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Best of Maine skiing

Things were looking up for Darren Crawford of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, during a recent ride at Sunday River. Things were looking up for Darren Crawford of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, during a recent ride at Sunday River. (Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press)
November 26, 2009

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Looking for a few inside tips? The Globe has surveyed the scene from top to bottom and taken notes:

Best move to the dark side
Last season, Sunday River added night skiing for the first time on weekends and holidays. The trend will continue this year, with a 12-hour ticket good for access to under-the-lights terrain serviced by the Chondola and South Ridge Express lifts. It’s a welcome option for skiers and boarders who arrive for a late check-in on Fridays and want to get in a few runs before dinner or bedtime.

- T.D. THORNTON

Satisfying highway cruising
Sugarloaf’s Tote Road is a classic Maine 3-plus mile cruiser on a wide boulevard with mountain vistas. But don’t forget nearby Saddleback and its sweet combination of America, Hudson Highway, and Lower Hudson Highway. More benign than Tote Road, the 3-mile run from summit to base is a low- to mid-level skier’s delight. The gentle mixture serves up alpine frost and glistening lakes below.

- MARTY BASCH

You’ll love shooting down this chute
The Camden Snow Bowl, which features the only structural toboggan chute in New England, also features the only annual US Championships, Feb. 5-7 next year, the 20th straight competition. The end of the event will comprise the World Toboggan Championship, for winners of the four-person teams over the last 20 years. The 400-foot wooden chute is also available to the public, when open. Always call ahead.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Here’s looking at you, glade
Casablanca debuts at Saddleback this season, and resort officials are billing the 44-acre double-black tree-skiing area as the largest glade in the East. Ungroomed and unbound, Casablanca is located between Black Beauty and Muleskinner, and resort management had been eyeballing the location for nearly a decade before finally turning loose an 18-member crew this summer to thin and shape it. Before you fire up your best Bogart imitation, please note that Casablanca is not named after the famous flick, but instead after the Rangeley Lakes Region’s well-known line of fishing flies (just like other runs at Saddleback, such as Peachy’s Peril, Royal Tiger, Supervisor, and America).

- T.D. THORNTON

Barking up the right tree
Gotta have glades? Two more Maine mountains are unveiling new tree skiing caches this season. More than 20 volunteers hit Camden Snow Bowl over three days to clean up and expand the three glades between Lookout and Mussel Ridge. They cut a new glade between Clipper and Mussel Ridge in the middle third of the hill, too. A few miles from Sunday River, Mt. Abram in Greenwood is where skiers will find three new double black diamond tree caches.

- MARTY BASCH

Paws on powder
Dogs and humans share both the effort and the joy of gliding along serene Nordic trails at the Telemark Inn in Bethel, the first ski touring center in the continental US to offer skijoring packages. If you have a canine companion over 30 pounds, you can partner with your pooch while the Inn provides lessons and equipment (harnesses and bungee skijor lines only; you must provide your own non-metal edged skis and poles). Don’t have a dog? The Inn’s willing and eager Huskies are always up for a romp in the woods. Meet the dogs in an online gallery and check pricing at telemarkinn.com.

- T.D. THORNTON

Daily deals reach Peak
It’s not exactly a Dollar Menu, but you should have some coin left over for a burger after skiing Shawnee Peak. The mid-level Bridgton mountain about 20 minutes from North Conway, N.H., is loaded with daily deals like a Saturday Night Fever ticket for three hours of slope time from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. for $15 (rentals $13). Ride non-holiday Sunday afternoons for $25. If you’re lucky enough to break free mid-week, there are non-holiday Monday Carload Dayz for $79 and a $13 night skiing ticket. Non-holiday Tuesdays are two-for-one tickets, Wednesday is Family Day (buy an adult pass for $38, get a junior for $10), Thursday is for guys at $28, and Friday is for ladies at $28.

- MARTY BASCH

Bright smiles for this deal after dark
If you prefer to hit the slopes after the sun goes down, the price is right at Shawnee. An unlimited night season pass (4 p.m. to close) goes for $139, valid for up to 75 nights of skiing and riding during the upcoming season.

- T.D. THORNTON

The racer’s edge
They say the road to the Olympics runs right through this hairball trail, home run to Olympians Bode Miller, Seth Wescott, and Kirsten Clark, all products of Carrabassett Valley Academy. The trail is, Narrow Gauge, of course, a nice steep downhill shot with the famed headwall drop. This course has been used many times by the US Ski Team in championship racing, as well as the 1971 World Cup, Tall Timber Classic. By the way, it’s really fun to ski or ride.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

An all-around block of discounts
If you’re going to do the bulk of your skiing and riding in Maine this winter, spending $19.95 for the Maine Winter Activities Pass might not be a bad idea. The booklet contains 16 separate coupons for both Alpine and Nordic resorts, plus various retailers and restaurants. The best of the bunch are vouchers good for 50 percent off a lift ticket or trail pass at participating areas, and there are enough $10 and $20 discounts to make it worthwhile even if you don’t end up using all the coupons.

- T.D. THORNTON

Miles and miles of fun
Seasoned cross-country skiers looking for a back country experience can ski old logging roads deep in the Moosehead Lake area woods while staying at Appalachian Mountain Club lodges. Guided or not, the Boston-based hiking club pieced together a remote trail network outside Greenville linking Medawisla Wilderness Lodge and Cabins, West Branch Pond Camps, and Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins. The trails skirt Shaw and Hedgehog Mountains before following the Pleasant River Valley. It’s about a 9-mile ski between Medawisla and West Branch, and nearly 8.5 miles from there to Lyford. Then it’s 7 miles out to the road for a total of 24 miles.

- MARTY BASCH

Best options for pass flashers
Season pass holders from any other ski area have an incentive to try Saddleback, where a day on the slopes is only $35 when you flash your pass from a competing resort. Also, six Maine mountains - Camden Snow Bowl, Titcomb Mountain, Hermon Mountain, Black Mountain, Lost Valley Ski Area, and Mt. Abram - have joined forces for a pass-sharing program that entitles a pass holder at any one of those resorts to ski two-for-one at any of the others.

- T.D. THORNTON

Junior Olympics awaited, too
Though the winter sports world is focusing on the Vancouver Olympics in February, there are a bunch of young cross-country skiers looking to the Olympics in March in the hinterlands of northern Maine. Presque Isle’s Nordic Heritage Center hosts the USSA Cross-Country Junior Olympics March 6-13. Hundreds of the country’s best free-heeling 14-19-year-olds (0J, J1 and J2) are expected to compete in both classical and freestyle races to include sprints, relays, and mass starts. The Junior Olympics last came to Maine in 1996 at Black Mountain in Rumford.

- MARTY BASCH

New cruiser sparkles naturally
Intermediate skiers have a new option at Shawnee Peak. Sunset Boulevard offers 2,000 feet of gentle, blue-square cruising, running the entire length of the Summit Triple chair. With the Presidential Mountain Range as a backdrop, the views are easy on the eyes, too. The trail initially will be a natural-snow run until snowmaking is added next season.

- T.D. THORNTON

Going in right direction
Sugarloaf’s Holiday Hill Climb turns racing upside down. Competitors ski a mile - and some 1,200 vertical feet - up the mountain in the dark from the base of the SuperQuad lift to mid-mountain in a form of skiing called randonee with specialized bindings allowing a free heel. Racers also use regular Nordic or telemark gear for the Dec. 29 challenge. About 100 people competed in last year’s inaugural climb won by Colorado’s Pete Swenson, brother of three-time Olympian Carl Swenson, in 17 minutes, 57 seconds.

- MARTY BASCH

Event to take flight again
When the ski season winds down, Simon Dumont flies high. Bethel’s freeskiing native plans to continue the Dumont Cup March 25-27 at Sunday River, a pro-am contest that drew top pros like winner Tom Wallisch, Peter Olenick, and TJ Schiller in its inaugural run last season. Dumont’s course design is still under wraps but last season featured breathtaking flight from a huge tabletop jump. Air is guaranteed from a skier who in April of 2008 launched 35 feet from a quarterpipe to a world record.

- MARTY BASCH

Price break for folks just breaking in
Five mountains have taken a throwback marketing cue from the way folks used to learn to ski in New England - by starting at smaller hills and working up to bigger runs at major resorts. The $89 Maine Learn to Ski & Ride Card gives newcomers three days of skiing and rentals, plus a day of lessons. Available to new skiers and snowboarders of all ages, the ticket can be used on three separate trips as follows: Day 1 - Ticket, rental, and lesson at Lost Valley, Titcomb Mountain, or Camden Snow Bowl; Day 2 - Ticket and rental at Lost Valley, Titcomb, or Camden; Day 3 - Ticket and rental at Sunday River or Sugarloaf.

- T.D. THORNTON

Love for sport found at Lost Valley
Lost Valley has one of the largest PSIA Ski Schools in the region, responsible for giving generations their start and training. Students range from kids whose parents remember learning the sport in downtown Auburn to the Bates College roommate who’s trying to learn enough to head off to Sunday River and the big time. Time-slot ticketing is available, such as from 6-9 p.m. for $12. And partnering with Sunday River and Sugarloaf, an $89 Learn to Ski card buys skiers and riders three days of lift and lessons at the big areas.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Covering a lot of terrain
Mt. Abram’s terrain is where PSIA officials from all over come to train and teach at the West Side area. Many remark on what a beautiful hidden gem in New England ski instruction it is. The terrain is serviced by chairlift and magic carpet.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Backsliders all right here
If sliding on your backside (intentionally, at least) is more your style, Mt. Abram’s Flying Squirrel Tubing Park might be for you. With three lanes that are 1,325 feet long (a touch over a quarter mile), it’s billed as the longest tubing run in the state.

- T.D. THORNTON

New yurt on the block
Check out the low-environment impact yurt at the base of Kennebago Quad lift on Saddleback. This is a great spot for hot chocolate or soup before heading back into the cold for another run off the summit. Better yet, the yurt is equipped with toilets, so skiers and riders stay on this section without need to return to base between runs.

- TONY CHAMBERLAIN

Get a glimpse of an Olympian
Northern Maine just might lure an Olympian or two after the Vancouver Winter Games. The world-class cross-country course at Fort Kent will host several season-ending Nordic marathon events the final week of March. The US Ski and Snowboard Association’s US Cross-Country Championships will feature a women’s 30K and men’s 50K race March 24, followed by the new three-day SuperTour Finals (one individual sprint, one mass-start distance race, and a hill climb) March 26-28.

- T.D. THORNTON

Best idea to get kids going
Winter Kids is a Maine-wide non-profit group trying to entice kids into a healthy lifestyle through snow sports. Athletes like Olympians Julie Parisien and Seth Wescott have helped with motivational messages but there are also programs designed to get Maine families out on the snowshoe and cross-country trails. They start them young, too. One program, the FunPass, allows limited free skiing for preschoolers to fourth graders at select touring centers across the state.

- MARTY BASCH