Aroostook County race organizers to make artificial snow

Posted Jan. 12, 2011, at 5:13 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:38 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Ironically, as folks in southern New England and even the deep South are digging out from major snowstorms, organizers of the coming World Cup biathlon races in Aroostook County this week are gearing up to make artificial snow.

The races are set to begin in Presque Isle on Feb. 4 and in Fort Kent on Feb 10. With no major snowstorms in the forecast for northern Maine and minimal existing snow pack on the ground, organizers have no choice but to make snow so the athletes will have enough on which to ski.

“We pulled the trigger on snowmaking yesterday,” Jeff Dubis, chief of competition at 10th Mountain Lodge in Fort Kent, said Tuesday. “We are going to start Thursday and stockpile it at a private residence near the venue.”

Fort Kent will use the existing snowmaking equipment at Lonesome Pine Ski Lodge for its artificial base, but Presque Isle was forced to go out of town, despite the presence of snowmaking machines in Mars Hill.

“The snowmaking equipment at Big Rock [in Mars Hill] was already in use, and we needed machines to produce a high volume of snow,” David Cambridge, chief of competition at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle, said Wednesday. “Our equipment is coming up from New York.”

Cambridge said the two leased machines — he declined to specify the cost — are capable of producing 1,500 cubic yards of snow every 24 hours.

“We are looking to make 10,000 yards of snow for a 10- to 12-inch base covering the whole course,” he said.

That, Cambridge said, works out to 500 truckloads of snow that will need to be taken from the proposed snowmaking site several miles from the venue.

“There is a plan to truck it that involves 10 or 12 trucks and three groomers on site,” he said.

Dubis said the crew in Fort Kent will need to make enough snow to cover just under 2.5 miles of trail plus the stadium and penalty loop — about 10,000 cubic yards.

Volunteers then will get the snow from Lonesome Pine to the biathlon trails and stadium just over the hill.

Jane Towle, chief of media for the Presque Isle races said a combination of contracted dump trucks and old-fashioned hard work will get the manufactured snow to the ski trails.

The irony of the situation is not lost on her.

“In November we had those early snowfalls and were rushing around to get things done so we wouldn’t have to be outside doing it in 2 feet of snow,” Towle said. “At one point we had 26 inches of snow on the ground, [and] now we have zero.”

Once the snow is spread on the trail, it’s up to people like Mike Paradis, Fort Kent’s chief groomer, to prepare it for cross-country skiing.

“The snow has to sit for three or four days after it’s made to get the moisture out of it,” Paradis said. “Then I groom it just like natural snow, and the final result will be just as good.”

Paradis used to groom ski trails in Colorado where man-made snow was often combined with natural snow early in the ski season.

“I have experience with the two kinds of snow,” he said.

Manmade snow does tend to pack harder, creating a faster trail, Paradis said, which could make for some fast race times.

For now, organizers in both towns are keeping their eyes skyward, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

“We had a similar plan for the 2005 Olympic trials when they were held here,” Dubis said. “We were ready to make the snow, and we got a 39-inch snowstorm. If that could happen this time, I’d do back flips.”

According to the National Weather Service’s seven-day forecast, Aroostook County is looking at periods of snow showers with little accumulation.

“One way or another we will make it work,” Cambridge said. “This will be a great event.”

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