Maine Roots

A blog about all things Maine


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Kickstarting Winter in Maine

It may seem ironic to suggest that Maine “comes alive” at this time of year, when leaves are falling, days are growing shorter, and most are thinking about getting out the electric blanket and hibernating for winter, but that is simply how I think of it.  Spring, with its fresh buds and abundance of mud, will be welcome when it arrives, but late fall and winter bring their own energy to the state.

Winter is for the people of Maine.  Oh, you’ll find a tourist here and there as well as the New Englanders from surrounding states who come to enjoy the skiing, but primarily, it is Mainers themselves who embrace what Maine has to offer in this season.  With the advent of the holidays and winter weather comes the opening of Sunday River and Sugarloaf, ski (and snowboard) sales like the big, annual Down East Ski Club’s 53rd Annual Ski Sale, prepping of snowmobile and cross-country ski trails, and more – all focused on opportunities to enjoy the rugged beauty of the Maine outdoors, even in the colder months.

On the heels of Small Business Saturday, I felt compelled to write a post highlighting some recently published, timely resources.  Maine’s small businesses are the economic engines of the state and provide most of the employment opportunities, so let’s continue to support them through this season and the full year!

First, it is the holidays and many people will be Christmas tree shopping in the coming weeks.  I’ve posted on this topic in years past, but this year I recommend checking out this list from MaineToday.com.

If you make it to Sugarloaf this season, be sure to stop in the new Burton Signature store and say hello to my brother, Ed, in between runs.  Snowboarders rejoice – a store of their own, right on the mountain!  In other news at the Loaf, this week is Locals’ Week – depending on your residence, you ski free through Friday!

Not far from the Loaf is the Rangeley Lakes area – an outdoorsman’s dream in the Maine winter.  Featuring Saddleback Mountain, snowmobile trails, ice fishing, and cross-country ski trails, it has something for everyone (including cozy cabins if you’d rather be inside with a book).

If you’re looking for good local Christmas shopping, look no further than renowned shopping hubs in the Old Port and Freeport.  A few of my favorite stores for holiday gifts: D. Cole Jewelers (husbands, take note); LeRoux Kitchen; and the Maine Potters Market. Other fun, local ideas: head into a craft brewery and grab a gift card, tee shirt, or six-pack for the beer lover in your life; take a tip from Northeast Whitewater and give the gift of a Maine experience (not to mention, studies show people who have experiences / travel / learn new things are happier than those who have an accumulation of goods); or for your skiers and boarders, check out this gift-giving guide.

The state of Maine has something to offer everyone.  When I reflect on the many things it’s given me, I feel truly blessed.

Happy holidays!

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Wife Carrying, anyone?

In my search for fall events and activities to share, I was reminded of the North American Wife Carrying Championship, hosted by Sunday River in Bethel, ME, and scheduled for October 11, 2014.  Now in its 15th year, this event offers both terrific entertainment and pretty appealing prizes.

I was most curious about the origins of this physical event, and Sunday River’s event listing provided the history I was looking for.  I did anticipate that it would be somewhat archaic.  Here’s what they have to say:

The legend behind the North American Wife Carrying Championship is based on 19th century Finnish legend “Ronkainen the Robber” who had high qualifications for the men he accepted into his band. To prove their worth, men had to compete through a difficult course with a heavy sack (or woman grabbed from neighboring villages) on their back.

Ah, the joys of womanhood.

Other sources of information such as Wikipedia and wife-carrying.org offer variations on this tale, but they all share the same root.

In 1991, Finland hosted their first modern-day wife carrying event, and admitted foreign contestants in 1995.  One of the “prizes” of winning the North American Wife Carrying Championship is entry into Finland’s World Championships held the following summer.  In addition, the lucky winning couple will take home the wife’s weight in beer and five times her weight in cold hard US dollars.

In summary, if I were in Maine, I’d want to check this event out, and even participate in it (don’t worry, Nick, I’m not volunteering you to carry me over obstacles at a run….yet).  I’m also pleased to report that my research revealed that I actually know one of the recent winners, who is a family friend.  Go Rocky!

Although this is the event title that caught my eye and intrigued me most, the charming town of Bethel, Maine, is a perfect example of what Maine has to offer in all four seasons.  October in this part of the state will be full of the vibrant colors of fall foliage, fall scents and activities (apple picking, fatty, delicious fair foods, and more), and all the busy preparations for winter’s rapidly-approaching ski season.

It’s worth noting that this wife-carrying event is just one component of the Fall Festival in Bethel, running on both October 11th and 12th.  Other events include outdoor concerts, the 31st annual Blue Mountain Arts & Crafts festival, Sunday River Sports pre-season sale, pony rides and games for kids, and a wine tent, among others.  This makes a great weekend trip to the mountains for the entire family!

Stay tuned for a forthcoming recipe entitled “Maine Party Chicken.”  It strikes me as a perfect football Sunday meal.  Perhaps if we all make it next Sunday, the Pats will win…


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A little ‘Spring’ in your step

It may not feel much like spring in Maine right now – despite Wednesday, March 20th, being the first official day of spring – after all, the state just received another 10-18 inches of snow, depending on your location, and there’s a potential for more in a storm system next week.  But, spring is here, and with it comes a blog post on spring activities in Maine.

Given the recent snowfall, spring skiing should be at the top of the priority list.  As temperatures start to rise, but the snow in the mountains remains, there are rarely better skiing days.  After bundling up for the slopes all winter, there’s nothing more enjoyable than feeling the sun on your face, wearing a fleece, and whipping down the mountain.  For great spring skiing, check out Sugarloaf USA, Saddleback, Sunday River, and more.

One of my favorite things about Maine is that there are four true seasons – you get a real spring, short summer, real fall, and a long winter – and these transitions bring special activities year round. As spring progresses, activities like hiking, gardening, and attending spring and early summer festivals get you outside and enjoying the warm weather.  Stay tuned for a post this week on the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, Maine.  Hiking, biking, and experiencing the great outdoors doesn’t get much better than in Acadia National Park.  Their extensive carriage trails provide manageable options for children and inexperienced cyclists as well as more challenging terrain for those looking for adventure.

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The end of spring, in June, brings a number of festivals that I want to mention briefly.  In June-July, you can celebrate Maine’s maritime tradition with at the Annual Heritage Days in Bath, Maine.  Also in June, the La Kermesse Franco-Americaine Festival in Biddeford offers an opportunity to celebrate and explore Maine’s Franco-American heritage.

To close on a personal note:

With spring comes mud season in Maine.  I remember describing this to my husband – the melting of the snow and frost, in combination with spring rain, and the results – deep, squishy, dirty mud.  Lots of it.  The defining image of mud season in my mind comes from my childhood – we lived in a white farmhouse at the end of a dead end road – and every spring, the mud would seep up between the walkway stones, making it impossible to venture from the car to the house without your feet being enveloped in it.  And every spring, my parents would set out a series of low, wooden bridges, made of 2-3 planks each, lifted about 4 inches off the ground, so that we could more easily (and cleanly) manuever from the car to the house.  I will remember the clattering noise of feet, planks, and stones all my life, I’m sure – as well as the childhood joy of leaping from set to set, making it more of a game than a walk.

So – may you enjoy the best of springtime in Maine, with mud kept to a minimum!


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Ski Maine

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!

Ski Maine!

Ski Maine!