Fresh powder beckons as ski races approachFinally things came together the past weekend with the rare combination of warmer weather, good traveling conditions and fresh powder snow. The results: lots of ear-to-ear smiles on resort operators’ faces, as well as the advocates of snow sliding. Even the Mount Greylock Ski Club rope tow complex at Goodell Hollow in South Williamstown was open, as well as all ski touring centers. The next eight days will mark the end of frigid weather as a rule, with the Presidents’ Week beginning Feb. 14, and hordes of sliders will mean packed powder as a rule. Spring skiing will mean widely varying conditions, ranging from slush to frozen granular, but including delicious corn snow and dumps of powder. There are also season-ending high school championships in the coming days, as well as the last remaining major ski jumping contests. The first will be the 78th annual Salisbury (Connecticut) Invitational and U.S. Eastern Ski Jump Championships Saturday and Sunday. Practice jumps will begin at 11 a.m. each day, with the competition starting at 1 p.m. Not to be outdone, the 82nd annual Brattleboro (Vt.) Jumps will be held Feb. 14 and 15. Call 802-257-7174 for details. Willy Graves, son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Graves of Pownal, Vt., is one of the favorites at each competition. He lives and trains at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y. Peter Graves, who skied for Mount Anthony High in Bennington, is the commentator at various national and international sporting events, including the Olympics at Athens, Greece, next August. Most U.S. resorts save Presidents’ Week for paying recreational skiers, boarders and tubers, so the coming few days will be crowded with competitive events. The Bay State Winter Games this weekend will include the high school giant slalom at Jiminy Peak in Hancock Sunday, with well over 200 boys and girls taking two runs for a full day. Contact 781-932-6555. The Berkshire High School cross-country series will feature the annual Coaches’ Invitational Saturday at the Mount Greylock High course, with the Massachusetts Championships coming up Feb. 11 at Hickory Hill in Worthington. For the first time in decades, the state high school Alpine Championships will not be at Berkshire East in Charlemont, but much closer to the Eastern Mass schools, at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton Feb. 25. The ski resort is in the Wachusett State Reservation and is operated by the Crowley Family (perhaps better known for its Polar Beverages Company in Worcester) under a lease with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (formerly Department of Environmental Management). The ski resort is one of the highest rated in the Northeast and is the closest major ski center to the Boston and Worcester markets. As one of only two ski resorts operating on state land (the other is Butternut Basin in Great Barrington) Wachusett falls under the scrutiny of numerous conservation groups, and the Crowleys face strong opposition whenever they propose any expansion. Original plans for new ski trails resulted in a decade-long battle to prevent the cutting of any “old growth” trees, and the proposal was dropped. Finally the state approved a 10-acre terrain park and part of it is open now, with final work expected this summer. The Wachusett battle could serve as a guideline to the same organizations that oppose any commercial project on the state-owned Greylock Glen site in Adams. Back at Berkshire East, operator Roy Schaefer said he will still have many races, including the Pioneer Valley Championships Feb. 11. Top cross-country skiers of all ages will be in action Saturday at Notchview Reservation in Windsor for the Banknorth Eastern Cup 5-and 10-kilometer events. Advance registration is required at www.NENSA.net . The races are sponsored by the Berkshire Trails Nordic Ski Club. Notchview will also hold a 10-k race open to all on Feb. 28 at 10 a.m., with the 17th annual Bread n’Jam Ski Race March 6 at 10 a.m. Home-baked goods will be awarded as prizes. Cheshire’s Bret Bedard raced a few years ago at Notchview and for the Hoosac Valley High team for a year, when he won the state championship. Then he transferred to Stratton Mountain School and was recently chosen for the U.S. Team in the World Junior Championships at Stryn, Norway. Younger brother Steven is a freshman at Hoosac and is a strong member of the XC team, which has won the school title at all of the weekly races. Snowshoe racing is on the move, with the Western Mass Athletic Club holding weekly contests, including one at Northfield Mountain Saturday and one at Camp Saratoga in New York Feb. 14. Then there will be races at the Hawley State Forest Feb. 21; the Covered Bridge Race in Adams, Feb. 28; again at Hawley March 6 and the final event, the second annual Moby Dick Race March 14 in Lanesboro. For details, www.runwmac.com (click the snowshoe button). The second annual Curly’s Run Jan. 25 at Pittsfield State Forest drew the largest field of the winter, with 118 in action on a frigid morning. Richard Bolt of Manchester, N.H., was the overall winner in 28 minutes and 17 seconds. Kelli Lusk of Amherst was the top female and 11th overall in 36:38. Some 50 persons, many new to the sport, took part Saturday in a snowshoe demo staged by Bob Dion of Readsboro, Vt., who manufactures and sells Dion Snowshoes. The program was at Windsor Lake, where the running trails are busy spots for winter activities. The fun will continue tomorrow (Friday) evening at Sheep Hill in Williamstown, new home of the Rural Lands Foundation. Director Leslie Reed-Evans will guide visitors around the 55-acre property, once the hot place to ski before World War II when the Rosenburg family operated a rope tow. Refreshments will be served. And the Mountain Goat staff in Williamstown will lead a snowshoe trip to Bald Mountain in Bennington Sunday. Call 458-8445 for details. Most outdoor stores, including Saddle Ball on Main Street in North Adams (co-sponsor of the Windsor Lake demo) rent snowshoes these days. Last week’s column on legendary ski teacher Mike Catrambone contained two errors. Mike is 79, not 70. He left Drury High in his senior year after a stint on the football team to enlist in the Navy, where he was a gunner on a transport ship unloading troops during the invasion of France. And his early mentor, 10th Mountain Division veteran Gordon Lowe, now lives in North Hero, Vt., not far from Canada. Now in his 80s, Lowe no longer skis, but he still plays golf frequently at the Stowe Country Club, which he managed for years, along with the Spruce Peak Ski Area. Bill Lesser of Williamstown, who died in an auto accident in Naples, Fla., recently, was an amazing athlete at 87 and was a leader in the senior tennis league at Williams, as well as a stellar golfer. He frequently played tennis in the morning and then put in 9 or 18 on the Taconic Golf Course in the afternoon. He also played squash and started there when the Williams courts opened some 70 years ago. And Bill skied at Sheep Hill in 1935, the year before the tow was installed. Certainly the senior athlete of the past decade in Williamstown! For the younger set, the Oceola Park rope tow in Pittsfield will run weekends through February, as well as during vacation week. Call 499-9343. Add Butternut to the list of ski areas offering snow tubing, with several lanes open Friday from 4 to 8, weekends and holidays from 11 to 8. John Hitchcock of Williamstown writes frequently about the area sports scene.
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