Skiing Maine: 17 Mountains
The invitation was irresistible: join Ski Maine executive director Greg Sweetser as part of a team of eight with the goal of hitting all of the Pine Tree State’s 17 ski mountains in a single long weekend last January. I agreed as soon as I was asked.
We’d travel more than 1,000 miles, with time for only one or two trails per mountain. Each run would be like taking a single bite of the most delicious chocolate bar — tastebuds all fired up — then having someone snatch it away.
Spruce Mountain, Jay
With a few inches of freshly fallen powder, Spruce Mountain in Jay, Maine, was on the right side of the snow line. Rick Couture, president of Spruce Mountain Ski Club, greeted us as he handed out leather work gloves, a must-have accessory, considering that the only way up was by rope tow. Spruce seemed like a bastion of a bygone era: Instead of high-speed quad chairlifts or a slick gondola, it operates three rope tows; lift tickets are under $20, and the most popular lunch sandwich, a grilled cheese, costs $1. (To put that in perspective, a chocolate bar at most ski areas costs at least $2.) Run partly by volunteers and owned by three local towns, Spruce was the first of many community ski areas in Maine that we’d visit over the next three days. It’s the kind of area that grows lifelong skiers and riders and lovers of winter. sprucemountain.org
Lost Valley, Auburn
This tiny mountain was once home to champion skier Julie Parisien, inducted into the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame in 2006; during her career she won three World Cup victories and competed in three Olympic Winter Games. It’s truly the American Ski Dream, and just one reason why these small mountains are special. You can grow up at a mountain with 243 vertical feet of skiing and go on to win World Cup races. Lost Valley’s lifts turn from morning to night on most days, which makes for a lively mountain, perfect for kids who can get runs in after school. lostvalleyski.com
Shawnee Peak, Bridgton
We arrived at Shawnee Peak in the late afternoon, and already the sky was dark, but the lights on the trails were bright. I rode the lift with team member Bruce Mason. Along the way, shadows from the trail below shouted to him and to his wife, Joanne, who rode the chair behind us. They both work as EMTs and ski patrol and knew many fellow patrollers at Shawnee.
I know many people who arrange their lives around skiing. Most of them work as landscapers or builders — jobs that let them make money during the off-season and ski and play all winter long. The Masons were the first couple I met who were completely dialed in on their ski life. They manage a cemetery. Not much happens at a cemetery when the graves are covered with snow and the ground is frozen solid, so Joanne and Bruce have plenty of time to ski. And they love every minute of it. While Bruce was quiet and introspective as he skied down a trail, Joanne hooted and hollered, especially as we took our one and only run over the silky-smooth snow at Shawnee. With the most night skiing in northern New England, Shawnee shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. shawneepeak.com