A member of the UMF ski team, David Berthiaume. (Courtesy of David Berthiaume)

By Lorraine Jabine – Staff Writer

The lack of snow and mild temperatures at the beginning of the season was predicted to make for a slow start for The University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) ski team. Due to the shortage of natural snowfall, mountains relied heavily on man-made snow and this could cause problems because the ideal temperatures for snowfall and snowmaking varying from just-above freezing to just-below freezing.

Currently there is no solid base on the trails, making for icy conditions due to the rain. Local mountains, such as Sunday River, Sugarloaf, and Saddleback have all been tremendously affected by the conditions this season. Even Farmington’s own mountain and home to UMF’s ski team, Titcomb, has suffered as well.

The UMF Ski Team began training in late December of 2011 at Titcomb, but found it difficult to conduct a complete practice due to the snow shortage. “We were unable to practice gates until after Christmas because of the lack of snow depth, which affected our ability to be in top shape for our first races,” said David Berthiaume, a skier for UMF.

The cold temperatures and rain have made skiers more susceptible to falls due to the ice. Although skiing in the east has always been hazardous due to icy conditions, this season has seemed to trigger more accidents on the slopes. The earlier races for the ski team were more challenging, making for ruddy and icy courses, containing a lot of unnatural snow, causing racers to fall and become disqualified.

The New Year brought more snow for skiers and ski resorts across New England, which worked in favor for the UMF Ski Team. “With the recent steady snow fall, practices are now in full swing. They consist of setting up the course, taking laps throughout the course and practicing technical skills needed to succeed in a race. They vary between an hour and a half to two hours,” said Sam Ricker, also a skier for UMF.

“Titcomb is now covered with plenty of man made snow making for loose granular conditions for skier racers,” a local employee at the mountain said. Titcomb is a smaller mountain so it doesn’t take as long for trails to be covered and groomed with snow.

Most races for the UMF Ski Team consist of four teams, which are included in the Renold’s Division; therefore, races can be quite small. Events consist of slalom and giant slalom. If the racer completes the first run they are entitled to a second run; however, if a gate is missed or a fall is taken, the racer is then disqualified. “Many racers have fallen and become disqualified this season due to ice, but the conditions have overall been improving,” said Berthiaume.

UMF Ski Racers look forward to the competition that is brought forth from the sport. “Bates [College] brings a lot of challenging competition with many skilled skiers. They always come prepared to ski fast,” said Ricker.

The UMF Ski Team must beat all race teams within the divisions to qualify for finals. “The snow has finally picked up and we are now skiing to the best of our ability, which hopefully will put us into nationals,” said Josh Cooley, a racer for UMF. This year nationals will be held at Sugarloaf, against teams from all over the nation. “I have skied 44 times this seasons, and the lack of snow still hasn’t stopped me. If you’re passionate enough about the sport, you’ll be on the slopes regardless of the conditions,” said Berthiaume.