is a freelance writer and columnist from Westbrook. He has contributed to the Sun Journal for many years and is one of the North East’s most respected ski editors. He is also a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. Write to him at [email protected]