5:30 a.m.: Alarm. I ask Google to give me five more minutes to sleep.

5:35: A second alarm, somehow louder and more insistent than the first. This time, I manage to at least throw my legs out of the bed. We do this to ourselves because we love skiing, right?

5:40: Quick check of ski reports. No one has updated their listings yet, though Sunday River and Sugarloaf are both pretty reliable about getting them up early. By the time the sun is up, I’ll know what to expect, but each mountain means a different heading on the road. Skiing alone means I have no one to blame for any decision but myself. Heavy snow overnight should be socked at Sugarloaf, and its distance tends to ensure smaller crowds, so it’ll be north on Interstate 295 with fingers crossed the storm isn’t followed by wind.

6:00: I’d have been on the road earlier, but fresh snow means digging out. Thank God I packed all my gear last night.

7:15: Coffee and a brekkie at Java Joe’s Corner Shop in Farmington (don’t think too hard about the travel time math here, Mom). JJ’s feels the same as it did when I was in undergrad at UMF, and their hazelnut coffee remains reliable ski fuel.

8:00: Route 27 cuts to the left at Oh My Gosh corner, and there it is. The back side of Sugarloaf’s 4,237-foot peak is visible once you leave Farmington, but this turn – which lays out all of the mountain’s front-side trails, wider than your windshield can take in – still impresses every time.

Sugarloaf ski area, in its winter splendor. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

8:10: New snow in Southern Maine and Massachusetts means that, despite a pretty early start, more ambitious skiers and riders have already filled lots C and D. The lucky ones were already here last night. I sneak into a spot in Lot E off Timbers Road, and schlep my gear toward the base lodge. The shuttles at the mountain are reliable, but I need the hike to kick my legs into gear.

8:35: During most of my years skiing at Sugarloaf, I usually geared up in the Locker Room, home of my late father’s cohort (affectionately known as the Sugarloaf Wax Museum). Without a locker in the family any longer, I pass under the Sawduster Chairlift and into the lodge. While its not as cozy as the lodge at a place like the Camden Snow Bowl or Lost Valley, the barely constrained chaos of the large space has its own appeal. Racers, condo owners, daytrippers, parents that don’t even ski – everyone cohabitates the same space. As ever, new accumulation has a buzz in the air.

8:45: I come up a bit short of first chair, but the maze in front of the Superquad is clear by the time I get back over there. I cruise onto the chair with a family from Falmouth that’s up for their first day of the season. It’s about as good a first day as you could hope for – sunny, warm, and barely a breath of wind.

10:00: The day takes on a familiar rhythm as I get my legs under me. Rather than stick to greens and blues, I try to log as much vertical as possible before more people get up and moving. The steep, straight classics in the gut of the hill – Gondi Line, Spillway, Narrow Gauge, Bubblecuffer – get my legs burning. The Skyline Quad, installed in 2011 to replace the old Spillway East lift, makes continuous laps of these trails easy. This deep in the winter, the sun still hangs low in the sky, but the eastern and central parts of Sugarloaf get good light early.

10:15: Bullwinkles, Sugarloaf’s midmountain pit-stop, is always hopping by the 10 o’clock hour. There’s a restaurant (Bullwinkle’s Bistro) in the back, but at this point most folks are there for the quick-serve hot drinks and pastries. I grab a hot cocoa and skate across the Peavy Crosscut to Whiffletree, where loads of beginners in lessons are graduating from The Birches and The Landing to a bigger lift.

11:00: I know I’m probably not supposed to play favorites, but the King Pine Bowl is my favorite part of the mountain. It’s all steep, frequently deep, and a natural gathering place for snow thanks to prevailing westerly winds. As much as I usually aim for variety, I tackle three runs in a row on Widowmaker, a broad trail that sticks to the fall line before a stomach-clenching drop onto Flume. Misery Whip (a narrow former T-Bar line) and Ripsaw (a trail left ungroomed and without snowmaking) are two other favorites after a storm.

12:30 p.m: Lunch at The Bag and Kettle, an institution that dates back decades. Known for both its (in)famous poster of Uncle Al clutching a whiskey bottle and its massive Bag Burger, its popular enough that its always packed. By a stroke of luck, I’m able to snag a seat at the bar between two large groups. Despite the crowds, service is fast, and I’m back on the mountain in no time.

2:30: The afternoon is a blur as I make my way further up the mountain. Timberline, the summit lift, is turning, and I make long laps between the base and summit. Clear days spread the Carrabassett Valley and Western mountains in 360 degrees from the summit, and I take a moment between runs to capture the view.

3:30: With the sun mostly behind the mountain and lifts starting to shut down, I indulge in some carbs at the base lodge. The Eighty 8 Donut Cafe offers tiny bites of perfection in unique flavors like Southern Sugar (maple bourbon drizzle, maple pastry cream and candied pecans) and Irish Or Not (sugar dusted, Bailey’s pastry cream and caramel drizzle). There’s also the newly redesigned Widowmaker Lounge, with local beer on tap and legendary nachos.

5:00: It’s still (arguably) early, but the parking lots have mostly cleared out. Back at Lot E, my car stands alone – proof that many that arrived earlier and later than me took a slightly shorter day. I can’t say I blame them, as my legs barely carry me back to the car after a long day on the hill. In a little over two hours, I’ll be back home. With more snow forecast soon, I can’t promise tomorrow won’t call for a repeat performance. If I manage to listen to my alarm, that is.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer living in Portland. Along with his brother, Jake, he writes about great Maine destinations for outdoors enthusiasts. Josh can be reached at: [email protected]

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