Just to clear the air, let me make it very clear that if I never get to ski outside Maine one more day for the rest of my life I’ll die a happy man. The reasons are twofold:

First, there’s plenty right here to last a lifetime. Whether it’s the long easy groomers at Sugarloaf or Sunday River, the sheer beauty of a day at Big Squaw or an evening looking out over Penobscot Bay at the Camden Snow Bowl, the rare (for me, anyway) excursion off-piste at Saddleback into Casablanca with my energetic and daring sons, the camaraderie of old contemporaries at Shawnee Peak, or a chance to witness Matt Hancock’s sheer enthusiasm for what he’s got going at Mt. Abram, you can’t go wrong right here in Maine.

I’ve enjoyed recent chairlift rides with strangers from out of state, many of whom are discovering what Maine has to offer and who, universally, are blown away by their new favorite place to ski and plan to return. These days I tend to opt for the singles line on busy weekends for a couple reasons. First, I can get in more runs, and second, I can gloat with pride as new friends wax eloquent about what us locals have known for a long time: There’s plenty here to last a lifetime.

Recently, as a Camden skiing buddy and restaurateur (who once owned a legendary bistro in Aspen, Colorado) and I were looking over the improvements at the Snow Bowl he remarked, “You know, John, we really don’t have any reason to ski anywhere else.”

Second, my memories of long-ago ski excursions are still so vivid that just closing my eyes, I can feel myself pushing off the lip at the top of the bowls at Sun Valley, sliding under the Matterhorn at Zermatt, dropping straight down toward the St. Lawrence at Le Massif, negotiating head-high moguls on Ruthie’s run at Aspen, wending my way between the trees in two feet of western fluff on Copper, and jumping off the trams at the top of Jackson Hole or Snowbird for first tracks.

Even the challenge of the narrow, Eastern-style trails at Wildcat, Stowe and the North Face at Mt. Snow still heats up my blood as I remember past runs with buddies. I emphasize past, as my old legs urge me to opt for the wide groomers, although, I must admit, skiers on Ripsaw, Choker and Lower Double Bitter at Sugarloaf could have reported sighting me this past week.

Easy for me to be spotted, as I wasn’t breaking any speed records. As a close skiing friend was heard to remark recently, “If you want to slow Christie down, take him over in the bumps.”

But this column is supposed to be about my personal and very subjective recommendations about where you ought to think about going for that once-in-a-lifetime away game, far from familiar terrain.

So …

SUN VALLEY, IDAHO

Again, my view is a prejudiced one, since in my memory bank are runs in the bowls with the legendary Jean Claude Killy more than 40 years ago, and picking up James Arness, then a big deal as the star of “Gunsmoke,” from a spectacular header on Exhibition. Trails with names like Arnold’s Way (Schwarzenegger that is) and perhaps one of the great trail monikers in the world, Picabo Street, speak to the rich history and continuing distinction of America’s original destination resort.

On Baldy, the mountain looming over the village, clunky old singles and doubles have given way to detachables serving over 3,000 feet of perfect-pitch vertical with no flats. Spartan base and summit lodges have been replaced by luxurious multimillion dollar extravaganzas. But the historic character, ambiance and priceless terrain were just as much in evidence as in the past when I had a chance to revisit the place just a few years back.

ZERMATT, SWITZERLAND

Words (almost) fail me. Imagine an eight-mile, 7,250-vertical foot run, starting at 12,500 feet, on snow that’s consistently good from late November until mid-April, surrounded by the 29 highest peaks in Europe, and ending up in the world’s classiest pedestrianized ski village. And that’s just one of the literally hundreds of interlinked runs from which you can choose.

Not enough? How about taking advantage of one of the few opportunities in the world to ski over international boundaries, with a run down the easy bowls into Cervinia, Italy. My favorite run is seven miles long below the south face of the Matterhorn down into the classic Italian village, where lunch and perhaps a libation are unavoidable.

ASPEN, COLORADO

Someone (maybe me) once said that you really haven’t skied until you’ve tasted the huge menu of options surrounding and gazing down on the village of Aspen. My last visit in 2008 reprised multiple outings there not much less than half a century ago. And how things had changed … yet somehow stayed very much the same. Aspen is still the definition of a ski town, with almost everything within walking distance. And what isn’t, like neighboring Snowmass, is a quick, convenient shuttle away.

I gravitated to Aspen Highlands on my recent visit. Known as “the locals’ mountain” in Rockies vernacular, it feels like both a western ski area and Sugarloaf West. Challenging terrain, unassuming regulars and a paucity of people conjoin to make this place, in my mind, pretty special.

LE MASSIF, QUEBEC

So air travel west and the Euro exchange rate suggest perhaps this should be the year to find a special adventure a little closer to home. Consider going no more than less than a five-hour drive from most of Maine to Quebec City and on north for less than another hour to a most unusual, challenging and very special ski area. Le Massif is far enough north of Mont-Sainte-Anne, the city’s nearest and busiest facility, that you’ll never spend much time in line at any of the six lifts, including three detachable quads and a state-of-the-art gondola. And if you lodge in the city, there’s now a train to take you directly there, with breakfast served on board.

Fifty-three pistes all lead from the uniquely located base lodge, which is actually at the summit since the bottom of the hill is lapped by the tides of the St. Lawrence River, down into and across which you look directly as you push off on the only trails in Canada east of the Rockies with enough vertical to host World Cup races.

If you plan to visit any of my four special suggestions, just let me know when. You may see me there.

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and a member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at:

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