DROUGHT During the 2010-11 season, Sunday River didn’t receive a sizable snow until 19 inches fell Dec. 27, 2010.

As the snow guns cranked at Shawnee Peak Sunday morning during a welcome 20-plus-degree window in this season of manmade winter, Josh Harrington was realistic about the upcoming vacation week.

"This is not the end of the world but obviously we wish we were in a better position," said Shawnee's on-hill program director. "You have to play the cards that you're dealt. This is the hand we're working with. At the end of the day, it'll be a bump in the road, not a disaster."

Shawnee, and all Northeast areas, are in the same stalled boat adrift in a sea of Mother Nature's whim. Mother's been downright witchy during this lukewarm El Nino season. Being open with top-to-bottom shredding off the running lifts is the minimal goal at the season's start. This December's thwarted even that at some areas with lots of above-normal temperatures and plenty of brown backyards that don't motivate people to ski country.

In Maine, the Boyne big boys have been holding their own, pouncing on the snowmaking openings and salivating to drop the ropes on more trails. Mt. Abram's been toughing it out. Shawnee scaled back operations and plans to re-open Dec. 26. Auburn's Lost Valley and Rumford's Black Mountain plan to open Dec. 26, too.

Trail counts are lower, but resilient skiers and riders are making due with what's been everything from meticulous groomed corduroy white carpets to spring-like thin trails turning coffee-colored under skis.

Everyone wants more terrain and more lifts spinning. Christmas week and New Year's, important stretches in a ski economy from the areas to the retailers to restaurant servers, is when the masses hit the slopes, often for the first time in the season, not only looking for snow but sugar plum fairy memories to last a lifetime.

Less trails means more people on that precious real estate. That impacts conditions over the day, and can make for plenty of dysfunction junction encounters on the hill as too many skiers and riders try to get the same place at the same time.

That can mess with those dancing fairies twirling on the climate change stage.

To compensate — at least in theory — there will be more emphasis on resort accoutrements from zip lining to spas to events, but shredders wanna be on snow.

So be patient as ghosts of Christmas past can foreshadow flourishing flurries. Sunday River communications coordinator Karolyn Castaldo and snow reporter Sam Brown sifted through some old stats to find seasons with slow starts ending well.

In 2006-07 the River didn't have much natural snow until Jan. 15, 2007 save for a lone six inch October storm.

"We jumped from seven trails and two lifts on December 1, 2006, to 50 trails and 10 lifts by December 31, 2006," offered Castaldo.

In the 2010-11 season, there's was no real accumulation until a 19-inch Dec. 27, 2010 storm. The River went from 22 trails and four lifts on Dec. 1, 2010 to 99 trails and 15 lifts by Dec. 31, 2010.

So chill and be holiday kind to all those working front line warriors at guest services, on the hill and in the watering holes.

They have absolutely no impact on the amount of snow falling — or not — from the sky.

As the new year approaches, at least downhill skiers and riders are out playing on snow while the majority of cross-country skiers and snowmobilers continue to wait.

Saddleback's back

The Rangeley resort, shuttered as a deal continues to churn with a prospective new owner, looks to open next month. On Dec. 18 the Berry family owned ski area posted it feels "confident that we will complete a transaction — opening by late January."

Coming up

Ski Christmas Day at Sunday River and Sugarloaf.

Howl at the moon during the full moon hike Dec. 26 at Mt. Abram. The idea is to hike up (your gear goes in a 5 p.m. snowcat) and then ski down. New Year's has 9 p.m. fireworks and music by Skosh out of Buckfield at 10 p.m. in the base lodge.

The Kennebunk River Band plays in Blizzard's Pub at Shawnees Blizzard Pub New Year's Eve from 6:30-9:30 p.m.

Sunday River's got a full slate of events like twin zips, family games, live music, a fire dancer, fireworks, and a second family dinner at the Peak Lodge on Dec. 29 because the one scheduled for Dec. 28 sold out.

Among the holiday highlights at Sugarloaf is Maine's two-time Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott signing autographs Dec. 28 from 2-4 p.m. in the base lodge. They've got New Year's Eve fireworks, too.

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