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.

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