Skiing Maine: 17 Mountains
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