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Spring skiing in Wolfeboro

Friends of Abenaki help secure a few more days on the slopes

by Joshua Spaulding
Sports Editor - Granite State News, Carroll County Independent, Meredith News, Gilford Steamer, Winnisquam Echo, Plymouth Record-Enterprise and Baysider

WITH PLENTY of snow still left, Abenaki Ski Area has one more day of operation. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
April 07, 2014
WOLFEBORO — Bill Swaffield has been skiing at Abenaki Ski Area for a long time.

Like many, he remembers years when the town-owned ski area couldn't even open because of the lack of snow.

So the thought of being able to ski until mid-April is kind of a strange one.

Nonetheless, that's just what is happening this year, as the Friends of Abenaki, of which Swaffield is a member, donated some of the proceeds from the ski area's snack shack to the Parks and Recreation Department to help fund a couple of extra Saturdays of skiing.

"We were talking about how great the snow was and how much was left and about other ski areas staying open (longer)," Swaffield said.

Abenaki closed down on March 29, as the Wolfeboro Parks and Recreation sets the budget and planned on the area only being open until the end of the month.

"The only reason we closed was because of the budget," Parks and Recreation Director Ethan Hipple said, noting that the staffing, fuel for the groomer and power for the lodge and tow rope are among the things that contribute to the budget of the ski area.

"The Friends of Abenaki asked what it would take to help support staying open," Hipple said.

With the large amount of snow the area received this year and the snowmaking system that Friends of Abenaki had installed just a few years ago, there was still plenty of snow on the slopes above the Pop Whalen Arena.

Swaffield credited FOA member Peter Cole with the idea, noting that for the group, it was kind of a no-brainer.

"If he (Hipple) wants to be open and can be open, it's good publicity for the ski area and for the Friends of Abenaki," Swaffield said.

And Hipple was quick to point out that the numbers so far this season support staying open, even if it is just for a couple extra days.

"Every Saturday in March we had more than 100 visits," Hipple said, noting that number has been trending upward. "Everyone's coming out."

The season has produced more than 6,700 skier visits, which is up from more than 5,500 last season.

"It's been the best season since we started to keep track," Hipple said. "It's been an awesome year for us."

Hipple noted that the Abenaki staff was able to make snow even on some of the back trails and they also worked to make snow on a couple of the cross-country trails during the winter, adding to the abundance of the white stuff.

Because of all that, even the back trails are still open as the ski area prepares for a couple of final days of action.

The town-owned ski hill played host to Abopalooza for the second year in a row and added events to the freestyle competition, including two aerials competitions and a slopestyle competition. That was all possible because of the abundance of snow.

"You can't build those kind of elements without a lot of snow," Hipple said.

With the success of the season, the Friends of Abenaki were excited to support the additional days, but the group also wanted to make sure they weren't taking money away from the newest fundraising project, which is for a new base lodge for the ski area.

The proceeds from the concessions sold in the Abenaki lodge go to the Friends of Abenaki and the group decided to donate a portion of those funds to the Parks and Recreation Department to pay for the staff and everything needed to be open a couple days.

"They're' taking some of that money to help extend the season," Hipple said.

The lodge project, which is slated to be the next major improvement to the ski area, continues to move along, Swaffield noted. The money that has been raised in support of that project remains earmarked for that project as the Friends prepare for the much-needed addition to Abenaki.

Hipple noted the lodge continues to be a need, particularly as the number of visitors to the ski area continues to increase each and every winter. The department has partnered with SkiWorks of West Ossipee to start a rental program and those numbers have been increasing as well. In that arrangement, the department and the ski shop share the revenue for the rentals.

"That's been growing as well," Hipple said, noting that the new lodge will eliminate the need for the many small buildings at the bottom of the ski area and will provide housing for the rental program as well as a comfortable place for people to warm up while enjoying a day of skiing.

Hipple went on to praise both SkiWorks and Wolfeboro's Nordic Skier for their continued support of Abenaki as the ski area continues to move forward and grow.

And for longtime skiers like Swaffield, the fact that the town-owned ski area will be open in mid-April is a wonderful feeling.

"It's a great turnaround," Swaffield said.

"We're pretty excited," Hipple added.

Abenaki will be open to skiers and riders on Saturday, April 12, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. If bad weather threatens on Saturday, Hipple advises residents to check the town web site at www.wolfeboronh.us/abenaki for details. With bad weather, the ski day would be moved to the next day, Sunday, April 13.

Additionally, Abenaki will be hosting its first "Climb and Grind Rail Jam" event on April 19. The rope tow will be closed, but staff are going to use the remaining snow to build a rail garden at the base of the mountain and skiers and riders will be free to hike the hill and tackle the obstacles, free of charge. The area will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the rail jam, with a $10 charge and prizes available, will be taking place from 2 to 3 p.m.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or sportsgsn@salmonpress.com

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