Posted on February 09, 2009 in Sports
By Ben Slagle & Brian King
Take next week’s break from class and study hard on the slopes. Check out the rankings below for Maine and New England’s best skiing options.
We set up three different classes:
Casual Skier – you love a nice day at the mountain but you just don’t have the time
Moderately Serious Skier – a regular day tripper, good for 20 days a year
Full-On Chargers – you can’t count your days per year, you’ll chase any snow storm anywhere, you know who you are.
If you are a beginner on a budget, meet Shawnee Peak. At around an hour’s drive from Portland and costing a comparatively cheap $52 for a day ticket, Shawnee is the ideal day trip if you are just looking to get on the hill and make some turns.
Out of the three resorts, Shawnee is the smallest by a large margin with just 40 trails offered. If you are looking to progress your abilities from beginner to intermediate, while not spending the better part of 100 dollars for a lift ticket, Shawnee gives you that opportunity.
However, Shawnee falls short in what it can offer the advanced charging skier/snowboarder. While the mountain can offer a few sections of steep challenging terrain, an advanced skier looking for varying difficult terrain will quickly exhaust all the hill has to offer.
Without a single high-speed chair on the mountain, a run-counting ripper will most likely become frustrated with the short runs and long lift rides.
While Shawnee Peak can lay claim to a respectable snowmaking system, its natural snowfall comes in at 90-130 inches per year, lower than most other Maine resorts. If you are the powder-hunting type, your chances, as well as reward, increases as you move north past Shawnee to other resorts.
Because of it’s proximity to Portland and it’s small mountain family feel, Shawnee has cut out a niche’ for itself in the Maine ski mountain market.
Casual Skier – A
Moderately Serious Skier – C+
Full-On Chargers – C-
Sunday River offers what can best be described as the most well-rounded mountain experience in Maine.
Alongside Sugarloaf, Sunday River stands as one of two mountains in Maine that fall into the “resort” category. Located in Newry, Sunday River can be reached in good conditions in around an hour and a half from Portland, making it the perfect day trip mountain for all abilities.
Along with its resort status comes its lofty ticket prices at $79 a day, a hefty sum for a poor college kid. But there’s hope. The New England College Pass offers a good alternative for skiers and riders, it pays for itself after six days and is valid at both Sunday River and Sugarloaf (COST?)
Sunday River boasts the most capable snowmaking system in the east with the ability to cover 92 perecent of its trails. This perk makes Sunday River the clear front-runner in early season skiing, especially in years with low natural snowfall amounts.
With 155 inches of annual snowfall, it is a great option for the powder-hunting day trip following the unexpected storm.
With four high-speed quads servicing a variety of skill level trails, lap totals can be numerous for the midweek skier.
If park riding is your thing, Sunday River champions that category as well with a super-pipe and four terrain parks. From competition size kickers to baby rails, all terrain park bases are covered at Sunday River.
Boasting eight skiable peaks, the resort is quite large laterally, but lacks prowess vertically, leaving an advanced skier with something to be desired with both run length and ease of traversing from one area of the mountain to another.
Along with the accessibility for the southern population, and Sunday River’s family “resortish” feel, comes the potential for weekend and vacation-week crowds, which can result in lengthy lift lines and a generally clustered effect.
If you want a full day of crowd free cruising its best to visit Sunday River mid-week.
Casual Skier – A-
Moderately Serious Skier – A
Full-On Chargers – B
(Carrabasset Valley, Maine):
Second only to Katahdin in height, Sugarloaf offers the most advanced lift serviced terrain in the state.
If you are serious about skiing and are looking to challenge yourself on a variety of groomed and un-groomed steeps, Sugarloaf is unparalleled in Maine.
With 200 inches of annual natural snowfall the most frequent and most plentiful powder days of the three resorts reviewed are found at Sugarloaf.
While only offering one large peak, compared to Sunday River’s eight, Sugarloaf has more trails.
On top of marked trails, Sugarloaf has a boundary-to-boundary skiing policy, meaning you can venture into the woods anywhere on the mountain you please without having to worry about a pulled pass.
For the advanced skier looking for the best natural snow, longest runs, and gnarliest terrain, Sugarloaf competes with any mountain in New England. However, a $75 lift-ticket and a two-and-a-half hour drive each way can really put a strain on your wallet and will.
Plus, the same raw size, steep terrain, and tumultuous weather that makes Sugarloaf so appealing to the passionate skier/rider, can also result in sub-zero temperatures and wind-holds on the desirable lifts.
Sugarloaf is not the best option for the casual skier and requires a tolerance for unpredictable conditions.
While possessing a competent snowmaking system, some years the mountain will still only have limited terrain open at Christmas vacation, meaning its is surpassed by Sunday River in terms of early skiing.
Contrastingly, because of its high annual snowfall and the sun- shielding position of the front face of the mountain, Sugarloaf can offer some of the best spring conditions, which stick around long after other mountains have packed it in.
Casual Skier – C
Moderately Serious Skier – B-
Full-On Chargers – A