Mounds of snow blanketed the inn's front lawn like a sheet of thick white frosting. We gingerly crossed the ice-covered parking lot, snowboards and baggage in hand, and entered the back door of The Victoria, a bed-and-breakfast built in 1895 as a private residence.
A plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies welcomed us to Room 15, a cozy space dominated by a brass four-poster bed. Starving after our 3 1/2-hour drive from Boston, we scarfed down the treats, which only whetted our appetites for dinner.
I wanted to sample the inn's famed lobster pot pie. My partner wanted to check out the town.
Stacey Sahin, a transplant from Columbus, Ohio, who owns the inn along with her mother, aunt, and husband, recommended Cho Sun, a Korean restaurant down Main Street.
Korean in Bethel?
Sure, she said. There are two Korean women in Bethel. The restaurant is run by one of them, an entrepreneurial immigrant who also owns an antiques store and is one of a growing number of women who own businesses in town.
With temperatures dipping into the single digits, I started to crave bibimbap, a traditional dish of beef, vegetables, and egg served over rice and mixed with chili pepper paste in a sizzling hot stone bowl.
The restaurant's main dining room was packed with couples, families, locals, vacationers, and Asian antiques. We took seats at the bar in the back, decorated with old-fashioned wooden snowshoes and historical tourism posters.
Our bibimbap came topped with tender marinated slices of prime rib, a specialty owner and chef Pok Sun Lane is proud of. Everything served in her restaurant is fresh, she said, including vegetables from her garden in the summer.
"I don't want people to drive four hours here to eat and say, 'Oh, we can get this in Boston,' " she said.
She opened the restaurant six years ago to educate the townspeople about her culture and correct common misconceptions about Korean food.
"They said Korean people all eat rotten kimchi buried in the ground," Lane said.
She already owned an Asian antiques shop, Pok Sun Emporium, across the street. At the time, she recalled, "Everybody was laughing at me. 'You're opening an Asian store in Bethel? What are you thinking?' " Her first customer was Stephen King, the writer, who owns a home nearby.
Like many rural towns, Bethel was once male-dominated. But in recent years, more women have become business leaders and gotten involved in town politics, said Robin Zinchuk, executive director of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce for 21 years, who has seen the rise in women-owned businesses. About a third of all businesses in Maine are owned by women, according to the US Small Business Administration, and these companies have become an increasingly important part of the state's economy.
Many of the women business owners are transplants like Lane and Sahin, drawn to the town's creative, artistic side. The woman who owns Mouse & Bean Internet Café formerly sold cars in Concord, N.H., and now exhibits and sells photography, pottery, mittens, purses, and CDs by local artists and musicians in her shop.
"Some of these women were raising families, and now they've come into their own and are doing what they've dreamed of doing their whole lives, getting away from the rat race of wherever they came from," Zinchuk said. "It's a movement, slowly but surely."
At The Victoria, Sahin's husband, Kamil, does the cooking. The couple owned a bakery in Ohio for 20 years before taking over the inn in 2006.
Our breakfast was hearty enough to fuel us for a half-day of snowboarding at Sunday River ski resort, just six miles north of town. We devoured oatmeal pancakes and shirred eggs, a house favorite of eggs baked with three cheeses, herbs, and a dash of cream.
We appreciated having our own table, one of many spread among three dining rooms, sparing us awkward conversations with strangers first thing in the morning.
That night, sore from a day of tumbling down the mountain on our bottoms and knees, we were on a mission to find a hot tub. The innkeepers' teenage son recommended sneaking into the heated outdoor pool at the Bethel Inn Resort.
We thirtysomethings decided we were too old (and chicken) to sneak into hot tubs. We appealed to the bartender at the resort's clubhouse and she let us in for $10 each. The hot tub wasn't working that night, but splashing in the steaming 92 degree pool under the stars and surrounded by snowbanks did the trick. So did the sauna, where we met the other Korean woman in town, a bartender at the resort.
On our way home the next day, we stopped by a new boutique, Kai Clothing, because I was drawn to the colorful strappy sundresses in the window. I tried on two, longing for the end of winter. They were cut a bit snug for a medium - and no wonder. We found out the store was owned by a 15-year-old girl.
It turned out that one of Bethel's newest female entrepreneurs is Felicia Dumont, a sophomore at Telstar Regional High School. Petite, with long, straight hair, Dumont says she wants to major in business in college and become a fashion stylist in New York. She spent her summer vacation designing the airy store and stocking it with hip surf- and skate-style streetwear that her friends could afford.
The store was financed by her 21-year-old brother, the pro-extreme skier and X-Games champion Simon Dumont. Besides Billabong and O'Neill, she stocks Empire, Simon's new line of gloves, clothing, and accessories for skiers.
We couldn't resist one last glimpse of nature so we drove north of town to the Artists' Covered Bridge, a charming wooden pedestrian bridge that is said to be the most painted and photographed in Maine. We spotted a dad taking photos of his two young daughters. They had cross-country skied there along the banks of a half-frozen brook. We were so charmed by the serene scene that we barely minded that our little black Jetta was stuck on the ice.
Our savior? A mom in a minivan. She and her three kids pushed us out.
We vowed to return in the summer to go hiking. And perhaps in the fall, the most popular season, to check out the foliage. Rooms at The Victoria are already being reserved for the occasion.
As we headed home, snow began to fall. Again. As of March 1, this was the snowiest winter the area has seen in a dozen years, according to Alex Kaufman, spokesman for Sunday River.
So what did the townsfolks do with all that snow? Two weeks after our trip, Bethel made history, erecting the world's tallest snowwoman. The town is already in the record books as having built the world's tallest snowman in 1999.
"We just wanted to do something different, to make the girls feel good," said Zinchuk, who headed the effort.
Named after Olympia Snowe, Maine's senior US senator, Olympia SnowWoman stands 122 feet 1 inch tall, nearly 10 feet taller than her predecessor, Angus, King of the Mountain, named after the former governor. She weighs 13 million pounds and has 30-foot spruce trees for arms, 5-foot wreaths for eyes, and 16 skis for eyelashes. Her automobile tire lips are painted red.
We may have to return sooner to catch a glimpse of the towering frosty matriarch. But we have a little time. She's not expected to melt until July.
Tracy Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.