SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING
CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Me. – Martin Griff quietly left his Ewing, N.J., home at the crack of 3 the other morning, headed north and drove nearly nine hours here to Maine -- just to go skiing. Indeed, he skied. But, more importantly, he skied first tracks!
Griff, you see, is among a small group of longtime skiers who have become attracted to the phenomenon of first tracks – a chance to ski a mountain before lift lines open to the general public. He drove here to the Sugarloaf/ USA Ski Resort for a ski-related weekend meeting, and managed to squeeze in first tracks early Sunday morning.
While most ski resorts throughout the country have no real first tracks program – some offer it to special groups and VIPs – Sugarloaf offers first tracks each Sunday morning for an hour before its lifts open at 8:30. Season pass holders can pay an additional $150 for the first tracks opportunity.
“First tracks is great because there are no lift lines, no one else is on the trails and there’s nothing like fresh corduroy,” explains Griff, 54 years old, a press photographer with the Trenton Times, who manages to ski an average of 30 to 35 days a season. “I even skied two double diamonds, which are not as intimidating with fresh corduroy.”
Griff says that when he skis first tracks with friends, they usually like to set an additional challenge for themselves – to ski 10 runs and cover 10,000 feet by 10 a.m. The other morning, he says, he met the challenge and covered 15,000 feet.
“Grooming is fresh, corduroy is perfect and it’s the best skiing of the day,” Ethan Austin, the Sugarloaf communications manager, says of first tracks. “Skiers have fresh, untouched powder at the best time of day with best conditions of the day. Imagine, a skier can share the whole mountain with only 50 other skiers. It’s a pretty incredible experience!”
With a summit elevation of 4,237 feet and a vertical drop of 2,800 feet, Sugarloaf, here in western Maine near the Canadian border, is the state’s tallest winter resort, has the second highest peak and is the largest ski area east of the Rocky Mountains. Its 1,056 skiable acres are the most in the East.
15 lifts service 153 long, extra-wide slopes and trails spread over 54 miles, with the longest trail a 3.5- mile run from summit to base. Sugarloaf received an average annual snowfall of 200 inches over the past 10 seasons.
“It’s been kind of up and down so far this season as for natural snowfall,” Austin explains. “December was low, with only about 10 inches of natural snow, January was a real snowy month, with 48 inches, and now in February we’ve had very little natural snow.”
Nonetheless, first tracks continue here week after week.
Austin says that season ticket holders who sign on can ski first tracks every Sunday morning from 7:30 to 8:30 throughout the season. He says the program has grown a bit in popularity every season, with 150 season ticket holders this year opting for first tracks. On average, he points out, about 20 to 50 skiers show up each first tracks.