Carrabassett Valley + Kingfield
48 HOURS-December 2012
Photographs + stories by Maine magazine staff:
Heidi Kirn, Susan Grisanti + Leanne Ouimet
Art Director Maine Home+Design
3:00 p.m. Heading North on I-95
This family loves a road trip, and driving north with my husband Neil and our kids on a sunny fall afternoon in Maine is colorful bliss unfolding in golden afternoon light. I haven’t been to Sugarloaf since my downhill-racing days in high school. Our children, Lily and Charlie, have been skiing since they were three, but this will be their first trek to the Loaf.
6:00 p.m. @ Gondola Village
We are excited and don’t know what to expect as we make our way up the cement steps built for wet ski boots. Nothing could have prepared us for the drop-dead views from Condo 2216 on the top floor! We walk into the living room and see only the outdoors through a wall of windows. The chairlift is so close that you could throw a baseball and hit it. Charlie immediately does a faux fainting stunt onto the inviting sectional sofa. The master bedroom is all windows on two sides, affording panoramic views and a large deck. We are in awe of the beauty all around us.
7:30 p.m. @ The Bag and Kettle
The condo is less than a two-minute walk across the bunny slope to all the action. We walk into the Bag and Kettle and immediately get into “vacation mode” as the festive brew-pub atmosphere washes over us. There is a duo playing chilled-out country music and mellow old-school rock. It feels a bit like arriving at a family reunion! A woman walks in the door and hugs the waitress, and we quickly learn that this is a common sight on Homecoming Weekend. I (naively) ask the waitress if she knows anyone. She half chuckles as she tells me that everyone who lives in town comes out for the first Bag Burger of the season. Well, what else can I do but order a burger along with everyone else? I go with a classic sans bun.
9:00 p.m. @ Gondola Village After a leisurely dinner, we stroll around and peek in the windows of the ski shop and down the hotel lobby, but we are anxious to get back to the casual decadence of the condo. Mini shampoos have been provided and a lovely little welcome basket of Balance Bars and Tom’s of Maine toothpaste samples. The kids are excited about the bunk beds. We never want to leave. Ever.
8:30 a.m. @ Double Diamond
We run into my coworker Leanne and her cousin enjoying breakfast. In mid-December, the space will become home to the restaurant 45 North—we’ll be back.
10:00 a.m. @ Carrabassett Valley Academy Ski and Equipment Sale at the Antigravity Complex This sale is voted the best in state and it’s clear why—it’s extremely well-organized and packed with rows of used equipment ranging from roller blades to snowboards, all at great prices. While making our way through the rows of equipment and outerwear, we notice kids on bungee cords doing flips and spins on a trampoline. Our kids immediately hop in line. They strap in and are air bound in moments, bearing ear-to-ear smiles. This is all part of a fundraiser for Carrabassett Valley Academy.
11:30 a.m. @ Mountainside Grocers We make a quick run into this local grocery to pick up ground coffee, milk, and yogurt. Back at the condo, I make a pot of coffee and sink into the views. The mountain is dotted with people enjoying the windy fall morning while wandering the slopes. I picture how magnificent it must be to come back here after a morning of skiing to enjoy hot cocoa and play Monopoly while watching the skiers glide down the snow-covered trails.
1:00 p.m. @ Base Lodge Used Book Sale + Upcountry Artists Arts and Crafts Show “Did you get your passes yet?” can be heard everywhere. Outside of the Sugarloaf Base Lodge, music is pumping and hot dogs and beer are being served. Inside the lodge, there is a craft fair going on that features local artists, craftspeople, businesses, and organizations.
2:00 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Golf Club The dining room is open and casual—a quiet interior lets the views speak. After lunch, we pop into the pro shop where employee Nate Fairfield is working. His friend informs us that he’s the club champion. Nate blushes as he tells me about the 18-hole golf course. I ask him what’s special about it, and he says, “Every hole on the course is challenging and exciting. There is no easy way around this golf course.” He points out the tenth and eleventh holes and shows us how to get there. We are blown over by the spectacular views and autumn colors. On the drive out, we see several deer grazing.
3:30 p.m. @ Mountainside Real Estate A little dreaming is not a bad thing. We meet with broker Pat Tufts to hear about the various condo complexes for sale and also inquire with the rental program administrator Deb Lander about renting this winter. She tells us January 13 through 18 is a great time to visit because it’s Children’s Festival Week, when kids ages 4 through 14 can enjoy free lift tickets, rentals, and children’s programs.
4:30 p.m. @ Sports and Fitness Center Indoor pool time for the kids. Neil offers to watch them while I spend time in the steam room. The locker room also has a sauna and a hot tub and the center boasts two outdoor hot tubs, racquetball and wallyball courts, a salon, and a full weight room. Passes to the center are included with our stay at the condo.
7:00 p.m. @ Gepetto’s We start talking about our 48 Hours adventure with our server Marie Bradford and she says with a smile, “I am the queen of Sugarloaf.” We chuckle and she adds that the king, Drew O’Neill, is tending bar tonight. Marie is fantastic and recommends some items that can be made gluten free. The kids share a pizza and I order a lobster dish served over rice instead of pasta. The food is delicious. I read about the history of the restaurant on the back of the menu and ask Marie if the people mentioned still own it. They sure do. We meet owners Tegre Bragdon (aka “Tiger”) and Lloyd Cuttler, and they share great stories about their 35 years in business. One of my favorites involves their neighboring restaurant, the Bag and Kettle—if one of the restaurants runs out of something in the kitchen, they borrow it from the other. They close on different nights and check in before running specials so they don’t step on each other’s toes. “It’s one big family,” Lloyd says. He introduces us to his niece, Anne Cuttler Hicks, who regales us with even more great stories.
7:00 a.m. @ Whiffletree SuperQuad I walk right out of the building and up the ski trail. Breathing the cold mountain air deep into my lungs, I’m transported back to my childhood. The crisp fall temperature and the smells of leaves and wood-burning stove remind me of growing up in the western Maine mountains. I encounter other lone hikers enjoying the morning light.
10:00 a.m. @ Carrabassett Valley Regional Airport All of us are giddy with anticipation—Lloyd, the owner of Gepetto’s, has graciously offered to take us up in his single-engine plane. Because there are four of us, he takes us on two separate flights. Nothing could have prepared me for the stunning views. The fall foliage is at its peak and the carpet of forest below is woven of tiny trees bursting with oranges, yellows, and reds that contrast beautifully against the greens. When we fly over Sugarloaf, I’m overwhelmed by the awesomeness of the landscape and the generosity of my new friend. We will never forget this experience.
11:30 a.m. @ Kingfield Woodsman A mixture of local crafts, handwritten signs, and several “no cell phones” signs on the wall make it clear that this is a place to slow down and enjoy the company. We chat for awhile with owner Diane Christen about her journey to Kingfield from Bergen County, New Jersey, 36 years ago. It is much different than New Jersey, she explains. “With only 1,000 people in the town, if you dial the wrong number here you always get someone you know!”
12:30 p.m. @ Carrabassett Coffee As the kids and Neil head to the car, I dart across the way to grab a pound of coffee from Carrabassett Coffee. I tell Charlie Wilson that I want something dark and strong. He shows me a menu and I choose an espresso roast. As Charlie grinds it for me, owner Tom Hildreth encourages me to check out the roasting equipment in the back room. Fueled for the ride back, we settle in to talk about the plane ride and other great weekend adventures, while smelling the freshly ground coffee all the way home.
3:00 p.m The Paul Simon tune playing in my head fits the moment, even though my traveling companion is not nine years old—she’s actually just days away from her sixteenth birthday and I’ve stacked the deck to have her all to myself. And we’re not going to Graceland, but we’re making a pilgrimage of our own to Sugarloaf Mountain Resort. My daughter Cara loves Sugarloaf, and she’s just as excited to make the trip for the mountain’s annual Homecoming Weekend in early October as she will be when we return to ski this winter. With her camera in tow, she has big plans to photograph the explosion of autumnal colors on the mountain. She assures me that I need not worry about finding all the best places—she’s got it covered. But before we head to her favorite haunts on the mountain, we’re stopping in the town of Kingfield for the First Friday Art Walk.
5:45 p.m. @ Stadler Gallery
We are greeted by Melita Westerlund’s large, colorful steel sculptures outside of this nineteenth-century barn gallery. Inside, we take in paintings by Abby Shahn, gelatin monoprints by Joël Levasseur, and encaustic paintings by gallery owner Ulrike Stadler. Stadler’s newest work, a vibrant series of floral paintings, is in contrast to her earlier work—a haunting series of portraits that hang high on the walls of the barn. We are soon deep in conversation with the spunky Stadler, a native of Germany who has lived in Kingfield for 30 years. Her eyes sparkle with energy when she tells us how much she loves this place. We leave with promises to return sometime soon, inspired as much to visit with her as we are to see the next art exhibition.
6:20 p.m. @ Western Maine Artists Collective at the Reinholt Gallery More than 20 artists exhibit in this collective. We linger over the work of each: lovely paintings, fine woodworking, inventive wire sculpture, beautiful metal work, and fun fiber arts. We’re especially drawn to Ian Reinholt’s remarkable handcrafted wood furniture. Also on display are several pairs of Lucid skis that are handmade from native Maine woods.
6:45 p.m. @ Schoolhouse Gallery We climb the stairs of the beautifully renovated 1874 schoolhouse-turned-art gallery to find folks basking in the crisp evening air on the covered porch. Inside, we find a stunning series of John Orcutt’s colorful large format photographs. We chat with John and his wife and business partner Cynthia, and learn that they have always worked together—first when John was an architect and Cynthia was a landscape designer, and now with their gallery. Both offer helpful hints about the area’s most beautiful spots, many of which are the subjects of the photographs in this month’s show. John shares the back stories behind many of the shots—one caught on a picnic, another on a hike—and sometimes the camera was pulled out at the exact moment that the sun shone on just the right spot.
7:15 p.m. @ The Rack We can feel the pulse of the place even as we pull up. Music pours out of this barbeque joint and bar owned by Olympic gold medalist and hometown hero Seth Wescott. Folks are scattered around the outside deck, and the bar is full of patrons enjoying the live music. We find a table for four inside the restaurant, and we’re soon joined by Maine magazine’s events director Leanne and her cousin Nicole. We feast on delicious barbeque and all the fixings complemented by welcoming service. We hang around long after we’re done eating, relishing the lively atmosphere.
10:30 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel On our drive to the mountain, we can’t miss the hotel all lit up—from a distance, it resembles a fairy-tale castle. Once we get set up in our well-appointed room, we climb into beds outfitted with crisp white linens, fluffy pillows, and down comforters. Heavenly.
8:45 a.m. @ Sugarloaf Village The village at the base of the mountain has more than 25 restaurants and shops. We make our way over to Cara’s favorite breakfast spot, Java Joe’s, where we order bagels and coffees. We wander around seeing many smiling faces. Several small children can be seen carrying pumpkins out of the lodge.
9:45 a.m. @ Carrabassett Valley Bike We’re lucky enough to be pointed in the direction of the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center, where Bob Ash has set up a much-needed bike service and rental operation. He outfits us with some pretty sweet rides and even sets us up with a group going out that morning. We meet Kimberly and Alison, who are part of a tightly knit mountain-biking community in the area. Both women are members of the Carrabassett Region New England Mountain Bike Association, which builds and maintains a network of trails in the western mountains. The Outdoor Center offers trails for all ability levels, ranging from level paths to expert tracks with steep elevations. The ladies lead the way and give us just enough of a taste of single-track riding to get us out of our comfort zones and our hearts pumping.
12:20 p.m. @ D’Ellies We have just enough time to grab a sandwich at this bakery and deli before our one o’clock zipline reservation. We patiently wait in the long line, and once our sandwiches are served, I can see why this place is such a favorite—fresh, healthy ingredients on wonderful bread. We wolf them down as we gear up in helmets and harnesses.
1:00 p.m. @ Sugarloaf’s Zipline Tours We hike to the top of the Skidway lift for the first of seven lines that are approximately 200 feet in length and about 30 feet above the ground. Cara is the first in our group to go upside down on her first high-speed cruise over Gondi Brook. I opt for the white-knuckle, grin-and-bear it ride. We’re both getting a kick out of each other, laughing the whole way.
3:00 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel Tired from a big day, we change into our bathing suits and head to the hotel’s sports and fitness center, where we sink into the hot tub. I then move into the steam room and finally into the sauna. I can’t help but feel like Goldilocks once I’m happily settled on the sauna bench: this one is just right.
6:00 p.m. @ Hugs Italian Cuisine The cozy dining room is filled with animated conversations. Everyone is so happy to see old friends back for another season. We feast on hearty dishes of delicious pasta and the warm happy vibe in the room.
8:00 p.m. @ Shipyard Brew Haus We head to the Sugarloaf Inn to check in with Leanne and Nicole. On our way to the bar, we run into Maine magazine photographer Jane Berger, who is shooting a wedding at the inn.
9:00 p.m. @ The Bag and Kettle Cara has a plan to meet friends who have arrived with their families for the weekend. We find a table and wait for their arrival, but despite the energetic ambiance I am out of gas—and the fluffy bed at the hotel is calling my name.
9:30 a.m. @ Stratton Diner
We take the ten-mile drive through Eustis and along the Bigelow Preserve. We see the most beautiful fall foliage that either of us has ever imagined. The mountains are covered in alternating puffs of bright reds, greens, oranges, and yellows. At the diner, we sit at the counter, take in the charming setting, and enjoy a wonderfully delicious meal—blueberry pancakes and eggs for me, and a spinach, egg, and cheddar bagel sandwich for Cara.
11:00 a.m. @ The Maine Huts and Trails system Although we’re out of time, I want Cara to get a quick peek at the Maine Huts and Trails system. We park the car and hike for a short while along Poplar Stream, where we can hear the falls above. I explain that we’ll return soon to ski or hike in for lunch at the Poplar Stream Hut—or better yet, take a multi-day hut-to-hut excursion.
Director of Events and Sponsorships Friday
2:30 p.m. @ I-95 North The car is packed, sunglasses are on, and the radio is playing as we kick off this weekend’s 48 Hours adventure. Destination: Sugarloaf Mountain Resort. My cousin Nicole and I have never been to Sugarloaf, and we can’t wait to see what Homecoming Weekend has in store.
4:45 p.m. @ Ira Mountain Scenic Overlook With just 15 minutes to go until we reach Sugarloaf, I spot a sign for a “Scenic Overlook” and make a very quick right-hand turn down a dirt road. This old lumbering site has been transformed into a Colosseum-like stone temple.
5:30 p.m. @ Downhill Supply Co. This new store has undergone a total rebranding and relaunch since its doors closed last season. The store, which has doubled in square footage, now carries both snowboard and ski equipment, and it features beautifully crafted wood countertops and ski racks. The manager, John Byrne, explains that the entryway, racks, and columns were made from 100-year-old reclaimed wood from the bottom of Millinocket Lake. Many Sugarloafers also recommend Happy Tunes—another great place to go for ski tuning and boot fitting. Owner Lionel Hering, a former ski racer and coach originally from France, is a community fixture.
7:30 p.m. @ The Rack Nicole and I meet my coworker Susan and her daughter Cara for dinner at the Rack, an awesome barbeque restaurant on Sugarloaf’s Access Road. My friend Audrey, who recently sold her house at Sugarloaf after almost 15 years on the mountain, told me the Rack is a can’t miss. Around 9 p.m., the live music starts and we stick around to hear a few songs from local band Potato Gun Showdown.
10:00 p.m. @ Sugartree II Condominiums We make it back to our cozy, one-bedroom condo located just a couple of minutes walk from the Sugarloaf Base Lodge. It’s stocked with DVDs and books and has a great fireplace to warm up beside. We pop in one of our favorite movies that I brought from home (Grease 2) and fall asleep on the couch—but not before Nicole unsuccessfully tries to teach me how to knit.
9:00 a.m. @ Double Diamond Breakfast is Nicole’s favorite meal, so she’s beyond thrilled when she sees an impressive buffet of blueberry pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, and assorted cereals and fruit.
9:30 a.m. @ Base Lodge Used Book Sale I’m not one to pass up the chance to peruse a used book sale, and I found great success at this one, whose proceeds benefit the Carrabassett Valley Public Library. My armful of nonfiction novels grows until I can’t carry anymore—an indicator that it’s time to check out and head into town.
11:00 a.m. @ Ski Museum of Maine We let ourselves into the one-room, second-floor museum and make a slow loop around its perimeter. I love the photo of the “Movers and Groovers of Sugarloaf” taken in 1965 for Ski magazine, and touch the metal Grumman skis, aptly described as the “worst skis produced in the history of the world.” We had hoped to meet my dad’s friend and former coworker John Christie, a Sugarloaf historian, author, and current board member of the Ski Museum, but unfortunately our paths didn’t cross. Lucky for us, I find a great biography of him in the Maine Ski Hall of Fame.
11:45 a.m. @ Sugarloaf Sports Outlet Located on the first floor of the Ski Museum, the shop carries everything and anything a first-time skier, seasoned ski bum, or visiting tourist might need or want while staying at the mountain.
12:00p.m. @ Scent-Sations Scent-Sations owner Rose and her daughter Caitlin greet us at the door, and Rose shows us around, pointing out her extensive line of bath and body products, letting us sniff the many essential oils she carries, all neatly arranged by category. We start with “Fruit” and work our way to “Pure Essential Oil.”
1:15 p.m. @ West Branch Trail The canopy overhead is a burning orange, and golden-yellow leaves blanket the hiking path in front of us, leading to a rushing waterfall. This hike was recommended by my dad, who worked at Sugarloaf for a couple of years in the late 1970s. I’m so glad we came, despite the fact that Nicole and I didn’t plan well for our excursion—she’s wearing cowgirl boots and I’m wearing UGG slippers. But the .3-mile hike is quick and easy; we work up a healthy appetite for lunch.
1:45p.m. @ Strokes Bar and Grille We make it inside just before the rain starts to pour. Strokes has a great selection of salads and sandwiches, and also serves breakfast. I order a fresh-brewed iced tea and a basil, pesto, and tomato flatbread pizza. Nicole opts for a cheeseburger and fries. I’ve never seen a bartender make more Bloody Marys in such a short amount of time. Our waitress Janice says the rainy weather and the fact that it’s the end of the golf season make this the drink of choice for most guests.
2:30 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Golf Club While I’m not a golfer, I come from a long line of golfers and have heard more stories of back nines, front nines, pro shops, putters, hooks, and birdies than I care to count. Nicole and I walk down to the driving range to see if we’re up for hitting (by hitting I mean attempting to hit) a bucket of balls. We meet Norm, who bought the first golf club ever sold in the pro shop when the course opened 25 years ago, and he tells us about his wife, whom he first spotted in his friend’s high school yearbook. Sugarloaf was just starting to develop when they began dating 56 years ago. We realize that I’m a much better photographer than I am a golfer, so Norm points Nicole and me in the direction of the first and sixth holes for great photo opportunities, as well as the famous downhill tenth hole.
6:30 p.m. @ Birchwood Condos Since the moment we arrived at Sugarloaf, the sense of community has been overwhelming. All over the resort, people have been shaking hands, giving hugs, and catching up after a long summer season away. Tonight, we have been invited to my friend Ellen Monaghan’s condo for a drink, and we experience the tradition of neighbors gathering together for a celebratory meal on the first weekend back. Homemade ravioli, braised chicken, many glasses of wine, and lots of laughter are on the menu.
8:00 p.m. @ Shipyard Brew Haus We have time for one more drink before dinner, and the Shipyard Brew Haus, located inside the Sugarloaf Inn, was on the walk home. Susan and Cara meet us there and we excitedly recap our day—theirs was spent zip lining and bike riding, and ours was spent hiking and shopping.
8:40 p.m. @ Tufulio’s Restaurant We make it to Tufulio’s in time to snag two seats at the bar and order a hearty pasta dinner before the restaurant closes for the night. I order a Gritty’s Halloween Ale and Nicole opts for an IPA. Just as we settle into our seats, we hear “Hey, I know you!” Lo and behold Nicole’s friends David and Patty Carlson are sitting right next to us, enjoying their own dinner and drinks. We have a great time catching up and hearing their favorite Sugarloaf memories, in addition to wisecracks from our bartender Ryan. Ryan introduces me to Skip Hammond, the restaurant’s owner, who takes me on a little tour of his favorite posters and Sugarloaf memorabilia adorning the walls.
8:00 a.m. @ Burnt Mountain Trail Nicole and I wake to sunny skies and a cool breeze—perfect weather conditions for our three-mile hike up Burnt Mountain. We cross a few streams, leaping from one rock to the next and try not to let the weight of our backpacks throw us off balance. We’re the only ones hiking the trail this morning, so everything is quiet except for the sounds of rushing streams that fade as we climb higher and higher.
9:30 a.m. @ Summit of Burnt Mountain The wind has picked up and the temperature has dropped quite a few degrees, but the gorgeous view of the distant Bigelow Range and Sugarloaf Mountain makes us take pause before putting on layers of sweatshirts and windbreakers.
11:00 a.m. @ Sports and Fitness Center She may not admit it, but I think Nicole was a good sport about our three-hour hike because she knew I’d scheduled us 30-minute massages at the Sugarloaf Sports and Fitness Center. We quickly wash off the dirt and mud (and trust me, there was a lot of it) and enjoy the most relaxing end to an exhausting morning.
12:00 p.m. @ The Bag and Kettle I wasn’t sure we would get to the Bag this weekend, but after talking with Nate Fairfield at the Pro Shop—whose exact words were, “for the love of God get a Bag Burger”—we fit it in. After I clean my plate, Nicole looks at me and asks if it was “everything I’d imagined it to be.” I’m not sure if she’s referring to the unbelievable burger or the entire weekend, but either way, I can’t help but respond with a wholehearted “yes.”