Saturday, March 8, 2014
By John Christie
Despite Maine's storied ski history, its ski areas have never received the national recognition that many of us think they deserve. Until now.
This year, in three assessments and popularity polls conducted by the country's leading ski publications, three of Maine's mountains are front and center in the national spotlight.
The winning trifecta first came to the attention of the national ski world when the October issue of Ski magazine hit news stands in early fall with its annual ranking of the country's Top 50 Resorts, as rated by its readers in a nationwide survey.
To the delight of Maine skiers as well as Boyne Resorts, the owner and operator of both Sunday River and Sugarloaf, the state's two largest areas were ranked No. 2 and No. 4 in the East. There wasn't a single U.S. ski area in the region ranked ahead of Sunday River, as only Mont Tremblant in Quebec received more votes. Sunday River, in fact, took first place in the grooming category, beating every other ski area in the opinion of survey respondees. And in the "challenge" category, Sugarloaf trailed only Mad River Glen and Jay Peak as one of the top three areas in the East to test one's ability.
But I'm not telling Sunday River and Sugarloaf skiers and boarders anything they didn't already know, am I?
One skier responded to the survey by saying, "Sunday River is a great place to be a regular: no lift lines, friendly Mainers, and great snow even when the weather's been rough."
And a Sugarloaf fan commented, "Sugarloaf is the best mountain in the East, if you can deal with the temperatures and the ride. It's got terrain for everyone. Great steeps, long runs, and phenomenal glades."
On the heels of that good news came Powder magazine's 2013 Resort Guide and its list of the "32 Best Places to Ski in North America."
Making the list, and holding down the No. 3 spot in the East is Sugarloaf, whose "persistent appeal has a lot to do with the resort's longest continued vertical and the only above tree line access in the East" according to the compilers of the list.
In addition to praising the quality of the skiing, the guide goes on to say that "the real reason folks keep coming back to Sugarloaf is the people ... souls that believe mountain respect begets respect."
Perhaps this year's most exciting accolade of all, however, was among other honors -- Saddleback's recognition in the November issue of Ski magazine as one of the "Ten Best Mountains You've Never Skied"
As one of only two ski areas east of the Rockies to earn this distinction, Saddleback's the place to "come to escape the crowds, stay for the snow, the steeps, and the sweet '70s vibe" according to the magazine.
Author Hilary Nangle waxes eloquent about those things Saddleback skiers have known for years. We all know exactly what she's talking about when she writes, "More steak than sizzle, more substance than flash, beautiful, remote Saddleback woos skiers with old-style New England trails, take-no-prisoners glades, stunning views, and an unpretentious Yankee disposition that embraces locals and visitors alike ... although owner Bill Berry is modernizing the resort, he's adamant about preserving Saddleback's throwback appeal, the sinuous trails and edge-of-wilderness experience ... it's so far north the snow gods smile on this lovely New England retreat."
Saddleback was also honored by Ski readers as the No. 1 Value in the East.
As if those weren't plaudits enough, Saddleback was voted the No. 1 Favorite Eastern Resort by the readers of Snow East magazine, who also named the mountain as their Favorite Mountain for Grooming.
Berry, and his crew, are owed a debt of gratitude for not only keeping this special ski area running, but for turning it into a resort worthy of plaudits.
So expect more people "from away" on Maine slopes this winter thanks to the national publicity. They're about to discover what Mainers have known for years -- that we're blessed to have some of the very best skiing in the world.
John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write ski columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at: