MIDDLEFIELD, Conn. — With the mercury at 70 degrees Saturday in Middlefield, eager skiers pulled on their boots a full three weeks before the start of autumn at Powder Ridge Park, electrified at the prospect of being the first to glide their way down the 2,800-foot peak on a high-tech, snowless surface.
A conveyor brought enthusiasts to the top of a 500-foot run.
The artificial turf, manufactured by Yiippi GmbH365 in Switzerland, the first to be installed in the Northeast, uses plastic polymer fingers that provide a slippery surface without water, according to Powder Ridge. Skiing and boarding plus two tubing lanes will be available year-round, Hayes said.
“Not many people get the opportunity to say, ‘I skied in September,'” said a white-bearded man who identified himself only as Santa at the launch of the 365 Synthetic Snow Park. He was a jolly and ironic sight, clad in a vibrant blue Hawaiian shirt, peach and yellow leis, red shorts, candy cane knee-high socks and peach sneakers.
“It’s interesting to see how it’s going to play out,” said the ski instructor from Danbury who carries a business card that reads: “AKA Saint Nick, head cookie taster, hot chocolate connoisseur, reindeer trainer and snow lover.”
“This really was from the very beginning a part of our overall plan to make sure the resort was 12 months operational,” said Powder Ridge owner Sean Hayes just before the ribbon-cutting. “It was implementing a synthetic snow for skiing and tubing and boarding — because that is the core of the business model as far as sporting activities,” he said at the base of the “snow-covered” ridge where just as many children as adults queued up, eager to try out the run.
“The second part was making sure we had the mountain bike part. That we’ve extended and expanded dramatically this year with a whole new building crew on,” said Hayes, who also owns Brownstone Adventure Park at the Portland quarry.
“They’ve been working nonstop, so we’ve gone from four full-length trails all over the mountain,” Hayes added.
Saturday’s opening included a pig roast, demonstrations, free ski waxing and live music from the band Mixed Signals.
“I can’t stay away,” said Michael Arcand of Portland, who has been skiing since 1971. “This is a personal field of dreams,” he said. “I used to have a paper route so I’d get to the top of the hill and look over and the lights were on. I’ve been coming ever since.”
Arcand was the third person on the trail Wednesday, trying to work on his balance on a new surface, a common technique when hitting a new trail, he said.
Hayes supplemented the park’s offerings earlier this month with the FIT Challenge obstacle course.
“It’s been a challenge. It’s a risk for our investor base but they took the risk with me to ensure that the park had a long-term business plan that would work,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling to see it in place and operational.”
Advanced skier Tim Burns of Clinton has been enjoying the sport since 1980. “It’s good to get out in the winter,” he said. “So many people, they get cabin fever because they don’t do anything because it’s winter. So I say, ‘Get out. Do something: Go snowshoeing, go on a hike, get some boots, embrace it. Don’t complain about it,'” said Burns, who boasted about doing helicopters and spins years ago in high school. He’s since slowed down, he said, after “blowing out” his knee in 1994. “Now, it’s just smooth, fast, good snow,” Burns added.
When he heard about 365 coming to Powder Ridge, Burns said, he watched several YouTube videos to see what to expect. During the season, Burns will head to the ridge three or four times a week since he works five minutes away. “It works out great,” he said.
“It’s a very consistent surface. There are no ice spots. There are no holes. That’s the good part about it — you don’t have to worry about a rock. It’s all uniform,” Burns said, picking up a square of the white carpet “snow” and showing it off up close.
Typically this sort of surface is used for children, he said.
“What’s cool about it is, it’s September and we’re on a magic carpet ride,” said Rob Kovalesky of Danbury, who described himself as a Killington (Ski Resort) man.
“It’s warm. I’m usually at (Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre at Liberty University) down in Virginia,” said Mike Groginski, an instructor in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. “It’s quite a bit different — a little softer, a little bit faster,” he said. “You don’t get soaking wet while you’re out, which is cool.”
“I’ve skied it a couple times before with different skis,” said Tom Russell of Guilford, standing in line to get his skis waxed. “It’s a little different but I think the wax should make a difference. Right now, it’s grabbing, but that’s the surface.
“I like to call it a bristle block.”
For more information: The Register Citizen, www.registercitizen.com