Jones: These are the good old days of skiing

  • Early season skiing at Sunday River in Maine on Nov. 15. All the early-season snowmaking is just one of the reasons that skiing is more enjoyable than ever. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

  • Early season skiing at Sunday River in Maine on Nov. 15. All the early-season snowmaking is just one of the reasons that skiing is more enjoyable than ever. TIM JONES / For the Monitor

Published: 11/25/2019 9:06:03 PM

Have you skied yet? A surprising number of Alpine ski areas in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont are open, and if you haven’t gotten out yet, well, what are you waiting for? As I write this you can now find lift-serviced skiing at Loon, Bretton Woods, Wildcat, Waterville Valley and Cranmore (weekends only until December 14). In Maine, lifts at Sunday River and Sugarloaf are open, and there’s a slew of mountains up and running in Vermont – Killington, Mount Snow, Bromley, Jay, Okemo, Stowe and Sugarbush all opening this weekend.

Unless Mother Nature throws us a huge curve, we should have lift-serviced skiing straight through until early May.

I launched my 2019-20 ski season at Sunday River back on Nov. 15. The weather was stellar: temps in the mid-40s and a mostly clear sky early in the day.

Conditions were fabulous, and I didn’t have to say, “for so early in the season.” The trails I sampled were in excellent condition, period. Jungle Road, Ecstasy, and Sunday Punch had deep snow edge to edge and top to bottom and had been groomed smooth to start the day. The snow was so good, I seriously doubt you’ll find better conditions on these trails in mid-winter. Right Stuff, my last run of the day, hadn’t been groomed at all and the snowmaking whales and bumps were HUGE. At one point I found myself in a trough on a steep drop looking UP at the top of the bump ahead of me. No ice anywhere, just beautiful soft snow. I wish my ski legs had been in better shape to allow me more than the six top-to-bottom runs I made before my thighs cried “Uncle.”

All in all, it had to be one of the best “first day of the new ski season” ever. Great weather, great snow, and the pure pleasure of flying down a slope in perfect control and grinning ear to ear.

Since I was there, Sunday River has opened another handful of trails. I imagine everyone who has been there since has had the same thought I did. What a great start to what’s likely to be a great ski season!

While I was riding up the chairlifts at Sunday River, I had a chance to reflect not only on how good the conditions were that day, but also on how skiing has changed. I’ve been skiing a very long time (most winters since 1960). For nearly two decades, I skied between 90 and 120 days a winter. I’ve slowed down a little only because I no longer see a need to ski lift-serviced slopes on weekends or holidays and I choose my days for backcountry and cross-country. But all that experience tells me that the “good old days” of skiing are right now. Seriously.

Don’t believe me? Hear me out and decide for yourself.

Let’s talk about early-season skiing. In the old days, if you wanted to ski early in the season, you kept a pair of “rock skis” at the ready. Rock skis were skis that were past (often well past) their prime. So you didn’t mind if the bases got gouged to the wood core or an edge caught on granite and pulled out. Several times, my rock skis went directly from a day on the slopes to what was then called “the dump.”

That just doesn’t happen anymore. With modern snowmaking most ski areas don’t open a trail until it’s covered edge to edge. It’s very, very rare to gouge your ski bases on an open trail. I still keep rocks skis, but only to venture into glades on the first natural snow. You just never need them any more on trails covered by snowmaking.

Another reason to savor the present skiing moment is today’s equipment. You can wax nostalgic about the past if you must, but you’ll enjoy skiing more on today’s gear. You can shred the snow on a snow board, alpine skis, AT skis, Telemark Skis or classic or skate cross-country skis. In the old days, skis were long, straight and hard to turn. Carving was a skill mastered by only an elite few. Today’s skis carve effortlessly and you can tailor your equipment to the conditions you encounter most – anything from bullet-proof ice on a racecourse to neck deep powder.

Boots are more comfortable than they’ve ever been. The new waterproof/breathable shells keep you dry from both the inside and out. Helmets are comfortable and light weight. Goggles rarely fog.

Perhaps the best reason to enjoy today’s skiing life is the sheer amount of choice you have. While we have lost a lot of small local areas (some are coming back), the loss has been more than made up for with expanded opportunities at the areas still open. I’ll bet there are more total miles of ski trails now than there were when every town had its own little ski hill.

Without getting on an airplane, you can heli-ski incredible powder in Quebec’s Chic Choc Mountains and cat-ski there or at Sugarloaf in Maine. You can pay to be whisked up the hill at high speed on a gondola, bubble chair or detachable chairlift, or pay a lot less to ride fixed grip chairs, T-bars or even rope tows. Or you can put skins on your skis or snowboard and not pay anything (other than your own effort) to get up the hill.

The point I’m trying to make is that snow season is here. It’s up to you whether or not you want to enjoy it. If you want to be outdoors having fun this winter, the opportunities are right in front of you. Life isn’t a spectator sport, get out and enjoy!

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel and can be reached at

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