SUNNY DAYS AT SUNDAY RIVER

It was my first visit to Sunday River and I was really looking forward to visiting this ski area located near Bethel, Maine. I flew to Manchester, N.H., rented a car and drove the rest of the way. I had the pleasure of seeing some of the most beautiful unspoiled country in all of New England. I kept seeing signs “Moose Crossing” and had visions of a 10-foot tall moose coming out of the forest and staring down my car but all I saw were a few deer.

FOOD AND LODGING

When I arrived in Bethel, I decided to ride around and check out the town. There were some elegant Victorian bed and breakfast places in this quaint Maine hamlet. While reconnoitering the area, I stopped in the Rebel Family Restaurant and Recreation Center (they have a pool table) to ask for directions to the ski area, when I noticed their specials board, advertising “Easter Ham Dinner – $6.95.” I was hungry and the price was right. I ordered the ham dinner and was delighted to find that it came with homemade peach cobbler for desert. If you want to have a good home-cooked meal at a very reasonable price, this is a good place to eat. The music was Country & Western and the decor was not elegant, but everything was clean and the food was very good. This inexpensive restaurant is located in West Bethel, just before you get into the town of Bethel itself on Rt. 2.

Just down the road was a motel that advertised rooms for $34! Although I had booked accommodations at Sunday River for my visit, I wasn’t supposed to arrive until the next morning, so I needed a place to say for that night and the price looked good to me. The name of the motel was the Pleasant River Motel and the room was large, with a queen-size bed, large table and chairs and a TV. The decor was early ’70s and the bathroom looked like it had been scrubbed within an inch of its life. I had a good night’s sleep and was off to the mountain the next morning. For more information regarding lodging, you can contact the Lodging Bureau at Sunday River.

BIGGER THAN A WEEK OF SUNDAYS

Sunday River is a BIG ski area. I didn’t realize how big it was until I got there. The sun was shining and they had plenty of snow as I began to check out all their trails. I had parked at the South Ridge Base Lodge, so I hopped on the high-speed quad and headed up the mountain. Sunday River seems to go on forever. I road up the Baker Mt. Quad and worked my way over to White Heat, billed as the steepest, widest mogul trail in the East with a pitch that approached 70%. I was not disappointed. It was GREAT. They had a mogul course set up on the right side of the slope and had recently groomed the left side so the moguls were a lot smaller on that section, in fact it was almost groomed flat. This was very nice because it gave me a pace to bail out when the going got a little too intense in the bumps.

I had fun on White Heat but I really liked the trails on Locke Mt. (serviced by the detachable quad) like Agony, Top Gun, Cascades, and Locke Line. As the day grew warmer, I sought out the firmer snow and spent most of the day on this part of the mountain.

A GRAND ROOM AT THE GRAND JORDAN HOTEL

I had reservations at the Grand Jordan Hotel and it was very, very nice. I had a chance to sooth my aching bones in their heated pool, hot tub and sauna. My room was spacious, well decorated, with a spectacular view. Refreshed after soaking and baking, I headed down the road with a growling stomach in search of dinner and some companionship.

I wanted to find a place to eat and hang out for the evening. I had noticed the Sunday River Brewery, located at the junction of the main road and the access road on my way to the mountain. It was the only place that had more than a few cars in the parking lot . . . always a good sign.

The food was moderately priced and quite good. People were friendly and I struck up a conversation with some of the locals at the bar. One character I met was Steve Crone, a former downhill skier who had given up downhill for telemarking, skijoring and lama trekking. His company is called Llama Treks, Inc. and he runs the Telemark Inn that he bills as a wilderness lodge. We had a pleasant conversation. I was full and ready for a good night’s sleep.

FAST WOMEN & SLOW SNOW

The next day, I discovered a Women’s FIS race going on. These women were from several countries and some of them looked like they would be good candidates for future Olympic teams.

They started with a really big push-off in the gate and sped down the course, smacking the poles out of the way as they sped to the finish line. They were coaxing all the speed they could get out of this course and were really going for it in what was for many of them, the last race of the season.

After shooting the race, I went into the lodge for lunch and began to explore Sunday River.

JORDAN Bowl AND THE LAND OF OZ

I was staying at the Grand Jordan Hotel and wanted to ski over to it, so I started to head in that direction. I kept following the signs, skiing down trails and riding up chair lifts until I finally came to the Jordan Bowl. It was at that point that I realized just how BIG Sunday River was. I checked out the trails on Jordan and then decided to start working my way back to South Ridge to pick up my car. I asked a Ski Instructor how to get back and he gave me directions. “Just go to OZ and follow the signs,” he said, and that’s what I did.

To my delight, I discovered the best skiing of the day in two areas called the Tin Woodsman and Emerald City. They were both double black diamond glades with moguls that were just the right size and spaced perfectly for me. I looked at Flyin’ Monkey (which was closed) and decided that the trees were much to close for comfort, even if the trail had been open. I took a few more runs and then continued on my trek back to the car.

FOGGY GOGGLE PORCH

After a day of skiing, I was ready for a drink and a little socializing. The patio of the Foggy Goggle seemed to be a good place for people to congregate and sit in the sun, enjoying a beer and chatting with their friends. It was the perfect place to unwind after a hard day skiing. After sitting on the porch and enjoying what was left of a perfect spring day, I headed back to the Grand Jordan to once again enjoy a swim in the heated outdoor pool and a good soak in the hot tub. I let the water jets do their magic on my tired muscles and crawled back to my room, flopped in front of the TV and relaxed after a spectacular day on the slopes.

Later, I had a drink in the bar and dinner in the Grand Avenue Café. The meal was really great, if a little out of my usual ski bum price range. Sunday River was playing host to a large number of British guests and it was fun to hear their accents as I enjoyed my steak dinner.

TURNING TO THE PERFECT TURNPRO

I kept seeing references to The Perfect Turn, so I interviewed the director of the ski school to find out more about this program. He gave me some background on how the concept was developed and then gave me a tour of the Perfect Turn facility. I was IMPRESSED! They’ve made an honest attempt to turn a person’s first ski experience into a really GREAT one. Instead of standing in line at a rental shop to have someone hand you a pair of skis and boots and turn you loose on the slope, they have devised a program to make the first-time visitor really feel special.

They bring people in their late teens and adults together in small groups and runners BRING you your skis and boots and HELP you put them on, ensuring a proper fit (there’s nothing worse that ill-fitting ski boots). Next they show you a great film about skiing and take you out on the hill for your first lesson. They guarantee you will learn to ski in one day and I believe them. The program combines graduated ski lengths and graduated slopes with a personalized coaching system that focuses on what YOU do right and builds on that, rather than pointing out what you are doing incorrectly. The instructor takes movements that you already know and turns them into skiing moves! This kind of FIRST CLASS treatment will have the beginner coming back for more lessons and is guaranteed to turn a “never-ever” into a ski-addict. I always recommend that people who have never skied take lessons from a professional ski instructor and at Sunday River’s Perfect Turn Program, you will be pampered and your first ski experience will be sure to be wonderful.

A LITTLE TASTE OF ITALY

After a hard day of skiing, I was ready for some really great pasta, so I dined at Rossetto’s Ristorante. I can recommend the mussels (huge serving) for an appetizer and their marinara sauce is also pretty darn good too. The decor was pleasantly rustic and the meal was very enjoyable. A recommendation of an Italian restaurant from a man with as many vowels in his name as mine, should carry more than a little weight. For those of you on a budget, they had an all-you-can-eat pizza and salad bar down stairs in Bumps’ Pub where you can eat your fill for $6.00.

THE PROBLEM WITH SUNDAY RIVER

My first visit to Sunday River was really terrific but it was too short. The only complaint I had was that Sunday River was too big, too many trails and too many things that I wanted to do. I was there for four days and I have to go back for more. There was just too much to see and do in the short time I was there. Sunday River is a “destination” resort with an underdeveloped access road. There was a lot I missed, including nightly rides on a snow cat and mountain top barbecue in the moonlight! Now that I’ve found Sunday River, I’ll be back for more. I’m looking forward to exploring more of their exciting terrain and sampling more of all the good things I found at this great ski resort.