Ski resort requirements for our family: High speed lifts for my husband and a hot tub at day’s end. My daughter “needs” slopeside lodging so she can sleep in, plus terrain parks to meet p with her cool ski buds. My son wants serious steeps and an outdoor heated pool. Me, I like gorgeously groomed runs, leisurely lunches, lively après ski and scenery on the side.
We found Sunday River to be a fit for all four of us. This Maine ski resort sprawls among eight peaks accessing 870-acres of terrain with 15 efficient lifts and over 135 trails. Sunday River is the second largest acreage for skiers in New England, sister Sugarloaf is the biggest with 1,056-acres. Two hotels bookend the three mile wide Sunday River resort, while the hotels are not as “Grand” as their names imply – you can’t beat the ski in/ski out locations. Sunday River has scads of on-mountain condos too. We liked the Grand Summit Hotel best, closest to the après ski activities.
Arriving on Friday evening, you unload your gear and kiss your car goodbye, check into a modest but mountainside Grand Summit Hotel suite, and store your skis with Ski Valet steps from the slope. Or you can hit the slopes for a little night skiing (til 9pm Friday, Saturday and certain holidays), included in ski and stay packages.
Since Sunday River was bought out by Midwest based Boyne Resorts summer of 2007, along with Maine sister resort Sugarloaf and NH’s Loon, serious dough has been spent at this former American Skiing Company resort. A $7 million Chondola launched December 2008 – four 6-passenger chairs plus an 8-pasenger gondola intersperse along one high speed cable from the South Ridge base to North Peak in under 7 minutes (previously it took twice as long and two lift rides). This Chair/Gondola lift will also ramp up Sunday River’s four seasonality with summit weddings, meetings, even mountain biking. In recent years, Sunday River has added low angle glades, real kid pleasers like Blind Ambition with well spaced trees, and a 15-acre terrain park called T72 designed by local super skier Simon Dumont who hosted his annual Dumont Cup pro am free ski event at his home mountain.
We kick off our trip with a quick free shuttle from the Hotel to the Foggy Goggle. Greg and I enjoy the après ski atmosphere, casual pub fare and a view of the slopes. The kids grab some pub food with us then go Tubing, there’s also ice-skating nearby at the Snow Cap Lodge. We also love to dine at Camp in the Grand Summit- a lodgy vibe and local fare makes this hotel dining far more cozy and comforting – Tator Tots, a Maine cheese board and, meatloaf and other Maine staples make dining here fun and flavorful.
Sunday River really shines come sun up. Staying slopeside, you can be “first chair, first tracks.” The early birds get the goods: corduroy and “freshies.” Sunday River “resurfaces” trails nightly with a fresh coat of talcum powdery snow. 1,900 snow guns make the driest, squeakiest snow we have encountered and Sunday River’s groomers are some of the best in the biz, winning national competitions.
With strategically placed high speed lifts on each ski peak, you can bang out one sweet run after another from Sunday Punch to Right Stuff on centrally located Barker Mountain. Then cruise Spruce Peak’s Risky Business and American Express, a new triple featuring a conveyor loading system will debut 2017. We bag ten by 10am, then stop at the North Peak Lodge for their gooey cinnamon buns. The mid-mountain lodge is a prime meeting place if someone (my daughter) sleeps in.
Refueled, we make our way to Jordan Bowl, the westernmost peak of Sunday River’s 820 acres. Jordan and Oz areas were added by the illustrious Les Otten in the 90’s. I like Jordan best for its extraordinary views of Maine’s Mahoosuc Range and magnificent Mount Washington, plus two fantastic trails, Excalibur and Rogue Angel (Otten had an “Obsession” with movie titles as trail names).
Some skiers (primarily Sugarloafers) find feud with all things River-related – calling it “Someday Bigger.” Their claim: you spend your day traversing. The reality: there’s no need to shuffle from one peak to the next – instead ski the handful of trails each lift accesses then slide to the next. White Cap, Locke, Barker and Jordan peaks are all about 1,500’-vertical when skied top to bottom.
Oz, next to Jordan, is the highest of Sunday River’s eight peaks at 3,140’, and home to crazy terrain like Ruby Palace and Flying Monkey glades – so my son is happy. To head back to the central ski area, take Kansas (here’s one exception where you must traverse along this flat-sounding trail). We get in Bode Miller tucks and race Chinese Downhill style to make Kansas more captivating.
For a ski in ski out lunch, the River has several good sit-down restaurants depending on your locale when hunger sets in: Sliders at the Jordan Grand, Foggy Goggle or Cho Sun at South Ridge, The Mountain Room at the Peak Lodge for Chef charcutierie and small plates, or Shipyard Brew Haus at White Cap.
After a relaxing repast with a slope view, our kids head to Sunday River’s Terrain Park on T72 and perhaps a sighting of local X Games superstar Simon Dumont who designed this park following his many XGames freeskiing medals.
While our teens go do their tricks, we make post lunch laps on North Peak, Barker and Locke (hint: this triple chair rarely has a line). For expert steeps, White Heat awaits – the River’s signature “longest, steepest, widest trail in the east.” A.S.C. was all about accolades and Sunday River was the Mecca of the multi-mountain monopoly. Neighboring trail Shockwave is equally steep and more interesting than the heralded “Heat” and for gnarly glades – Chutzpah is hard core, my two cents.
Then we point our ski tips toward the Grand Summit Hotel’s steamy outdoor pool and humongous hot tub– with a view of the trails we just conquered.
Après ski can be listening to live music at The Foggy Goggle, beer mugs at Barker Bar, or a quiet wine and cheese at Camp. The Mountain Explorer (a free shuttle bus) will deliver you to The Matterhorn or The Sunday River Brew Pub. You must browse bustling Bethel Village– it doesn’t take long to visit the homespun Maine shops, and the handful of decent restaurants. The Sudbury Inn has a popular watering hole “Suds” on historic Main Street, or if you want to go cheap and native, try the Funky Red Barn.
On select evenings, Sunday River has Dining at the Peak, you ride the Chondola to the North Peak Lodge for a gourmet dinner with wine pairing and entertainment in the summit lodge that has been transformed with candlelight and tablecloths. The kids can night ski laps on the lit trails while you enjoy a leisure on mountain dinner and ride down.
If you don’t nod off early from fall-line fatigue, Sunday River has a rockin’ concert line up all winter with live bands, plus a family-friendly Black Diamond Entertainment series, and fireworks many Saturdays and holidays.
Sure, a ski trip is about the skiing first and foremost, and Sunday River puts out the most reliable skiing in the East (opening mid-October or by Halloween and skiing till late April). The Maine town of Bethel, albeit humble, has spirit – they built the world’s tallest snowwoman (122’) one season. Sunday River is maturing into a real resort with on and off slope offerings to satisfy all the family’s cravings.