Passing Through: Sugarloaf

Like most of Maine, Sugarloaf is not for the meek

PHOTO: Jamie Walter

Wind hammered Sugarloaf’s upper mountain as we blindly searched for something, anything to help us catch our bearings. The snowghosts were emerging from the swirling snow mist with just enough warning to slide an evasive turn, but we knew the next encroacher could be dangerously around the corner.

Finally we found what we were looking for—the skier’s right resort boundary and beyond it, uncharted territory. After a few tight turns and sideslips through thick undergrowth, we popped out below an icy cliff into wide set trees and the sanctity of untracked.

Post fist bumps, we dropped into a vast array of birch and pine, popping over small cliffs and letting eight inches of fresh caress tired joints. After reconnecting breath to body we tag-teamed a traverse back into the resort and used the ensuing lift ride to cheers our good fortune.

It was only a few weeks later that Sugarloaf officially announced their massive Brackett Basin expansion—an opening that ran directly in the area of our epic run. It wasn’t uncharted territory—heck, it wasn’t even a secret—we were just a couple of goons that had stumbled upon the right shot at the right time. Maybe we’d never be hardcore locals, maybe we’d never have a stash of our own, but for a few more turns like the ones we got that January afternoon, I was OK with that.
In fact, we had only touched a sliver of the 270-acre Burnt Mountain terrain, a three-part expansion that wrapped up in 2014 and made Sugarloaf the largest ski area east of the Rockies.

The ’Loaf is also home to the only lift-serviced above-treeline skiing in the East—the Snowfields. When Old Man Winter isn’t busy dropping 200 annual inches on the Maine resort, trails like White Nitro and Ignitor offer a rare look at wide open East Coast steeps with 360 degree views. The wind can also work some magic, creating natural wind lip terrain parks on trails like Upper Bubblecuffer.

Sugarloaf is only about four hours from Boston but attracts a crowd that is distinctly New England, whether it be the lack of Yankee memorabilia or the lack of pretension in the lift line. There are plenty of on-hill amenities and hotels, but people hoof it to the ’Loaf to ski first, and figure out the rest later.

When the getting is good, powder hounds find nirvana off the Superquad and Timberline chairs, while the adventurous establish home base at King Pine. From there, it’s a quick skate out of the gate to the not-so-secret Brackett Basin and Burnt Mountain zones of cliffs, chutes, and gladed terrain that make Sugarloaf such a unique piece of East Coast skiing.

If you can get back inbounds in time, line your stomach with a Bag Burger from the Bag and Kettle and take some afternoon laps through the terrain parks on Haywire and the Stomping Grounds. And with Carrabassett Valley Academy just a hop, jump, and skip away, you’re bound to watch a free clinic or two from the young fliers.

When lifts stop spinning, find a little shelter from the storm at the Widowmaker or local gold medalist Seth Wescott’s bar, The Rack. Careful about downing too many Geary’s though, the competition for first chair is steep up in North Country, and stragglers get left out in the cold.