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Skiing first tracks: A rare chance to go for the gold

skiing022312_optBY BOB WILLIAMS

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.”

Corduroy is the term given to uniform lines in the snow created by grooming machines. griffMartin022312_opt

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.

Dan Cassidy, a Maine native who lives in Winslow, about a 90-minute drive from here, is among Sugarloaf season ticket holders attracted to first tracks.

“What I really like is that it gives me the opportunity to ski virgin, untracked snow,” says Cassidy, who is in his early seventies and who has been skiing for the past 50 years. “There’s nobody in front of me and very few skiers behind me.”

“First track skiers are here every day at the 8:30 a.m. opening, and they compete with each other to see who gets here first and who skis the most, says Cassidy, who manages to ski about 40 to 60 days each season. “Sugarloaf recognizes the best first track skier each season with its Ironman of Skiing award. We toast the winner at our end-of-season barbecue. It’s a hoot.”

PROTECT YOUR TAILBONE – Let’s say you are a new snowboarder. What are your chances of injury in the early ski022312_optdays of learning the sport? According to the manufacturer of Booty Guard, a tailbone protector, one in 10 riders who begin to snowboard return to the slopes for the second day. And if that rider was not seriously injured on day one, you can bet your snowboard boots that he or she will be injured the second day. Statistics show that chances are four times greater that a snowboarder will suffer injuries in the beginning stages of the sport.

And tailbone injuries are at the top of the list because, in learning the sport, a rider must be prepared to fall many times. The areas of most injuries are the wrist and tailbone. A tailbone injury is usually slow to heal, and the pain is often recurrent. Booty Guard is designed to give focused protection to the tailbone area. A snowboarder simply slips it into place and fastens it over the tailbone. The protector is lightweight, vented to reduce perspiration, flexible to fit the tailbone area, and has a hard shell to spread and absorb impact.

Booty Guard is available at Killington, Pico Peak, Willard Mt. and Gore, among ski areas. Cost is $19.95. More info from or call 866-480-1572.

SLEDDING AT BLUE MT. – Calling all kids! Schlittentag, a wacky sledding competition, comes plowing into Blue Mt. ski area in Palmerton, Pa., this Sunday, Feb. 26. Three-person teams will build their own customized sleds. One member will drive as the other two give their sled the push it needs to be a winner. Anyone can enter. Prizes to top three winners. Call Heidi Lutz for more info at 484-619-1427 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

MINOR MOGULS – Hunter Mt. Ski Bowl in the Catskills hosts its free Presidential Showdown Rail Jam this Saturday, Feb. 25. Register at 2 p.m. in the base lodge; jam from 4:30 to 6. . . . You can help Camelback Mt. Resort in the Poconos raise money for the Special Olympics of New Jersey by going for a swim this Saturday, Feb. 25. The Camelback polar bears will plunge into the Atlantic at Seaside Heights at 1 p.m. . . . New England Disabled Sports at Loon Mt., Lincoln, N.H., has named Roy Whitaker its first executive director. The group provides year-round adaptive sport instruction to adults and children with physical and cognitive disabilities.

Cranmore Mt. ski area in North Conway, N.H., rolls out its first-ever Sun ‘n’ Snow Fest March 5-9 for vacationing college students. The ski area offers special deals for the students, including $25 lift tickets and live outdoor bands. . . . . With a month still remaining in the FIS Alpine World Cup, Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn of Vail, Colo., clinched a record fifth straight downhill title with a third place finish in Rosa Khutor on the 2014 Olympic course. She joins an elite group of only three other athletes who have won five downhill titles: Annemarie Moser-Proell, Renate Goetschl and Franz Klammer – all Austrians.

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Comments (1)
1 Monday, 27 February 2012 10:19
Another good story. We love first tracks! My daughter is a snowboarder - have to look into that Booty Guard - may have potential!!!

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