There’s something special about your first day of the season, and it’s hard to describe. You have almost every feeling imaginable running through your body, and every possible thought running through your head. A part of you is thinking ‘Alright, I got this. Back out where I belong’ and another part is going ‘Snowboarding is like riding a bicycle, right?’
Either way, the moment the chairlift crests over the top of the summit and your board touches down on the ramp, all those thoughts and feelings pretty much just disappear. You are back home. No question about it.
This past Saturday, I got to start my 2011-2012 season at Sugarloaf in Carrabasset Valley, Maine and I can’t think of a better place to get this adventure started. Sugarloaf knows snow better than anything else, and it shows. Like a lot of the country, New England has been plagued by a serious lack of snow so far this year but you wouldn’t know it at Sugarloaf. Sometimes I forget that summer even happens up there.
Sugarloaf is an annual group trip for about a dozen friends and I, and it’s basically the way we kick off our season – so I think this review will be much different than others. So, let’s get into it.
Location: Sugarloaf is a solid 4 hour drive at least from southern New Hampshire, so probably a good 4.5 from Boston (they’re closer to 495). Therefore, Sugarloaf isn’t a day trip at all. Plan to come up and a stay a day or two. The roads getting here are easy to follow and well marked (lots of major routes) with plenty of gas stations and restaurants dotted along the way. Oh, and for inquiring minds – cell phone reception with Verizon is pretty good most of the way. Only drops out entirely a few times.
Parking: Parking isn’t an issue at Sugarloaf. They have a ton of parking lots and a bunch of shuttle buses. If you happen to be staying in one of their condo complexes, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be in easy walking distance of the Snubber or Sawduster chairlift as well too. Both take you right to the base.
Ticket Counter/Guest Services: Sugarloaf employees are bizarrely nice and courteous. It doesn’t matter who I’m dealing with there, they’ve always been helpful, honest, and down to earth. I have to even throw in a comment and say that the lift operators were incredibly nice, which tends to be a rarity at resorts.
Price: Sugarloaf can be a little on the costly side if you just do a day pass. Look up the lodging packages instead, get a massive group, or whatever works for you. My group and I book our annual trip through the Boston Ski and Snowboard Expo at $135 a person (includes lodging in a 12 person condo, 2 day lift tickets for everyone, and access to the fitness and pool center).
Lodges: I haven’t been to all of Sugarloaf’s lodges yet, so I can only comment on the big one at the base so far. I like it, a lot. It has a nice flow to it. Too many lodges just dump you right into the seating area or ticket counter and it’s a mob scene. Sugarloaf does it differently. There’s multiple huge seating areas, lots of tables, tons of lockers, and it’s all nicely done with huge windows and exposed wood. To top it off, I really like the fact it was designed with an awesome outdoor area with benches, Adirondack chairs, and a fire pit. It’s appropriately called ‘The Beach’.
Lifts: Sugarloaf has a lot of lifts, and I haven’t been on even half of them. Like many resorts, they’re in the process of upgrading their equipment so I won’t be the person who complains that everything isn’t a high speed quad or that the seats aren’t perfect. The main high speed lift ‘SuperQuad’ is pretty awesome. Takes you right to the summit in about 6.5 minutes. Lines at the base move quick, so it’s an overall great lift. As for other lifts, one was opened the weekend I was there called the Skyline. I unfortunately didn’t have the chance to check it out, but the rest of my group said it was incredible – and they are much harder critics than me!
Trails: One of these days, I’ll get to Sugarloaf when it’s entirely open. I keeep going too early in the season! But here’s what I can tell you: if you are looking for BIG trails, get to Sugarloaf. Tote Road alone is supposed to be close to 3 miles long, and that trail is basically ALWAYS open. The rest of the trails are just awesome combinations of everything imaginable. There’s some sweet beginner terrain, some great intermediate, awesome advanced, and insane stuff. Also don’t forget about Brackett Basin (massive glades) and the Snowfields (summit powder bowl that rivals the West).
Anything Else: A kind of cool feature Sugarloaf has to get you excited about your upcoming trip (or insanely terrified and checking it frequently for snowflakes), is a user controlled camera mounted above the Widowmaker Lounge. Check it out!
Oh, and Sugarloaf actually has a pretty amusing but decent night scene for those interested. My group tends to favor The Rack, but The Widowmaker tends to always have an awesome live band. Ah decisions!
Now on to part two of the review – the FOOD! Sugarloaf has a lot of places to eat, so I had to choose just a couple so I wouldn’t overdose on chicken tenders. I ended up going with: The Bag & Kettle and The Widowmaker.
Bag & Kettle was up first. This place is known at Sugarloaf for their burgers and brews. I hadn’t heard anything yet about their chicken tenders, so I ordered the Quad Tenders ($11.50). The meal was overall pretty good with 4 decent size tenders and a pile of curly fries, all served with their special sauce (mayo, mustard, and horseradish) on the side. The tenders were made of real chicken with a tasty and crunchy coating, but the fries needed some major help. No taste whatsoever.
Final Score: 3.5 Tenders out of 5
The Widowmaker was up the next day at lunch. This place is kind of a an awesome bar with a lot of comfort food, so it’s hard to go completely wrong. Knowning chicken tenders were required, I ordered the Jackpot Tenders ($10.50). While it definitely appeared to be the same amount of chicken as the restaurant the night before, it had a better flavor and presentation to it, and was served with a nice pile of well seasoned regular fries. The chicken itself was real chicken, covered with crunch and delicious batter. To top off the meal, an array of sauces ranging from your normal honey mustard or BBQ, all the way to some type of buffalo cheese is available.
Final Score: 4 Tenders out of 5