All too often, Saddleback is mentioned as an afterthought alongside Maine’s two biggest resorts, Sugarloaf and Sunday River. Frankly, the Rangeley resort deserves a bit more credit than that.

Saddleback has always been a big mountain (one of the highest peaks in Maine, in fact), and has seen impressive improvement since the Berry family bought the resort in 2004. And it’s not just the experts-only Kennebago Steeps that should draw skiers – some of the biggest improvements have come in Saddleback’s beginner-friendly base area and ski school, making it appealing to new skiers and riders. Throw in some food and apres in the base lodge (and nearby Rangeley proper) and the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center for XC and snowshoeing, and you’ve got a resort worthy of a weekend or weeklong vacation.

When to go: On Feb. 19, the ski patrol’s annual Torchlight Parade winds down the Grey Ghost, which you can watch cozily from the base lodge (or you can volunteer to be a part of the parade, if you’re so bold). Saddleback’s season runs through mid-April, putting it on the later end of Maine’s closings. Spring skiing is killer in Saddleback’s snowfields and upper glades in a good snow year, and the outlook is promising for 2015 considering the recent weather.

Three runs not to miss:

It’s a hike to get to, but Muleskinner is worth the leg-burning effort to reach. Skirting along Saddleback’s eastern boundary, it’s a steep, narrow chute that holds onto drifting snow for days.

 Instead of going left from the top of Kennebago Quad, a right onto America takes skiers along the mountain’s western boundary. The winding black diamond drops skiers onto the green Hudson Highway, which carries all the way to the lodge for Saddleback’s longest run.

 Grey Ghost is Saddleback’s version of Exhibition, an intermediate series of headwalls in decent view of both the Rangeley Chair and the base lodge.

Food

In the classic tradition of New England ski areas, Saddleback has a full -stocked cafeteria in its base lodge. Fine dining it’s not, but you get your pick of breakfast sandwiches or even a full a la carte breakfast in the morning, and pizza, burgers, pasta and other fresh-off-the-grill comfort food for lunch. Upstairs in the lodge, the Swig ‘n Smelt Pub is a more traditional restaurant experience, with a full bar, table service and a menu made up of burgers, nachos and some killer poutine. On the mountain, a yurt (“Kennebago Station”) has a smaller menu of food and drinks.

Beer

Sebago Brewing Company, part of the old(er) guard of Maine’s craft brewers, brews a lager called “Saddleback Ale” that can be found in the Swig ‘n Smelt. Though it’s an ale, its roots are in European lagers, and retains the crisp bite, low alcohol and drinkablilty of its antecedent. New to the beer scene is Farmington’s Tumbledown Brewing, which skiers will pass on Route 27 on their way to Saddleback. Brewer and owner Matthew Swan is on Saddleback’s ski patrol.

Apres

On the mountain, apres pretty much starts and stops at the lodge. The pub upstairs stays lively after the lifts stop turning, and there’s live entertainment on Saturday evenings (and during vacation weeks). New this season is fireside dining on the main level on Friday and Saturday nights. The reservations-recommended affair features a special menu from Saddleback chef Patrick Friel, formerly of the Bethel Inn, the Grand Summit Hotel and Loon Lodge. Evenings are sedate in nearby Rangeley, though the Moose Alley bowling alley has bowling, billiards and an arcade, and stays open later than most other options in town.

Other than skiing/boarding?

If you tire of downhill options (or if the region’s legendarily fierce winds shut down the lifts), the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center is home to 55 kilometers of mapped trails for skiing and snowshoeing. All the trails depart from the Center’s rustic yurt lodge, where you can also procure rentals, trail passes and food. If human-powered exploring isn’t your bag, the Lakes Region is home to endless miles of snowmobile trails. Bring your own sled, or rent one at the Sam-O-Set Four Seasons on South Shore Drive in Rangeley. There’s also Haley Pond, a lighted outdoor ice rink.

Lodging

If you’re looking to put as much time on the slopes as possible, your best bet is one of Saddleback’s on-mountain condos. The South Branch and Mountain Brook complexes both offer skier access to the South Branch Quad, and fully equipped (read: WiFi, fireplaces and full kitchens) one-, two- and three-bedroom rentals starting at just over $100 per person per night. The four-bedroom rentals at Magalloway Lodges sleep up to 10. In nearby Rangeley, options for inns, motels and B&Bs abound, like the charming themed rooms of Loon Lodge (starting at $110/night). Many on- and off-hill rentals offer ski-and-stay packages, so don’t hesitate to ask in pursuit of cheaper lift tickets.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be contacted at:

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