In the seven years I’ve lived in Maine, I’ve entertained the Sunday River vs. Sugarloaf comparison ad nauseum. For years I was on the Sugarloaf side, and to a certain extent, I still am. During my early years in Maine, I lived virtually equidistant to both mountains. Sugarloaf seemed to have stronger terrain, better skiers, less — pardon the term — Massholes, and an all around cooler vibe. When I had the choice between the two, Sugarloaf won every Saturday morning when I tossed my skis in the back of my Subaru.
But then I moved to the Portland area, and constant day trips to Sugarloaf became an impossible dream given the demands of life.
Still needing to get my ski fix, I mourned the loss of my beloved Sugarloaf and all that entailed: no more weekly Bag Burgers, no more regular Seth Wescott sightings at The Rack, no more breaknecking down Upper Gondi Line, no more distant view of Mount Katahdin on a sunny day, and most sadly, no more Snowfields. I began to have anxiety as I visualized a life at Sunday River where I would have to traverse through inept skiers and riders from out of state, deal with the madness of the lodges, have to use a stupid term like “Chondola,” and worst of all, think constantly of my lost love: Sugarloaf.
Not one to mire in love lost, I took my silver pass, my sticks, and my deep desire to make weekly turns in the winter to Newry and the slopes at Sunday River, resigning to visit the Loaf only a couple of times a season. Sunday River was my new winter digs.
The first couple of years were hard. Like any new relationship, I kept expecting my new winter lover to be just like my old one. I found myself looking around the mountain demanding answers to my many questions. Why are so many awful skiers on black diamond trails? Why do snowboarders sit in the middle of trails in a line? Why is there no burger worthy of my Bag Burger palate? Why can’t these skiers pick a line and stick with it?
In those first couple of seasons, I’d have conversations that went like this:
Me: I have to ski at Sunday River this weekend.
Them: That’s the worst.
Me: I know. Isn’t life unfair?
You must be wondering what changed? How did I go from badmouthing Sunday River to openly professing my love? Well, I imagine, like two people who have an arranged marriage, after the initial shock and resentment at the forced coupling settles, you stop looking for who you want the person to be and start seeing her for who she is. And like people, all mountains are beautiful in their own way. When I stopped demanding that Sunday River be Sugarloaf, I started to fall for the mountain.
When the Loafy fog cleared from my goggles, what I saw was a resort with challenging terrain, plenty of opportunity to ditch the novice crowds, and ample parking. All it took was skiing with someone who knew and appreciated the mountain, and I saw what was there the entire time I was dreaming of a life at the Loaf.
How to fall in love with Sunday River:
1. Park at Whitecap Lodge. There are extensive opportunities to slide your vehicle into a spot within a couple minute walk to the lift. When the other lodges are packed, this place is not. Also, the Shipyard Brewhaus is waiting for you at the end of the day.
2. Ski the sides of the mountain. White Heat? Yes, please. Oz? You betcha. Jordan Bowl? I’m already making turns down Blind Ambition.
3. Ski the middle during lunch and at the end of the day. The people who come from out of state are dying for the resort experience, which means they clear off the trails to buy lunch and quite early. While they’re dumping money into Maine’s economy, make hard turns on Right Stuff and Upper Sunday Punch.
4. Hit up Suds Pub in Bethel for an apres ski beverage. The place is brimming with good, local beer.
5. Get over the fact that you’re not at Sugarloaf.
If I sound zealous, like a man in love, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m still wearing my ski pants, having spent the snowy day digging my edges into snow in Newry.
All zeal aside, maybe my love of Sunday River is a greater lesson in life: It’s a damn shame to love what you can’t have, all the while neglecting the great love within reach.