Sugarloaf is a big mountain, with a big fan base. At 4,237', Sugarloaf Mountain is the tallest ski summit in Maine, rivaling Stowe at 4,395' and Killington at 4,241'. If you have never skied this massive mountain in Carrabasset Valley, well, you can't say you’re a Sugarloaf since___ then, can you?
The Loaf is the closest thing to a ski cult I have ever encountered. There are some rabid Mad River Glen lovers, and some absolute Alta enthusiasts, but their bonds seem more of an old school, anti-snowboard society. Loafers are extremely devoted, even defensive, about their downhill ski resort. They all sport the iconic blue and white Sugarloaf triangle sticker on their cars, their helmets, their boot bags. They travel with extra stickers and plaster them in prominent, even peculiar, places to prove their love. I have seen Sugarloaf stickers at ski areas around the globe. A few fiercely loyal Loafers have what looks like the black diamond Sunday River logo sticker, but upon closer inspection it reads "Someday Bigger."
What spawns this Sugarloaf love? What drives downhillers to drive hours to this remote resort, to endure extreme weather, to ski steep firm terrain off the exposed summit?
Here is my stab at the recipe for this Sugarloaf passion. It is certainly one part history. The Bigelow Boys and Amos Winter were determined to build a ski hill here, and much labor and love made Sugarloaf happen in 1951. The first trail, Winter's Way, remains a testament to their hard work, and events like the Sugarloaf Schuss from 1952, continue. Sugarloafers have a ball, literally, at every milestone, sometime they serve the authentic, intoxicating 1951 Grand Lake Stream punch (the Kool-Aid of Carrabassett?). Most importantly, these crazy ski families haul back (ski trail pun) to Sugarloaf every weekend and school break, a tradition kept for generations. The ski décor repeated in most condos consists of retro Loaf photos and wooden skis mounted to walls. A few flush Loafers paid fortunes for defunct gondolas and Spillway chairs at auction for haute interior design.
The love of the Loaf is also undeniably one part terrain. When the snow is right (like right now) and the snowfields are blanketed in white, Sugarloaf is awesome. When that is not the case, you sharpen your edges and carve (or skid) down Gondi line, a long unforgiving charge down the center of the Loaf’s face where the 1965 gondola passed.
Every racer worth his salt has competed on the headwall of Narrow Gauge (like Bode Miller), and you are no bump skier if you have not skied Bubblecuffer top to bottom – no stopping. Over the years, trails have been widened, Eastern glades in Brackett Basin have been opened, pipes, parks and boardercross courses have been added (with two time Gold medalist, native Seth Wescott’s support), but most of Sugarloaf's terrain and trail names remain - legendary.
The rest of the Loaf’s formula must be the people. Sugarloafers are a community (sorry if I said cult before). They queue up long before the quad starts churning, place their skis in the lift line to mark their spot, then walk around in ski boots socializing with fellow Loafers till opening bell. They ski in predictable patterns, a few warm up laps on the Superquad, then to Spillway (now the new Skyline Quad – but many still call it Spillway), to King Pine and Timberline when it opens. They ride t-bars when the wind puts chairlifts on hold. They wear crazy outfits for White World Week, Easter, and Reggaefest. They have spirit, they are infected with Sugarloaf-ism, which is clearly contagious - even in outdoor quarters. Every time I write about Sugarloaf, my inbox fills with comments, criticisms, and cult-like kudos.
Here is my tip (Sugarloafer since 1993), go now, ski the Loaf in March and April, when the winds calm, the sun comes out, the recent snow has piled up, and the events crank up. This is when Sugarloaf rocks. You may find yourself bragging about bagging The Gauge and Gondi by 9, craving Bag burgers by noon, and slapping Loaf logo triangles on your car. You can still become a Sugarloafer since 2012.
Photos by Greg Burke
Eric Wilbur is a lifelong recreational skier who spends most of his winter and spring in the mountains of New England. He does not ski in jeans. You can read more of Eric's work here.
Heather Burke is an award winning ski journalist with over a decade of ski news coverage. As a former ski instructor and a ski parent, she knows the ski biz from the inside out. She and her family visit New England ski resorts, as well as the West and Canada, to report on the latest trends and their best family finds. Her husband Greg takes all the accompanying photos, and their work can be seen at www.familyskitrips.com and www.luxuryskitrips.com.