One of the great early-season ski traditions here in the Northeast is "Santa Sunday" at Sunday River (207-824-3000; www.sundayriver.com) in Newry, Maine.

Imagine, if you will, 250 or more Santas in complete head-to-toe regalia, all skiing and snowboarding at the same ski area at the same time. Yup, it's smiles guaranteed.

It's usually scheduled for the first Sunday in December, and Marilyn and I try to get up every year as sort of our own unofficial kickoff to the holiday season. It really does put you in the spirit, especially when you consider that each Santa had to donate at least $10 to the Bethel Rotary Club's Christmas charity to participate.

In return (and for participating in the annual Santa photo, each Santa gets a ticket for Santa Sunday and a second ticket for another day on the slopes before Dec. 14.

It's not surprising that online registration for the full quota of 250 Santas took less than two minutes. Competition was fierce. But, somehow, 294 Santas got themselves registered.

We don't own Santa suits and would rather watch the Santas ski anyway. This was the first time we'd wished that Rudolph had joined the party. Parts of Maine were getting freezing rain that day as a warm front pushed in over entrenched colder air. But Sunday River had only thick, thick fog to contend with.

Skiing in the fog is a surreal experience. Everyone was skiing slowly and carefully, picking their way down fog-shrouded slopes. The snow was excellent, the visibility wasn't. It wasn't a day for long views. If you stopped at the side of the trail, you'd hear the swish of edges biting into what amounted to soft corn snow long before the skier or snowboarded slowly materialized in the mist. If it was a Santa, you'd smile as you watched them float on past.

If you weren't there, you missed an experience you wouldn't soon forget.

I'm writing this at the Summit Hotel at Sunday River. Groomers are working the slopes, the forecast calls for overnight clearing, most people have gone home to work and tomorrow should be an epic corduroy day. We'll be smiling even without Santas everywhere.

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WHO'S OPEN NOW?

The weather wizards are calling for a bout of warmer-than-normal temperatures this week. But man-made snow is durable stuff and the skiing this week and next weekend should be splendid. Here's where.

Massachusetts

Ski Butternut ( 413-528-2000; www.skibutternut.com) in Great Barrington.

Jiminy Peak (1-800-882-8859; www.jiminypeak.com) in Hancock.

Vermont

Bromley Mountain (800-865-4786; www.bromley.com) in Peru.

Killington (800-621-6867; www.killington.com) in Killington.

Mount Snow (800-245-7669; (www.mountsnow.com) in Dover.

Okemo Mountain Resort, (800-786-5366; www.okemo.com ) in Ludlow.

Stratton Mountain Resort (www.stratton.com ), in Stratton.

New York

Belleayre Mountain (845-254-5600; www.belleayre.com) in Highmount.

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HERE'S THE DEAL

On Dec.15: Okemo Mountain Resort, (www.okemo.com ) in Ludlow, Vt., has its Cares and Shares Food Drive. When skiers and snowboarders donate at least five non-perishable food items, a new child's toy or new clothing item, they get a full-day lift ticket for that day for $39.

Okemo is donating 100 frozen turkeys to the cause.

Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. He can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.