So, with February in the crosshairs, and a couple of holidays quickly fading in the rear-view mirror, how's the ski season going?
"We're right down the middle average," says Ski Maine executive director Greg Sweetser. "When all is said and done with the warm and cold, the snow and sun, I think we are right in the heart of winter in a place we have been before. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. We are so darn weather dependent as we all know."
Portland-based Ski Maine is the nonprofit trade association representing alpine and nordic skiing in the state.
Mother Nature's been flipping the bird a lot this winter. Temps in the 60s during Christmas hurt during an unbelievably warm December. So did watching East Coast metropolises south of here get clobbered last week by that monster Snowzilla blizzard. Maine ski country didn't even get a nor'incher out of that one.
But when Mother decides to rest that finger, good things happen. Sugarloaf saw about three feet of snow in three weeks. When it's continued cold, snowmaking's been rocking around the clock allowing ski areas to increase their trail counts.
If Christmas through New Year's, a key holiday week in the industry, was lukewarm, the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday had Snow Nation feeling upbeat.
The candid Sweetser called the holiday "pretty darn strong."
"That weekend has a volatile weather history," he said. "It could be 25 below and windy or 60 degrees and rainy. That weekend was in the teens and twenties all three days. November and Christmas had slow starts."
Certainly, snowmaking is the story this manmade winter. Sweetser lauds both the little guys and big guns in Maine for investing in the latest in snowmaking technology.
He cited Mt. Abram, the retro ski area acquiring 25 new airless guns to blow snow on the Greenwood mountain. It cut air consumption by about half and the area says it allows a carbon offset of more than 400,000 pounds.
That helped get the ski area open in the second week of December.
"Their opening in one of the warmest Decembers was no accident," he said. "They like everyone else continue to invest in more efficient snowmaking operations so when they have cold hours they can make double, triple, quadruple the amount we used to make at a more efficient, affordable price."
For another shining example he pointed to West Farmington's 16-trail Titcomb Mountain with its T-bars and pony lift. The community-focused hill is owned by the nonprofit Farmington Ski Club and has a board of directors. Sweetser says incremental steps are being made in snowmaking like increasing pump capacity. Though snowmaking may be minimal compared to bigger areas, the mountain is sending a message to the town.
"They need the community support," says Sweetser. "They're saying no matter what the weather does, we're making investments."
Given manmade winter in Maine, Sweetser believes snowmaking may run a bit later at some ski areas than season's past. While smaller areas will blow snow to open trails, mountains like Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Shawnee Peak should be able to do some resurfacing in February and maybe March.
"We'll see snowmaking into February for sure," he said.
Cross-country ski areas are also getting into the snowmaking act. They have it at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester and the rejuvenated Quarry Road Recreation Area in Waterville.
He'd like to see more with snowmaking. Those by populations may be ripe.
"From what I'm seeing, I think it's viable for some key nordic centers to get some snowmaking," he said. "The number of middle and high school racers is incredible. There is the running craze. With all these 5 and 10K races, a lot of those people are cross-country skiing in winter to keep it up. Schools are desperate for early season snow. I think a couple of areas could sustain snowmaking."
Still, Mother Nature needs to deliver.
"This is the ski business," he says. "You have to have real patience and stamina to get through this."
Mt. Abram's full moon hike Saturday is a howling good time, compete with music by Chad Porter at 8 p.m.
New England Masters racing comes to Shawnee with a Saturday slalom and Sunday GS.
Young guns can show their stuff during the Seacoast Classic Combi Race Sunday at the Camden Snow Bowl. The race is a combination of GS, slalom and at least one jump in the course.
It's three days of fun Friday through Sunday during Auburn's Winter Festival. At Lost Valley, ski for $15 Friday night and $25 Saturday day (includes rentals). There's a Saturday noon rail jam and torchlight parade at 8 p.m.