Monday, March 7, 2016

Loafin' ... part deux - Carrabassett Valley, Maine

Partial view of Sugarloaf from the Base Lodge
One of my favorite highways signs ever reads "Maine: Life as It Should Be." It's on Interstate 95 as you cross from New Hampshire (don't blink! That is one teeny state on the 95 trail) to Maine. I see it at least a couple of times every summer as I visit friends near Acadia National Park and a friend's camp near Freeport. Don't get me started on the word "camp" as a northeasterner's word for anything from a cabin on a lake to a CAMP like Camp David is a camp. Anyway, not my point.

On Saturday afternoon, we saw this sign as we headed up to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine. And so, I should warn you all that this is my blog love note to Sugarloaf. No, not the Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf in Portuguese) in Rio which is pretty awesome but covered in my old blog called Brazil in My Eyes. No, this is our American Sugarloaf: a ski mountain and so much more.  If you have read my blog before, you will see part one here from last year. This is part deux.  La Revanche.

I am not so worried that this second blog-ode to Sugarloaf will mean that there will be a traffic jam on the way up next time. It is 4 hours from here in Weston--it is not for faint of heart. It is also, in my opinion, the only place in New England ski country that you can experience all four seasons (well, okay, three, summer misses it) in one day. Or half day. This is not necessarily a plus on a ski mountain. 

We started going to Sugarloaf a year ago during the Snowmaggedon winter. Why Sugarloaf? Our neighbors were going for the four-day MLK weekend, and I convinced also a Wellesley classmate who lives in Freeport (yes, she of the "camp" reference) to come for a couple of days. Last year, Snowmaggedon started on January 22 more or less. MLK weekend was four days before snow. Instead, we got one day of -9 windchill, one day of perfect sunny weather and ice (no New England ski adventure is complete, or even started, without a great deal of ice), and then it rained all night and we skied on slush and grass. It was THE BEST.

Before you think that I have vodka in my coffee this morning, I will tell you why it was the best (or you can read last year's blog post...but let me bullet point it).

1. Ski in, ski out. Since I grew up in Connecticut, we never ever went away for a ski weekend. We got up at the crack of midnight to drive up and then drive back in one day. Ski in, ski out of a condo means you can have a nice lunch for less than $30 and it tastes much better than cardboard. Sorry, Sugarloaf, but your restaurant is terrible.
2. Widowmaker. This is the bar with a view at Sugarloaf where we gave up on icy day and sat and drank yummy $400 beers. 
3. The ski school. Sugarloaf's is the best. My beginning skiers last year learned to ski without fear, got hot chocolate approximately every half-hour on the freezing cold day, made new friends, and I got to ski with my friends on the "real" trails.
4. Fewer New Yorkers. Nah, I'm just kidding, especially since I was born in NYC. In general, there are just fewer people than the mountains within 2-3 hours of metropolises (metropoli?). Sorry, Portland, you are not a metropolis: you are adorable. 
 5. Friends old and new. There is nothing like a ski vacation with 8 kids of varied ages. It's freakin' fun.

Ski school fun

So this year, we could not make it happen for MLK day weekend. So we went, with the usual suspects, for the second weekend of February winter break. And during those three days we got another Sugarloaf weather "surprise" along with a ride that would be envied by Universal Studios or Disneyworld. The suicide beginner trail. This was a green-circle (beginner) trail through the woods which is normally pretty and easy...but was on this day, sheer green ice. Never seen green ice? That is because normally there is white stuff on top of it. We were down to the glacier.

So what made it suicidal? It was impossible to stop, even for us intermediate skiers. So we literally screamed our way down it. I tried to stop once, hit a tree root and did a 360 into a mogul (that was not a mogul, but possible a beaver dam) and finally came to a stop to watch my friend Wendy scream to a stop right behind me and then we both bent over laughing hysterically. Not happy laughter--we still had half the trail to go. 

Without question, that was the worst double-black diamond I have ever been down, yet it was only a green. Why pay for Big Thunder Railroad when you have skiing in the Northeast? For the same price as a day at Disney, and no need for Fastpass, you can scream yourself silly. With a helmet, please.

For a good time of superlatives, make sure to read the Sugarloaf Mountain Daily trails report. I imagine the person writing it has been up all night blowing snow (inhaling smoke)  and grooming trails, because his/her reality is vastly different than mine. Like "moderate" snow gusts of 30 miles an hour. What exactly defines strong snow gusts?  A nor'easter? Tornado? It is not fun being on a lift with moderate snow gusts. Trust me. 

Then the report continues on to tell about snow squalls, ice, lifts closed due to winds, 30 trails closed for lack of snow, ya-de-ya, and then ends with the line "It's going to be a GREAT day on the mountain." I assume that was said with the exhale of a large amount of medical marijuana. Seriously?  My Freeport friend and her teenage kids did ski, as did my kids and neighbor's kids, but me, I turned in my ticket for a credit and watched the Weather Channel in the ski lodge. I am too old. 

So we got to use these credits yesterday. We drove up as far as Farmington (an hour from the mountain) Saturday night, had an enormous dinner, and then on to Sugarloaf on Sunday morning. We learned a trick--always, always ski on Sundays if you hate lines. 

We had the best New England ski day ever. Sun, glorious sun to begin the day. Snowmaking had created lots of lovely new snow, and the minimum of ice. By 1 pm, we could ski into the Superquad with no lines. Up and down the hill. The kids skied with us, then they skied alone (one is snowboarding now), then they built an ice sculpture, then we ate a bunch of cardboard food. 

Let's face it. We'll never be the family with the ski house, the ski team kids, and well, even our own equipment. We love rental equipment and wearing other people's smelly boots. We love screaming down ice chutes, laughing our butts off and renting crappy condos. We are the riff-raff of the mountain. But my son who had to walk down the scary hill last year? This year he smoked me on the same slope while telling me stories about lynxes (no I didn't hear most of them). The other kid can snowboard and ski now.

Disney can kiss my bindings on this whole surge pricing business: for $100/day and all the laughs and thrills you can imagine, I choose Sugarloaf. Life as it should be.
Riff raff on a snowboard with a view

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