February 20, 2011

Skiing in Maine: Glade skiers have many reasons to be grateful

By JOSH CHRISTIE

The sign at the entrance to Brackett Basin, phase one of a new terrain expansion at Sugarloaf, is the first signal you're about to do a whole different kind of skiing.

click image to enlarge

Larry Ross skis Saddleback’s Casablanca glade, which opened last winter.

2010 Press Herald file

SPOTLIGHT ON SKI AREAS

FIVE FIELDS FARM, SOUTH BRIDGTON

HOW BIG: A total of 27 kilometers in Nordic trails that creep through apple orchards and conservation lands.

WHY IT'S COOL: It's quiet around Bald Pate Mountain, and this is a hot spot for sled dog teams. Anyone who loves pups will enjoy that.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT: This farm and ski area partners with the local land trust to offer a bigger trail system.

TICKETS: From $8 after 2 p.m. to $12 for an adult full-day ticket.

LIFT HOURS: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

HOW FAR: 71 miles from Augusta; 145 miles from Bangor; 40 miles from Portland

CONTACT: 647-2425; www.fivefieldsski.com

-- From staff reports

"Skiing and snowboarding in Sugarloaf Mountain's gladed terrain requires good judgment and personal awareness," begins the sign. Along with warnings about challenging terrain and being sure to enter the glades with other skiers, the sign warns that most of the terrain is left in its natural state, and unmarked hazards include "cliffs, rocks, fallen trees and avalanche hazards."

It's not exactly "abandon hope all ye who enter here," but it is a good sign that Sugarloaf's new experts-only terrain is serious business.

Opened for the first time on January 19th, Brackett Basin is the first phase of a three-part plan to expand Sugarloaf's terrain over the next decade. When completed, phase one will offer 270 acres of tree skiing along Sugarloaf's eastern boundary, dropping skiers from the bottom of the snowfields all the way to the base of the mountain.

In the next 10 years, Sugarloaf will expand its skiable terrain to neighboring Burnt Mountain. By 2020, the Carrabassett Valley resort promises a second above-treeline summit for skiers and some 655 acres of glades. The new terrain will be "sidecountry" skiing, with access from Sugarloaf's lifts differentiating it from true back country.

Though the expansion is one large interconnected glade, the trail map splits the area into four distinct trails. Along with Cant Dog (formerly the easternmost route down the mountain), the runs Birler, Sweeper and Edger are named by the mountain. The three new additions to the trail map take their names from logging terms, just like the rest of Sugarloaf's 134 trails.

As someone who has skied skirting the resort's eastern boundary since Cant Dog's unveiling nearly a decade ago, I was surprised by how much the expansion has opened up the area. While Sugarloaf's glades have always been fairly tight (an attribute shared by most Eastern tree skiing), the clearing done this summer created many more paths for skiers and snowboarders to take through the trees. Generally speaking, the trees are still pretty close together -- this is New England, after all -- but there are far more options to get from point A to point B.

The new clearing also provides easy access to some 10- to 20-foot cliffs in Brackett Basin. These features were technically accessible in prior years, but you had to be "in the know" to bushwhack your way to them. Now, these incredible drops are simply part of the glade. Be sure to keep your eyes open for the big orange "CLIFF" signs.

Sugarloaf isn't the only mountain in New England that's been expanding glades recently. The Camden Snow Bowl has added a number of new glades as part of its 6.5 million dollar rebuilding program. Loon Mountain in Lincoln, N.H., added 15 more acres of glades this season, along with a "natural" terrain park built with materials pulled from the surrounding woods.

Saddleback was particularly ambitious with its gladed terrain, opening Casablanca last winter. A massive 44-acre playground for skiers and snowboarders, Casablanca offers a mix of tight chutes and fairly wide open steeps. It's a large part of the Kennebago Steeps, which the resorts boasts is "the largest steep skiing and riding facility in the East," with a dozen top-to-bottom black diamond and double-black diamond runs with no mixing with lower level trails.

But this new terrain popping up all over New England won't do you any good if you don't know how to ski or ride in the glades. It's a whole different skill set than riding traditional terrain, and I asked an expert how to approach the east's brand of tree skiing.

(Continued on page 2)

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