Many things about Maine make it an incredible place to grow up. Living there teaches you to be tough without being hard, to be self-sufficient and still neighborly, to work hard, but know when to call it quits and enjoy your home and family. There are many reasons I believe the place and the people gave me these traits, and one of them is the seasons – the hard winters, muddy springs, humid summers, crisp falls. Each season brings its own challenges as well as its pleasures, and at this time of year, winter sports are the highlight.
I grew up skiing Sugarloaf, Shawnee Peak, and Saddleback Mountain. I’ve skied Sunday River too, but in the battle between The Loaf and The River, Sugarloaf gets my vote. Each of these mountains offers something unique to the winter sports enthusiast.
Shawnee Peak, a small mountain in Bridgton, Maine, was a short, 45-minute drive from my house, making it an easy weekday or weekend trip. My dad took us frequently as kids, and later, once we could drive ourselves, Eddie and I would head up there often. The mountain has a limited number of trails due to its size, making it a great place for a beginner – there are plenty of options with gradually-increasing difficulty. My favorite thing about Shawnee Peak is the night skiing – there is something incredibly freeing about slicing through snow, flying down the mountain, with the dark all around you and just a bit of lighting. In addition, Shawnee Peak offers a comfortable, local vibe both on the slopes and in its restaurant, Blizzards Pub and today, they’re celebrating 75 years. Congrats!
I learned to ski at Sugarloaf, and my brother works there now at the ski shop and The Bag. Sugarloaf has undergone immense change and growth during the years since my childhood – so much so that I scarcely recognized it the last time I was there – but it has an undeniably special place in my heart. I’ve always felt that Sugarloaf is quintessentially Maine – with friendly staff, great hospitality, plenty of activities for skiers, boarders, tubers, and even golfers in the summer time. The organization’s commitment to growth and quality improvement is also evident. Sugarloaf offers a variety of lodging and dining options, not to mention a huge variety of trails with different degrees of difficulty. The mountain is the largest ski area east of the Rockies, with 1,153 skiable acres and 14 lifts. Maybe I can convince my brother to write a Sugarloaf-specific post in the future!
Despite my fond childhood memories of Sugarloaf, Saddleback Mountain is easily my favorite mountain in Maine. At Saddleback, I finally learned how to successfully ride the t-bar – with another person and by myself. At Saddleback, I tried snowboarding for the first (and last) time. The years my family spent going up to Saddleback during February vacations were formative for me – I was a pre-teen and then a teen, finally old enough to be given greater independence to ski where I’d like, without supervision, and I embraced it. Saddleback didn’t intimidate me, because at the time they only had two lifts and 3 t-bars, and in no time at all, the mountain felt like home to me. Even today, Saddleback is recognized for being “different” from other ski resorts in Maine – it is in a class of its own – it may not be the biggest, with the most lifts, the most trails, the most restaurants – but it is unique, welcoming, and all about the outdoor sports enthusiast’s experience.
For a full list of Maine ski areas, check out this page from the Maine Office of Tourism. So get out there, and ski Maine!