skiing

A Winter Without Snow

By Amy Miller

The lack of snow is a challenge for ski hills around New England, but it is a catastrophe for my backyard ski hill. When I trek five minutes up the hill behind my house I find myself magically at the top of a ski hill with a working ski lift. But there is no rental department, no ski school, and most importantly right now, no snow making. In fact, the hill gets groomed by a snowmobile attached to some rakes or something. When there is snow.

I live in the middle of a village in the part of Maine that real Mainers consider Massachusetts. But somehow, through the hard work a few very handy ski fanatics and the dedication of a few dozen local volunteers, our little town has its own little ski hill. Life tickets? $5 a pop. Beat that. When there is snow.

Powderhouse Hill trails flank an 800-foot rope tow that takes you to a 175-foot vertical elevation. At the top, you are rewarded with a view of bucolic New England. For adventurous young whippersnappers there is a glade run that sends you slaloming between the trees. When there is snow.

The hardest part is that good old fashioned rope tow. Parents with little kids drag them between their legs, and every one of us is challenged to find gloves that last the season. Even with free duct tape disbursed at the lodge, most gloves can’t withstand the friction. And by dark, even the strongest skiers complain about their arm muscles. When there is… ok, you get the picture.

True, skiing can be controversial among environmentalists. It involves clearing trees, creating snow out of precious water and producing energy to move people continuously back to where gravity can do its work. But Powderhouse does not make artificial snow and since it sits in the village, its a sensible use of open space.

As far as energy, the engine that powers the tow sits behind a 1938 rusted out pickup. A drive wheel off the truck’s back spins the rope, although the town bought a new four-cylinder engine years ago.

The slope has provided a friendly learning ground since the 1950s when the Hardy brothers built it on a willing landowner’s parcel. Since then, the town bought the 15-acre site and as the website says, “In these days of unknown weather, every day the hill operates is a good one.”

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the Public Affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Sunny Slopes – Ski Safely!

By Julie Kunrath

Pausing at the top of the ski slope, you look down to take in the magnificent view—a scattering of white-dusted trees, rocky peaks glowing on the horizon, powdery snow begging for fresh tracks…

…and high levels of ultraviolet radiation reflecting back at you.

Where’s your sunscreen?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun isn’t just a summer concern. Sunburns happen year-round, and sun protection is especially important for winter sports, since UV radiation reflects off snow. Because of this reflection, UV intensity can be deceptively high, even in the shade. In addition, UV radiation increases with altitude because there is less chance for the atmosphere to absorb the sun’s rays. Skiing at 8,000 feet certainly offers epic views, but it also exposes you to the invisible danger of UV radiation.

As an avid skier, my father put my siblings and me on skis at an early age. Following many of my childhood skiing adventures, I remember the infamous “goggle tan”—a distinct white mask surrounded by red skin. Back then, I was just embarrassed to have a “raccoon face.” Today I understand this was a sign of overexposure to UV radiation. This was a sunburn, an indication of damaged skin and a risk factor for future skin cancer.

As the most common cancer in the U.S., skin cancer is no light matter. Every hour, one American dies from skin cancer. The good news is that skin cancer is preventable with simple sun safety strategies, like sunscreen. As a tough man of the mountains, my dad never wore sunscreen when he skied, so neither did I. I didn’t wise up until a few years ago when my older brother handed me a sunscreen bottle while gearing up for a ski day. Sometimes older brothers know best.

My advice for all snow worshippers: keep a small bottle of sunscreen in the pocket of your winter jacket. Make sure it’s broad spectrum with SPF 30 or higher. pic of UV Widget Slather it on your exposed skin before you hit the slopes and every two hours thereafter. Lift rides or hot chocolate breaks in the lodge are good times to reapply. Your eyes are just as sensitive to sun damage as your skin; protect them with sunglasses or ski goggles that have 99–100% UVA/UVB protection. You can also check the UV Index for a forecast of the day’s UV intensity. Who wants a raccoon face anyway?

About the author: Julie Kunrath is an ASPH Fellow hosted by the SunWise program in the Office of Air and Radiation in DC.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.