Warm days delay Sugarloaf opening

Posted Nov. 20, 2009, at 6:27 p.m.

According to the original plan (which, of course, had to be OK’d by Mother Nature), Sugarloaf would have opened Friday, welcoming skiers and snowboarders to the winter wonderland.

And though the resort’s snowmaking staff did what it could to prepare for that self-imposed deadline, a week of warm weather has delayed the season opener for a bit.

“Right now it’s pouring rain,” Sugarloaf Communications Manager Ethan Austin said on Friday afternoon. “We are making snow whenever we get the chance. The last good shot at it we had was Wednesday night.”

Austin said snowmaking crews had been focusing their efforts on upper Tote Road, and a fairly good base was laid down.

“Then it warmed up, and we haven’t been able to make snow,” Austin said. “It looks like our next chance will be early next week. We hope to be making snow again Tuesday night.”

Austin said that the freezing point of water — 32 degrees — is the magic number for making snow, but snow guns can still produce the white stuff when temperatures are a degree or two warmer than that. The resort staff would like to see a nice cold snap, however.

“When you make snow at the higher temperatures it takes a ton of energy to do,” Austin said. “You need more air at higher pressure. So that uses up a ton more electricity.”

The snow that was made recently hasn’t all melted, even though the rain was falling and temperatures on upper Tote Road were in the 40s on Friday.

“It was so warm [when we made snow] that the snow we made was pretty thick and heavy,” Austin said. “It’s still there. So now once we get back into it, the snow [we make] won’t be landing on bare, warm ground. It’ll land on a pile of mush that we made and that will speed things up.”

Austin said the weather at Sugarloaf this week wasn’t what Carrabassett Valley residents have come to expect.

“This week was really weird. We had inversions almost every single day, which means that the temperatures are flipped,” he said. “It’s warmer aloft than down low.”

As a result, he said, when he hopped into his car — down in the valley — to head to work in the mornings, it was often 18 degrees or so.

By the time he got to his office near the SuperQuad lift, however, it would be 30.

“That was a little odd. That didn’t help whatever efforts we had going,” Austin said.

Austin said the resort doesn’t have a new target date in mind for its official opening, but it will open as soon as the weather cooperates. He said he still expects skiers to be making their first turns soon.

“We’re hoping to open late next week, if we can get the [lower] temperatures back. That’s still up in the air,” he said. “My personal opinion is Thursday or Friday.”

For updates on snowmaking efforts and the resort’s opening date, go to www.sugarloaf.com.

State receives valuable bear data

Back in 2008, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife began requesting a bit of help from bear hunters who were tagging their bruins.

Can you spare a tooth?

On Friday — after the second year of that information-gathering initiative — the DIF&W announced that 1,037 hunters, or 38 percent of all successful hunters, complied with that request during 2008, providing the department with the kind of valuable data they’ve been seeking.

Among the interesting facts gleaned thus far: The oldest bear taken in 2008 was a 28-year-old female, and the oldest male was 20 years old.

Older bears make up a smaller proportion of the harvest, according to a DIF&W news release. About one-third of the bears killed were 3 years old or older.

Hunters can find out how old their 2008-harvested bear was by going to the bear hunting page of the DIF&W’s Web site at www.mefishwildlife.com.

According to a DIF&W release, bear biologists expect to receive this year’s bear teeth from tagging stations by the end of the year and will have that data posted on the Web site next summer.

Jen Vashon, a wildlife biologist who serves as the DIF&W’s bear expert, said the data received will help the department learn a lot about the state’s population of black bears.

“The reason we collected the teeth is just to give us another way to track bear numbers,” Vashon said. “What’s nice about this is it comes from a statewide sample … We can’t have a telemetry study to cross the state. That’s one way we track the population — having a sample of the population that we monitor intensively [through] the telemetry. This allows us to estimate the number of animals across the state through the harvest.”

The state has a long-running telemetry project in which bears in three study areas — one in northern Maine, one Down East, and one in Bradford — are fitted with radio collars and regularly monitored by biologists. Vashon said between 75 and 90 bears are currently being studied in the telemetry project.

The new data gleaned from the donated teeth will begin to produce fruit in coming years, Vashon said.

“What it’s good for is it helps track trends. You need three to five years of data to come up with a baseline, first,” Vashon said. “Once we get that baseline, every year onward will help us monitor the trends. We will be able to continue to track and see if the population is increasing or decreasing.”

If the tooth information proves as helpful as Vashon thinks it might, it may also give the state the ability to tinker with or scale back the expensive telemetry work.

“If it turns out, the longshot of the whole thing is we might find that it may be a more affordable way of tracking the bear population than telemetry-based studies,” Vashon said. “We may need to keep a portion of the telemetry study but curtail it even further than we have.”

Fly tying symposium worth visit

If you’re an angler looking for a fun way to spend some time on Sunday, I’d highly recommend heading to the Brewer Auditorium for the annual Fly Tying Symposium.

The Penobscot Fly Fishers organize the event, which brings some of the state’s top tiers together and encourages interaction between exhibitors and attendees.

Most of the tiers are seasoned veterans, but there will be a few children ages 10 and under showing their skills during the symposium.

For those who already tie their own flies, the symposium is the perfect way to learn more and pick up some fly-tying material. If you’ve always wanted to try tying, stopping by one of the booths manned by a young tier may be all the inspiration you need.

The symposium runs from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, and admission is free. Lunch will be available for purchase.

If you have questions about the symposium, call Don Corey at 843-5634.

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