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Lot of skiing left into May for faithful.

Byline: Shaun Sutner

COLUMN: SNOW SPORTS

Uh-oh. Check the calendar. It's the end of the ski season.

Despite the recent rains, there is an upside: There's three, maybe four, more glorious weeks of warmish temps, sun, soft corn snow and plenty of snow cover after a spectacular winter. True fanatics can likely ski and ride into May at the northernmost and most altitudinous resorts such as Killington, Sugarloaf and Jay Peak.

Still, our 4-1/2-month season is all too short, a precious window of time that is lamented by so many cold-weather haters but beloved by those who know that skiing and riding is the most fun you can have legally.

The final days have come upon us quickly.

Only a few weeks ago, it seems, we were enjoying swift chairlift rides to the top of white-encrusted summits, with powdery snow piles lining pine tree-lined boulevards. With barely a thought of our workaday lives, we were cruising down those same steep, winding New England trails and looking ahead only to the next run.

The immediate good news is that those pleasures are still abundantly available, both close to home at local ski areas such as Wachusett in Princeton, which still has every run open and plenty of snow (believe it or not), as well as more northern destinations.

I have mostly good news to report after visiting one of those snow country meccas, Okemo Mountain Resort, last Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

It was my second trip to the resort in Ludlow, Vt., this season. Returning after a February visit, I was pleasantly surprised to find an abundant snowpack, with few scratchy areas even after a full day of rain last Friday.

As always, Okemo's groomers had worked meticulously over every inch of terrain. What had frozen was ground up and smoothed. What was mushy was packed. Everything was skiable, even forgiving.

Until Monday, that is. Subfreezing temps had hardened most of the snow into a rock-like crust that stayed hard most of the day because the sun stayed away until 2 p.m. or so.

Even so, by running a file across my all-mountain skis and my friend's old racers, we rendered our sticks capable of negotiating the super hard pack (more about the importance of tuning later).

We bombed down some of Okemo's most challenging runs, Wardance, Upper World Cup and Tomahawk, over and over, and stopped only to watch young racers speed down Chief. Okemo makes it easy to grab a respite at mid-mountain and the summit; we caught our breath and warmed up in the on-mountain lodges from time to time.

Okemo is a great family hill, with a wonderful variety of approachable terrain. Purists will miss the gnarly steeps. For that, go elsewhere.

Next weekend I'll be hitting Waterville Valley and Cranmore in northern New Hampshire in my quest for sublime end-of-season skiing.

Catch you up there?

Store skis properly

As summer approaches, it's time to take stock of our equipment and prepare to store it for the offseason.

It's also a good opportunity to reflect on how best to maintain our gear during the ski season.

All too many enthusiasts neglect their skis. Failing to properly maintain your boards is like letting your car go without regular oil changes and routine repairs.

Decent skis and snowboards are expensive. Take care of them.

First of all, make sure you wax your skis and boards regularly, once a week if possible, using an iron to melt in the wax.

It's a misconception that waxing is done only to make your skis or board faster. Actually, regular applications of hydrocarbon-based wax act to hydrate the textured plastic bottoms and keep them oily and healthy. The wax also fills in small nicks and scratches. More serious damage, such as deep gouges, should be filled in with P-tex candles.

Waxing should be followed by scraping and vigorous brushing to remove excess wax and leave only the tiny particles in the pores of the skis. Experienced tuners use steel, brass or copper brushes first, then follow those with multiple passes with nylon and horsehair brushes.

You should also maintain your edges.

Place your skis or snowboard in a set of vises and use a stainless steel or aluminum mill file to achieve a super sharp edge. Most recreational skiers like a 2-degree bevel, so buy a file holder that can clamp the file at that angle.

Finish your file work by polishing with diamond stones and ceramic stones to harden and smooth out and remaining burrs.

Be careful not to over-sharpen with the mill file because edges have a finite life span and you'll be using your boards for a few years.

When the ski season is over, clean your skis by hot-waxing them with soft base prep or cleaning wax and immediately scraping them to pull out all the dirt from the hill. Let the skis sit for a while, then put on another thick coat of prep wax for storage over the summer.

This storage waxing will keep the bases from drying out over the offseason. Take care, though, to scrape the wax off the edges because wax contains water that could rust the edges.

Finally, store the skis off the floor by placing them on wood or hanging them on the wall.

Shaun Sutner can be reached by e-mail at ssutner@telegram.com.

Calendar

Saturday - Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, Princeton, Youth Enrichment Services' annual fundraiser to help inner-city youths experience winter sports.

March 26 - Wachusett, Northeast Meltdown, pro-am ski and snowboard competition.

March 27 - Wachusett, The Great Boston Ski and Snowboard Race, beach party open to all racers 8 and over in intermediate, advanced and expert divisions in giant slalom race format, best of two combined runs.

April 3 - Wachusett, Closing Day Pond Skim Beach Party.

Ski Ward, Shrewsbury, is closed for the season.

Nashoba Valley Ski Area, Westford, is closed today and tomorrow but may reopen this weekend.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 17, 2011
Words:991
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