Saturday May 1 : Sunday River
Not exactly sure if it has always been called that Ski Mania? Sunday River has been offering free skiing to all on this day for years. In the last few years, Sunday River has had Ski Mania on their last day of operations towards the end of April. In 2013, the Ski Mania was on April 21. Ski Mania wasn’t always on the last day of operations, it would just coincided with May 1 or/and the Sunday next to it. Les Otten bought Sunday River in 1980 and started to build the resort to compete with his old employer, Killington. He would start applying the same formula that made Killington’s reputation: extension on various peaks, snowmaking, grooming and long ski seasons.
Towards the end of my university years, MadPat was always on lookout for bargain skiing. I was definitely present if there was a free ticket within a 3-hour drive from Montreal. Free tickets for all had become a rare sight in 1999. For example, Killington no longer offered free skiing on June 1, let alone make it to June, they hadn’t the previous season in 1998 and weren’t going to make it this year either. Actually two ski areas were offering free skiing on May 1st: Sugarbush and Sunday River. The Maine area won out for its combo skiing potential – more later.
After having attended the 1995 and 1996 Ski Maynia, I had missed the two following years due to work and illness. I was back on track in Maine and would return to event annually until 2002 making it 6 years out of 8 in Maine for a free lift ticket.
Being only two weeks since our return from a ski trip to Banff, Mrs. MadPat didn’t make the trip this time; she stayed back in Canada with our 1 1/2 year old daughter. This was my second weekend in Maine, having skied Sugarloaf the previous weekend. I was joined for the drive this week by SuperNat who had been with us on the last Sunday River May 1st in 1996 and we had planned for a weekend of skiing. My good friend Lucky Luke and his friend Eric were meeting us in Maine. It was a real warm day with temperature in the mid 70s: a real Spring skiing day with little clothing, sun glasses and sun screen. Great snow left. The bonus was that the lift ticket was free.
The Barker Quad was running and passing over the snowmaking pond. I vaguely remember odd folks diving in it. A stretch of snow had been pushed to reach the bottom of the chair. Main trails on Barker were open or at least skiable which could stretch out to the lower slope of Locke and Spruce Mountain. We had our old skis for the occasion, so the odd skiing over dirt to access untouched corn didn’t bother us.I’m known to have a good memory, but I can’t recall if we made out to White Heat that year or they were other lifts open like the Spruce Triple like on a previous Maynia day.
At the end of the day, we soaked in the sun. Like during my first visit at Sunday River on May 27, 1994, I decided to combine the drive to this part of Maine with a visit to Tuckerman Ravine. It had been almost 5 years since that last visit, plus the last time, I didn’t take my skis to the Ravine. My last skiing visit was back with Lucky Luke back in early May 1992: Luke had returned since. Eric and myself had talked about going, but I can’t remember why they bailed? So we parted ways, SuperNat and I only had a short drive ahead of us to make it to Gorham NH and Hikers’ Paradise.
Sunday May 2 : Tuckerman Ravine
Another warm morning, but we only had a short drive. Nevertheless we didn’t manage to get an early start. We were in the first parking lot at Pinkham Notch, but it took us a long time to get going. Eat breakfast and took time to get organized. What to bring; what to leave at the car? How warm is it going to be? Once we finally got going, I was feeling the previous day skiing in my legs and back as we began the hike. Similar to the previous hike up on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, I opted to carry on skis on my shoulder instead of having the long Rossignol 4S 207cm skis hitting the back of my legs or tripping me up. We arrived at Hojo in late morning to find many people gathered. Hikers and skiers alike – it was probably going to be a zoo up in the Bowl. We took a break, eat and looked around. We noticed someone skiing Duchess which is right above the HoJo deck it would seem. The line is serious terrain, on May 2, the line was even sketchyer.
Having never skied Hillman’s Highway, we opted to ski it as the fact that it was already late and the closest slope plus it looked real sweet. HH is the longest run in the Tuckerman area; a nice 1500’ vertical with a constant pitch at 30-35 degrees which gets progressively steeper at the top to reach a maximum 40 degrees.
It’s a long hike to the top and it took us a long time. Not everyone hiked the entire slope. We hiked a bit at the top to looked at the view of Tuckerman Ravine and Mount Washington summit beyond. We also meet fellow Quebecers that had just skied Tremblant. They would take the right entrance, we took the left. Not sure which one was steepest.
I remember we only did one run from the top, but I think we did a half-run also. Snow was real soft and in deep corn snow mode with the warm temperature. At the end of our day which was dictated by our fatigue and the drive ahead, we skied onto Shelburne Trail. The trail was open only 1/3 of the way down before we had to move back to a busy Tuckerman Ravine Trail. At that time, a skier we had seen earlier had rebooted on the trail slaloming through the crowd which we shouting at him “No skiing on the hiking trail”. He didn’t understand; he was visiting from Colorado and didn’t know it was forbidden to ski on TRT.
I was beat once at the bottom and a very long drive ahead. It’s going to be hard getting into work on Monday morning, but I’ll be smiling about a great weekend of skiing. It was a great day. Real warm and sunny. As we driving through Lancaster NH, I noticed an ice cream stand. I suddenly stopped to a screeching halt. A hot day of skiing wouldn’t be complete without an ice cream. That is what Spring Skiing in all about. Next ski destination: Killington.