April 07, 2020

Coping with Crisis> Skiers, sledders go north

HOULTON — While most of Maine was slipping on ice and trying to stay warm because of widespread power outages, people in Aroostook County were out playing this weekend, thanks to more than a foot of new snow.

“We’ve got all kinds of snow,” said Gary Pierce, owner of Big Rock Ski Area in Mars Hill. “We’ve got phenomenal conditions.”

Anywhere from 12 to 18 inches of new snow fell across the region during last week’s storm, although most of that was ice pellets and sleet in southern portions of the County.

Still, County residents felt blessed that they escaped the ice storm that covered three-fourths of the state with up to 2 inches of ice in some places.

“It’s not bad being up here in the other Maine,” said one woman from the Caribou area, who emphasized the word “other.” She chided Gov. Angus King for declaring a state of emergency, but failing to make it clear that there were parts of the state that were not affected by the ice storm.

“We’re the flip side of the coin,” echoed a man in Houlton.

Kathy Mazzuchelli of the Caribou Parks and Recreation Department, and spokeswoman for snowmobile clubs in Aroostook County, said, “We’re golden. We’re really in good shape. This would be a snowmobiler’s dream.”

Mazzuchelli said snowmobilers have been coming to the County from as far away as Minnesota and Illinois to take advantage of the ideal trail conditions that northern Maine has to offer.

She, too, said that she was concerned about the governor’s vague emergency announcement last Thursday.

“I heard the governor’s declaration and said, `Whoa, whoa, whoa. Don’t tell them that. We want [people] to come here,”‘ said Mazzuchelli.

Claudia Stevens, the executive director of the Presque Isle Chamber of Commerce, said hotels and motels in the region were filling up as more people looked north for their winter recreation.

She said the Chamber has been getting numerous calls from people in New York and Pennsylvania inquiring about trail conditions. They have heard that because of the rain that fell in Maine, the trails had been washed out.

Chamber staffers, Stevens said, have been assuring them that all is well in Aroostook County.

Gary Pierce said he also has been getting calls from people in the Bangor and Orono areas who are looking for places to ski. He said many of the slopes in western parts of the state, as well as in other parts of New England, were messed up by the rain, and skiers are looking for some place to go.

“We’ve got 17 trails and anywhere from 2 to 5 feet of snow,” Pierce said. “Mother Nature has made a significant contribution [to our business].”

That sentiment was echoed by Christie Brannen of the May Mountain Ski Association, which operates nine trails at May Mountain in Island Falls.

“It’s excellent, extremely excellent,” Brannen said Sunday. “All trails are open.”

She said skiers from as far away as Maryland and New Jersey who are staying at nearby time-share condominiums having been making use of the mountain, and there have been good crowds, but without the high prices and long lines found at larger operations farther south.

Cross-country skiers also were able to enjoy the new snow.

Ann Rider, who with her husband, Paul, operates 10 miles of groomed woods and field cross-country trials at Up Country Skis in Fort Fairfield, echoed others when she said conditions were excellent.

“We’d love anybody who’d like to come,” she said. “Tell them to get in the buggies and come right up.”

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