Once again it's time for skiing's annual ''feast or famine'' question: Will there be snow for the holidays? This year, it looks like ''feast'' in the West and ''famine'' in the East.
I just returned from Colorado where they're having one of the best early seasons in recent history. Nearly everything is open, and the skiing is terrific. The only problem with snow is keeping it off the roads and runways so that people can get to the mountains.
''As far as I know, there isn't one room available in all of the valley for Christmas week,'' said Keystone (Colo.) senior Vice-President Jerry Jones. In fact, Jones was voicing hope that his sewage treatment system would be up to the challenge of the anticipated skier onslaught. Keystone opens the world's highest capacity gondola (2,400 skiers per hour) Saturday.
In the Cascades of the Northwest and in the California Sierras the reports are also of lots of snow and a great start to the ski season. But flying back to the East is like flying from winter into spring.
''Who would have expected spring in December?'' said a spokesperson for the first ''downhill'' ski races to be held on Boston Common, slated for this afternoon and evening. ''But there will be an event,'' said a determined Mary Bennett, whether it's on the machine-made snow originally planned or on a huge reserve of crushed ice the sponsors have frantically assembled.
Called ''CitySki,'' the commercially-backed idea was to transform the Common with its twinkling Christmas lights into a skiing wonderland for city folk who know little about skiing. There are to be free rentals of skis, boots - everything - plus top ski instructors who will give free lessons off a ''slope'' shaped from scaffolding built on Monument hill.
Among the celebrities committed to race are former local sports stars Bobby Orr, John Havlicek, and Jim Lonborg, plus skiers Billy Kidd, Bill Koch, and Kiki Cutter.
Meanwhile, up north even the massive snowmaking system of giant Killington in central Vermont was impotent for several days in balmy air. Spokesperson Dick Courcelle called it ''a waiting game.'' As soon as temperatures drop below freezing, all the upgraded, higher-capacity snowmakers and snow grooming machines in the north country go full tilt.
Generally, Christmas week bookings appear to be holding in New England, despite the weather. Stowe remains ''booked solid,'' according to a spokesperson. Around Killington, there are a lot of vacancies but not many cancellations. People don't want to lose their deposits, of course. And with new indoor sports centers, shopping plazas, and improved snowmaking at a number of ski resorts, skiers know they can do more than just look forlornly out the window it if doesn't snow. Cup races, US team off to slow starts
The US East has nothing on the Alps when it comes to lack of snow. Only two of the first 13 World Cup races have been held at the site and time scheduled. Meanwhile, the men's and women's circuits chase after snow, trying to find a mountain where they can race.
Defending champions Pirmin Zurbriggen and Erika Hess of Switzerland held leads after the early races. But Marc Girardelli of Luxembourg (via Italy) was pressing Zurbriggen hard with strong giant slalom performances. Sweden's great Ingemar Stenmark could manage a mere three points (a 13th) in the first four races.
World Cup television commentator Hank Kashiwa likes Girardelli's talent but thinks the overall technical skills of Zurbriggen will prevail.
Meanwhile, the US team continues to have its problems. With budget and fund raising steadily shrinking, the men's slalom and giant slalom skiers were recalled to the States to race in the North American (Nor-Am) December series in the East. The American World Cup downhillers meanwhile had to wait until last Saturday before they could find enough snow to race. Then on a tough technical course at Val Gardena, Italy, the best their superstar Olympic gold medalist Bill Johnson could do was a 23rd. However, Doug Lewis finished ninth.
''That will have a calming effect on Billy's mouth,'' says Steve Mahre, who retired with his twin brother Phil this year after leading the US team to World Cup, World Championship, and Olympic victories in recent years. The Mahres have not shown much patience with either Johnson's demands for more money or some of his wise-guy, outspoken antics. But Steve also expresses respect for Johnson's talent and his ability to buckle down and do what has to be done.