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Sunday River, Maine

Sunday River is a pleasant blend of old New England tradition with modern ski facilities.


In the beginning, there was the mountain, and God made snow and taught Les Otten to make snow and brought him to Bethel, Maine, and commanded him to make the mountain white. And Otten came. He carpeted the slopes with guaranteed snow, expanded the terrain to adjacent peaks, added high-speed lifts to access them and built condos to house the masses that followed The True Way. So begins the gospel of Sunday River ski resort, MaineSunday River. Les Otten is gone, but the True Believers remain, and Sunday River continues to prosper, despite benign neglect by distant owner American Ski Company.


The "Rivah" sprawls across eight connected mountains in the Sunday River Valley. For all its vertical, Sunday River is very horizontal, spreading more than 3.5 miles across those peaks. Those unfamiliar with the terrain can feel as if they’re spending more time getting from one place to another than skiing. Keep a trail map handy, because you’re going to need it.


Sunday River can suffer from its own popularity. Its trails can be crowded, and the frequent intersections are accidents waiting to happen. Hint: To avoid crowds, consider starting the day at Jordan Bowl and working back across the general flow of traffic (an ideal scenario for those staying at the Jordan Grand Hotel).


Still, the plusses far outweigh the drawbacks. Sunday River’s impressive size yields plentiful and varied terrain; its efficient lift system (okay, it’s time to upgrade those triples to high-speed quads) makes it pretty easy to get around; and its stellar snowmaking and grooming make skiing and riding here a delight.


Sunday River lacks a true center. It has three separate base lodges: South Ridge, Barker Mountain and White Cap and the on-mountain North Peak Lodge. South Ridge, the hub, houses the ski school, Maine Handicapped Skiing program and a grocery store. Ringing the lodges are endless condominiums, with full-scale condo-hotels book-ending the resort.


Six miles south is the antidote to the on-mountain modernity, the lovely town of Bethel, with its white-steepled churches, brick prep school and Victorian homes. Classic country inns and historical houses-turned-B&Bs provide alternative lodging for those seeking more New England charm. Even if you stay on the mountain, be sure to visit the village for a meal or two; Bethel has a surprising variety of restaurants, from Korean to Texas-style barbecue. The free Mountain Explorer shuttle bus operates between the village and the mountain, and another free trolley connects base lodges and hotels on mountain.