Skiing Maine: 17 Mountains
The morning developed into a sunny, bluebird-sky day, and the reflection from the snow was nearly blinding. Everything at Black seemed to be sparkling. The downhill trails were quiet, but at the base of the mountain, where cross-country routes intersect, a crowd of parents were ringing cow bells as their Nordic-ski-racing kids shot by wearing shiny Lycra outfits. The lodge may be new, but the T-bar atmosphere is timeless. skiblackmountain.org
Titcomb Mountain, West Farmington
Even before my first run, the sound, smell, and feel of Titcomb, another community ski area, evoked memories of the mountain where I spent all my childhood winter weekends. Inside the lodge, excited kids squealed as they layered on clothing and booted up next to a huge stone fireplace, while logs crackled and scented the air with a fragrance that could be bottled and sold as “ski-lodge memories.” Outside, a dad was pulling his child, swaddled in fleece, on a wooden sled, with the family’s black Labrador puppy tagging along.
Riding up the T-bar, I scoped out Dare Devil’s Plunge to Dire Straights, a series of tight and twisty old-fashioned trails that follow the natural contour of the mountain. I skied through the mellow hero bumps — the kind that are so perfect you feel like the best skier in the world for that moment — then stopped halfway down and basked in the quiet that surrounded me. I felt utterly content with this sweet trail and its perfect snow. That run soon became my official favorite trail for this Ski Maine odyssey. Ten minutes later, and after a lunch of homemade turkey and dumpling soup made by faithful volunteers, Titcomb became my official favorite mountain for the Ski Maine odyssey.
Like many other community ski areas in Maine, this might not be your vacation destination if you’re “from away,” but if you’re a local and grow up skiing here, you’re very, very lucky. Thank goodness places like this still thrive. Progress is good, but mountains like Titcomb have a soul: They’re living memorials to a bygone era of skiing. titcombmountain.com
My first visit to the area occurred sans snow two years ago, when I attended a late-summer meeting here. At a cocktail reception to welcome our groups of ski writers, most of whom I knew already, I noticed an unfamiliar man, probably in his seventies, sporting a flannel shirt and a green foam baseball hat with plastic mesh. It said “Saddleback Is Back,” and I assumed that he’d just finished a day of off-season mountain maintenance work and had stopped by to add some local flavor to our party.
In fact, he was Bill Berry, a retired geology professor from the nearby University of Maine at Farmington. In 2003, with his family, he purchased Saddleback for more than $8 million. Since then, the new owners have built a new post-and-beam lodge, increased snowmaking and grooming, and have developed an approved 10-year plan for additional improvements. But here’s the part that counts: The Berrys bought Saddleback so that they could provide affordable skiing to Mainers, because they love the mountain, and because they wanted to see it flourish to its potential. They’re developing Saddleback’s amenities and skiing quality to compete with the large resorts while retaining its small-mountain friendliness.
On my first trip here with snow, I rode the chairlift with my teammate Craig, a ripping telemark skier. As he pointed to some of his favorite runs, my ski legs started twitching and my mind started planning a return trip to Saddleback. Craig’s fondness for Saddleback meant one thing: This is a mountain for diehard skiers. But Saddleback also has a great blend of beginner and intermediate trails, too, something for everyone — a mellower version of a “big mountain,” with 64 trails and 2,000 vertical feet of skiing. saddlebackmaine.com
Sugarloaf, Carrabassett Valley
Sugarloaf looks as though it could roar. The 4,237-foot summit is Maine’s highest skiable peak, and the only lift-serviced skiing above the treeline in the East. This white-peaked mountain, immortalized on the ski area’s ubiquitous blue-and-white triangle stickers, offers views of Mount Washington and the other Presidentials, Mount Katahdin, and into Canada. The lift ride on the high-capacity SuperQuad covers 1,750 feet, which means one thing: The trail down is long. It was the end of the day, and the snow was firm under the cold sky. sugarloaf.com
Baker Mountain Ski Area, Moscow
Sugarloaf and Baker are studies in contrast. Sugarloaf has 134 trails and 16 lifts; Baker has 5 trails and one lift. Sugarloaf covers 95 percent of its trails with snowmaking; Baker relies on the natural stuff. But that is so okay. Bob Henderson, a retired schoolteacher who now helps run Baker Mountain, puffed on his corncob pipe as he passionately explained that Baker’s sole purpose is to give local kids a place to enjoy being active outdoors. Founded in 1937 and run by its passholders, Baker hasn’t changed much since then — except for replacing the original two rope tows with one T-bar — but that, too, is so okay. skimaine.com/areas/bakermountain
Eaton Mountain, Skowhegan
Most of the activity at Eaton centered around the tubing park. The lodge evoked an ’80s-style basement-game-room feel, filled with mismatched couches and video machines. skimaine.com/areas/eatonmountain