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SKIING NOTEBOOK

Season's greetings in abundance

So far, the sky's the limit on slopes

Alternating bouts of big snow and heavy rain have done little to snuff out the pre-holiday optimism around the region's slopes and trails. Sundays in December have been snow days, only to be followed too quickly by Mother Nature's wet kisses.

When temperatures have allowed, ski areas have turned on the snowmaking systems to put back what she washed away.

"Mother Nature is doing a dance with us," said Colin Lawson, executive director at the Grafton Ponds Recreation Center in southern Vermont. "She's not sure whether she wants to be in winter mode yet."

Despite the wacky weather, ski areas for the most part have been able to battle back and make net gains in the base department, plus add terrain that normally isn't open until later in the season. Mad River Glen in central Vermont has picked up about 60 inches from this month's snowy blasts, opening trails with more depth than usual for this time of year.

"You can ski Mad River without rock skis in December," said area spokesman Eric Friedman.

Location is everything during the storms. A small area like Blue Hills in Canton can take a rainy hit and then get out the snowguns and blast away when the temperatures permit, while its big sister to the north, Ragged Mountain in Danbury, N.H., is nearly three-quarters open.

"There is a huge difference between the two," said Mark Pins, spokesman for the two areas. "Ragged is 100 miles north of Boston and got almost 2 feet more snow."

Lifted spirits

The last time the lifts ran at Crotched Mountain was 1989. But the southwestern New Hampshire mountain is bouncing back to life, with its opening tentatively slated for Saturday at noon. New owners have put lights on all 17 trails, cleared some gladed areas, widened the slopes, and added a 40,000-square-foot base lodge. Look for night skiing on select dates until 3 a.m. But check the website (www.crotchedmountain.com) before making the drive this weekend . . . Mount Abram in Locke Mills, Maine, also plans to open Saturday, with a new jib park and expanded lounge.

Park City on board

Park City, Utah, is the site of the US Snowboard Grand Prix, which runs through Sunday. Hannah Teter of Belmont, Vt., and Steve Fisher, winners in the season's first Vans Triple Crown last weekend in Breckenridge, Colo., will be competing in the superpipe along with Olympic champs such as Ross Powers, Danny Kass, J.J. Thomas, and Kelley Clark. On the slalom side, Chris Klug, Jasey Jay Anderson, and Alex Maier, brother of Austrian ski powerhouse Hermann Maier, will be riding for the podium. In yesterday's competition, Switzerland's Urs Eiselin won a men's parallel giant slalom and Japan's Tomoka Takeuchi took the women's race. Eiselin was assured of victory when Austria's Siegfried Grabner fell near the bottom of the course on the second of their two runs in the final round. Takeuchi edged Italy's Isabella Dal Balcon . . . Austrian Nicole Hosp was the fastest skier in both runs and won her first World Cup slalom race in Madonna de Campiglio, Italy. Hosp finished with a combined time of 1 minute 37.97 seconds on the steep Canalone Miramonti course, 0.29 seconds ahead of Sweden's Anja Paerson, who had won Tuesday's race. Marlies Schild, another Austrian, was 0.53 seconds back in third place. Two Americans finished in the top 10, as Sarah Schleper and Kristina Koznick tied for ninth, 1:39.95 behind the winner. "I heard Paerson was leading when I was at the start, and I said to myself, `I've really got to win this race,' " said Hosp, who had finished third Tuesday. It was Hosp's second career victory -- last season, she won a giant slalom on the Austrian glacier of Soelden -- and it moved her up to second place in the overall World Cup standings, 190 points behind Paerson. Paerson looked slightly unstable in her second run, and afterward said she was tired from a recent North American trip. The race was originally scheduled for the Slovakian resort of Vratna, but was moved because of a lack of snow. Last season's overall winner, Janica Kostelic, canceled her appearance as a forerunner because of knee pain, which could lead to surgery . . . In Monday's men's competition in Madonna De Campiglio, two-time Olympian Chip Knight cracked the top 10 for his third-best career World Cup time. The Stowe, Vt., skier raced a clean 1 minute 37.49 seconds on his second run in Monday's slalom under the lights for a 10th-place finish in a race won by Ivica Kostelic of Croatia.

Making tracks

Not since the days of Bill Koch has a US cross-country skier been off to such a stellar start on the World Cup circuit. Olympian Kris Freeman of Andover, N.H., races again this weekend in Ramsau, Austria, where a 10-kilometer and a 2-by-15K skiathlon are scheduled. Freeman finished sixth in a 30K mass-start freestyle competition in Dobbiasco, Italy, Dec. 6. A week later in Davos, Switzerland, he placed fifth in a 15K classic race, the first US cross-country World Cup top-five finish since 1984 . . . The Silver Session Freeski Jam and Demo is Saturday at Sunday River. Try before you buy at Loon's Demo Day Saturday. Young riders 16 and under can compete Sunday at Waterville Valley's Little Slammer Series. Wachusett will be crawling with Jeeps Saturday during its appreciation day (free tickets to Jeep owners), while Sunday is the Snowboard Kick-off Jam. Ski Mad River Glen midweek for $25 and a nonperishable food item through Christmas, by downloading a coupon at www.madriverglen.com. Saturday is Demo Day at Sugarbush, where on Christmas Day $5.50 lift tickets can be had to celebrate the Vermont area's 45th season.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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