April 28, 2013

Skiing in Maine: Summer's no time for hibernation

By John Christie

Contrary to the perception that Maine's so-called winter recreation areas enter a state of suspended animation in the so-called "offseason," nowadays nothing could be further from the truth.

Many winter sports enthusiasts pack up their gear and head off for their summer pursuits, assuming once the lifts shut down, nothing's going to happen at their mountain until next season.

I remember in my days in the business years ago, more than one person would catch me on the slope on the last day of the season and say, "Well, John, now you can take the summer off." My answer, "HA!" accompanied by a disbelieving shake of the head.

Many of Maine's mountains have become virtual summertime beehives of activity, both in terms of recreation opportunities, and the constant and never-ending need to begin preparations for the next season and in the case of some, improvements and expansion.

There's an accepted truism that the millions spent to build ski areas can't be supported with only five or six months worth of business, and that the housing and other infrastructure must be made attractive and promoted for offseason use.

Although Maine's ski areas have come a little late to the party, they're now leading the pack in respect to imaginative summer programs.

I say late because a full 40 years ago, when I was running a ski resort in southern Vermont, we introduced Learn-to-Golf Weeks as counterparts to our popular Learn-to-Ski Weeks, filling some of our hotel rooms. We even hosted a Rod Laver Tennis Camp and, one year, a Joe Namath Football Camp.

Here's just a sampling of the fun you can have all summer at some of Maine's mountains:

Two of the best and most honored golf courses in the East, if not in the country, just happen to be at Maine's largest ski resorts, Sunday River and Sugarloaf. And on the latter track in Carrabassett Valley, ranked the No. 1 course in Maine again this year by Golf Digest magazine, you'll be able to watch the best young golfers in America compete in the Coca Cola AIGA Junior Championship, July 28-31. If disc golf is your choice, you can try the nine-hole spread added last summer at Sunday River, or romp on its Bungee Trampoline. Work continues there on its Kid's Adventure Trail, where you'll find a family-friendly hike that features a stop at Sunday River's mascot's house if the kids want to see where Eddy the Yeti lives.

If you want to see mountain bike racers at their best, there are three Eastern States Cup events at Sunday River: the Maine State Enduro Championship on Aug. 4, the Eastern State Cup SuperD race on Sept. 21 and the Maine State Downhill Championship on Sept. 22.

Obviously, mountain biking has become the summer activity from the Camden Snow Bowl to the western slopes. The reasons, of course, are clear: great terrain, uphill transport when appropriate and plenty of accommodations.

The Carrabassett Region chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association maintains more than 40 miles, including four miles of newly built new purpose trails. Regular organized group rides, trail work days and workshops happen all summer. Just check out www.carrabassett.nemba.org.

The folks at Sugarloaf have announced a new offering for the summer: The Outpost, where information on local activities and equipment rentals, including stand-up paddleboards and kayaks, is available. Zipline tours and scenic lift rides will be available, along with a new and unique offering, off-road Segway tours.

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