Active Outdoors: Winter is fleeting, seize the day

  • Blue skies, cold temps, and freshly groomed trails promised fast skiing at Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. BELOW: On a cold, windy day, the warming hut on Sugarloaf Outdoor Center trail network was a welcome sight. TIM JONES / Easternslopes.com

  • On a cold, windy day, the warming hut on Sugarloaf Outdoor Center trail network was a welcome sight. TIM JONES / Easternslopes.com

For the Monitor
Sunday, March 05, 2017

The theme of this column is seizing the day. In February, when we were getting a foot or more of snow every few days, it seemed like we could relax; winter was going to stick around for awhile. Other than powder mornings, which are rare and precious and always to be cherished, there was no reason to take today off to go skiing since tomorrow would be just as good. Oh, the smug folly!

Then came President’s Week, 60 degree temps, and what had been over 4 feet of fluffy snow suddenly became 2 feet of corn snow, and, when the temperatures finally dropped again, 18 inches of bulletproof hardpack. While the skiing since has been great on groomed terrain, the woods and ungroomed trails are only skiable when warmth and sun have again softened the surface. It’s going to stay that way until we get more snow.

Now, as March begins, it’s warm and raining again. Those days when conditions were perfect and we didn’t ski are lost forever. The lesson here is simple. Winter (like life itself) is fleeting. When conditions are right to enjoy a day outdoors, don’t let anything stop you from doing it. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Powder day at Cranmore

The good news: 18 inches of powder on the back deck. The bad news: plow guy running late, the town plow had been by a couple of times and even with all-wheel drive and snow tires, there was no getting out of my driveway. Fortunately, my ski buddy has a snowblower, could get out, and would pick me up. (Lesson here: When you know there’s going to be a major snowstorm, get yourself a ski-in, ski-out room at a ski resort, buy your ticket the night before and be ready to go as soon as the lifts turn).

Cranmore Mountain Resort has lots of glades on the outskirts of its trail system, especially to skier’s right on the mountain. There’s nothing terrifyingly steep on Cranmore – which is a good thing. The glades are pretty mellow and accessible to non-heroes like us.

Our first runs were on trails that had been groomed just before the snowstorm but hadn’t been groomed since. With no high winds, the snowcover was deep and even, and we had a ball finding fresh lines down the front face of the mountain. Even with relatively few skiers, it doesn’t take long for trails covered with pristine powder to get chopped up by traffic. (Chopped up powder is called “chowder” which, with more traffic turns into “powder bumps.”).

As soon as the trails turned to chowder, we started searching for untracked lines in the glades. Skiing in the trees is an art: you have to learn to hold a comfortable, controllable speed and look at the spaces between the trees, not at the trees themselves. Even with moderately fat AT skis we were in knee-deep most of the time. And smiling all the way. By the time the snow in the glades was getting chowdered, our legs were shot anyway.

Driving home, we saw a number of people just beginning the chore of getting out of their driveways. They’d missed what will likely be the best ski day of the 2016-17 season.

Sugarloaf and Sunday River

With President’s Week over and the crowds departing, “Em” (my sweetheart Marilyn) and I decided to leave our home in paradise and visit another paradise in Maine. The original plan had been for her to relax while I spent Sunday afternoon skinning up and skiing down the slopes at Saddleback, one of my favorite ski areas, sadly closed for the second season in a row while it awaits new owners.

But the melt-down and re-freeze squashed that plan, so, instead we headed to Sugarloaf where we spent the afternoon on the rolling, groomed trails at Sugarloaf Outdoor Center.

We spent a enjoyable couple of hours in the trees, sheltered from the rising winds and falling temps, getting a great endorphin high climbing hills and an adrenaline rush coming down. Great afternoon, and a perfect excuse to hit the hot tub at the slopeside Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel where we were staying and enjoy a gourmet Italian meal at not-to-be-missed Hugs down on Route 16.

Winter had returned the next morning: bluebird day, bitter cold, biting wind. So we calorie-loaded at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, dressed for the weather, and caught a chair on the Superquad as soon as it started loading. Sugarloaf is a big, burley, steep mountain, made for skiing fast, and the groomers had been out all night creating smooth corduroy, which we thoroughly enjoyed carving up. It was classic eastern skiing, freshly groomed and fast, fast, fast. We later learned that many other mountains were on windhold that day. Not Sugarloaf.

On the way home the next day, we stopped at Sunday River for the day. Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Loon Mountain can all be skied on the same ticket. Early on, it was more fast, smooth corduroy, but by mid-morning, it had warmed up enough that some sunny trails turned to perfect corn snow, which is like skiing on butter. The conditions were unbelievably good.

Another perfect day seized! Make sure you don’t let this winter pass you by. It’ll be over before you know it.

Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.