Sugarloaf Mountain to many is Maine’s top ski destination.

But once the snow melts, the attention on the mountain moves farther down the valley to an ever-growing network of trails.

Eighty miles of singletrack bike trails run through the shadows of the 4,000-foot peak. But, for the most part, the mountain has stayed quiet as the area has grown to be a top destination for something other than skiing — mountain biking.

“Sugarloaf has been a silent bystander for years,” Lionel Hering said about the ski resort named after Maine’s third tallest mountain.

Until now.

Sugarloaf will host some of the world’s fastest mountain bikers during an Enduro World Series race in 2022.

The race is equivalent to a World Cup race. But the word “enduro” is synonymous with not having a clear path to follow. “Enduro is like powder skiing,” Adam Craig said. “The backcountry experience of mountain biking.”

“It’s purely semantics,” Craig said about World Series versus World Cup.

Craig would know. He has raced both.

The 39-year-old Mainer grew up in Exeter riding “shop rides” around the Bangor area and racing on the weekends when he was a high school student at Dexter Regional High School. Craig made the Junior National Cross Country Mountain Biking Team his last two years of high school and raced his first World Cup in 1999, the same year he graduated.

Following graduation, Craig left Maine for Colorado to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. He traveled all over the world, including racing in World Cup events in Scotland, Germany and Spain.

At 27, he competed for the U.S. at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

And, he raced four seasons with the Enduro World Series before retiring from professional racing.

“I was tired of traveling and being in great shape,” he said.

He’s living in Carrabassett Valley and driving a 1995 Honda Del Sol with 200,000 miles on it, a car more suited for Maine’s larger cities than climbing dirt roads up Sugarloaf Mountain.

“It’s a big, steep, rocky mountain. That’s for sure,” Craig said.

Put big hits, steep terrain and lots of rocks together and you get the attention of the world’s best enduro riders.

“I’m trying to give them some steep, bumpy trails to ride those bikes on, Craig said as he and Brenna Herridge built a trail that will be part of the EWS course.

Enduro racing is not your typical “cross-country” mountain bike race. Cross-country riders would never think about getting off their bikes. They ride up as well as they ride down.

Enduro is not “downhill” racing either. Those guys (and girls) would never think about riding up the hill; only chairlift rides or back of pickups to the top for them.

Enduro is a bit of both disciplines.

Enduro races are broken down into multiple timed segments. Racers will ride, get a lift or even walk to the top of the segment. They let it rip on the timed ride down, which gets added to the timed down on the next segment. How they get between the bottom and the top is up to them, but often involves throwing their bike over a shoulder and hiking to the top of the next segment.

“The enduro spirit incorporates some hike-a-bike,” Craig said.

During the Sugarloaf EWS race — scheduled Aug. 20-21, 2022 — racers will use the SuperQuad chairlift to get them and their bikes high on the mountain for stage one. The rest of the details are in the works as Craig and Herridge continue to build more trails.

Racers will only get two days to walk the course and one run on their bike to preview the course. Those rules are in place to keep a level playing field, Craig said. No hometown advantage, according to Craig.

The world’s best enduro teams will arrive throughout the week leading up to the race. The teams will travel to Maine from Burke, Vermont, the location of the eighth EWS race of the 2022 season. There are 10 races on the 2022 schedule, with competitions in Austria, New Zealand, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Great Britain, Canada, Vermont and Maine.

Leah Herridge, 16, trues a mountain bike wheel at the Allspeed bike shop in Carrabassett Valley. “I would never have thought Sugarloaf would have come up with a race like that,” she said about the Enduro World Series race coming to the mountain in 2022. “It’s a huge surprise. I would never have expected it.” Herridge competes in enduro races on the Maxxis Eastern States Cup circuit. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“I would never have thought Sugarloaf would have come up with a race like that,” said 16-year-old Leah Herridge. “It’s a huge surprise.”

“I’m not sure how Brenna pulled that rabbit out of a hat,” Hering said of Leah’s mother, Brenna. “It’s huge,” Hering said.

Brenna Herridge is the director of sales for Sugarloaf. She is also helping build trails for the race.

“She’s one heck of a rider, too,” Rob MacMichael said of Herridge while tending to his customers at Rolling Fatties in Kingfield.

MacMichael and his wife, Polly, started Rolling Fatties as a food truck. They would make and sell fat burritos at events such as mountain bike races across Maine.

The business has grown into a sit-down Mexican-themed restaurant and bar with the help of a steady flow of skiers during the winter and a growing number of mountain bikers during the summer.

“The progression of bike traffic has been significant since 2014,” Rob MacMichael said.

“It used to be only on the weekends when you would bump into people on the (bike) trails. Now you go up there any day of the week and you will see cars at the trailhead,” he said.

Kingfield catches a lot of ski traffic headed to Sugarloaf. MacMichael said summers were at one time very slow for business.

Not so anymore.

“We were unsure how summers were going to go. Summers are right there with winter now,” he said.

“The summers had been tough,” said Hering, the owner of Happy Tunes, a ski tuning business. “But over the past 10 years, we have had mountain biking and it’s growing every year.”

Former Olympian Adam Craig, right, and Brenna Herridge build a mountain bike trail on Sugarloaf Mountain in Carrabassett Valley. Craig competed in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics for mountain biking and he and Herridge are helping bring an Enduro World Series mountain bike race to the mountain in 2022. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“I am meeting more and more people up here who are buying condos, not for skiing but for mountain biking,” Hering said. “The town has made a big investment and I know how privileged we are to have those trails.”

“Around here, every other truck has a mountain bike hanging over the gate,” Peter Lee said.

When Lee was a kid growing up in Connecticut, his father bought 100 acres in Kingfield. “It was known to my sisters as the woodlot up in Maine,” Lee said.

Untouched for 50 years, that 100 acres is now home to Freeman Ridge Bike Park, a 4-year-old business that entices riders from very beginner to expert level riders.

“You can’t imagine who comes to ride here,” Lee said.  “It’s kids. It’s mothers. It’s everybody.”

Freeman Ridge offers 5 miles of machine-built “flow trails,” which are quite a bit different from the style of trails being built for the EWS race. “But nonetheless, they are all the same. It’s all mountain biking,” is how Craig describes any style of mountain biking trail.

“It’s a passion project,” Lee’s son, Spencer Lee, said about Freeman Ridge. “It’s a lot of work, but it gives riders another option.”

“Sometimes you may go for the fried fish. Other times you may order the steak,” Peter Lee said about the variety of riding options in the valley.

Spencer Lee has had a big hand in making Carrabassett Valley the mountain biking destination that it is.

In addition to building the trails at Freeman Ridge, this is the sixth season that he has worked on the Town Trail Crew, the builders of the town’s 80 miles of trails over the past 10 years.

“Between when the snow melts and the snow falls is when we work,” Spencer Lee said.

While the Enduro World Series race will not be on the trails the Town Trail Crew built, the racers will be all over the trail network the week prior to the race since the world’s best only get one run on the course prior to race time.

“It’s going to be cool to see that level of riders on trails that I helped build,” the younger Lee said.

“It’s a huge deal,” Lee added about the EWS coming to Sugarloaf. “To have it come to Maine is really cool.”

Craig said 400 to 500 people will be in town for the event.

He gives credit to everyone who had a hand in the trail-making before he was hired by the Sugarloaf ski resort to help bring gravity mountain biking to the mountain. “I am very appreciative of what the New England Mountain Bike Association and the Town Trail Crew are doing,” Craig said.

“In an ideal world, all these trails will be connected one day,” Spencer Lee said.

And for the World Cup-level course being built high up the mountain?

“This will be the cherry on top,” Craig said.


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