Carrabassett Valley + Kingfield
48HRS – December 2013
Photographs + stories by Maine magazine staff:
Kate Gable, guest writer LeAnna Grosso + Katy Kelleher
A mid-April snowstorm whitens my windows as I pack my bags to head up to Sugarloaf. The ride up is beautiful, bringing me through small towns and into the mountains. I know I am close when I see Reggae Fest tie-dye splattering color in the windows of the local T-shirt shops. Each year in April, while there’s snow on the ground and sun in the sky, Sugarloaf Mountain Resort erupts in color and syncopated beats. I’m excited to join in on the festivities. On my way through Kingfield to Carrabassett, I visit the Maine Huts and Trails information center, where I get all the info I need on cross-country skiing trails in the area. I also start planning a hiking trip for this summer.
4:00 p.m. @ Tranten’s
Family Shurfine Joe and I are staying at a mountainside condo at Snowbrook, so I pull into Tranten’s market to grab some snacks for the evening. As I make my way through their great wine section, the reggae music filling the market puts a bounce in my step. I purchase some olives, crackers, hummus, and bubbly for the hot-tubbing that will inevitably take place later.
4:45 p.m. @ Snowbrook Village
Walking in, I am greeted by Tom, who is sporting a festive tie-dye shirt. Friendly and just as excited as I am, he checks me in and hands me a packet of information so I am fully equipped with everything I need to know about this special Sugarloaf weekend. He also points out that we can catch the chairlift just outside of our condo door. Works for me.
5:00 p.m. @ Snowbrook Village
Joe is still driving up with friends so I make myself at home in the cozy condo with a glass of white wine while I watch the snow fall. Unlike Joe, I did not bring three sets of skis, three sets of boots, and a snowboard, so I decide to head to the Base Lodge to see if I can catch the rental department before they close for the day.
5:45 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Base Lodge
I’m too late to talk rentals, but there’s a lot of fun being had at the base lodge. Again, I hear reggae music (live this time) and head over to the Widowmaker Lounge to see the band for myself. A crowd is starting to settle in for the weekend; the bar is packed with skiers sporting colored beads, more tie-dye, and temporary dreadlocks. Everyone is feeling the vibe.
7:00 p.m. @ Tufulio’s Restaurant
I get a call that our Portland posse is minutes away in their VW Vanagon, so I head to Tufulio’s to pick up a couple pizza pies for our crew. It’s packed with families in the restaurant and there are more locals in the bar. Nearby, I notice Happy Tunes Ski Service Center, which comes highly recommended from skiers I know. I meet Lee and Olivia at Lee’s parents’ house and soon some board games are underway and guitars and ukuleles come out. The bubbly pops and we slip into the hot tub alongside the river. Exhale…the good life.
9:00 a.m. @ Snowbrook Village
We wake up and suit up. As we walk to the chairlift a commuter van pulls up so we hop on and head to the base lodge.
9:30 a.m. @ Downhill Supply Company
I run into the Downhill Supply Company to grab some warm mittens for my day of snowboarding. I am happy to find that they have many brands to choose from. I also take note that they have a wide range of tie-dye T-shirts. Joe is on the hunt for just the right one to bring home as a souvenir.
9:45 a.m. @ Base Lodge
The last time I snowboarded I was in high school; it’s pretty new to me, but I am excited to give it another try. After a warm-up run on the bunny slope, Liv and I make our way to the Whiffletree slope. Joe and Lee take off for the double diamonds and jumps.
11:00 a.m. @ Sugarloaf Mountain Resort
While I’m slowly making my way down the slopes, Joe skis up behind me. Lucky for me, he is a former ski instructor. A great teacher, he gets me going steady down the mountain. Once I get the hang of it I can see why this sport can be addictive.
12:00 p.m. @ Widowmaker
At the Base Lodge we find a crowd gathered at the fire pit to warm up. We head into Widowmaker for a drink. The amount of flair on display is pretty amazing…and Joe fits right in: Jamaican sweatbands, a shirt with Bo Diddley and the Taj Mahal on it, and Rasta goggles.
12:45 p.m. @ The Bag and KettleAlthough it’s packed, Liv and I squirm our way through to the bar to get a hot toddy as we wait for our name to be called for a table. I can’t think of anything that’s not on this menu. Everyone else at the table goes in for a different gourmet designer burger while I try the portabella melt.
1:45 p.m. @ Sugarloaf
Mountain Resort Liv and I stick to the slopes that have the smiley face icon; these we can handle.
4:30 p.m. @ Après-Ski at Lee and Liv’s After a quick ride to Lee and Liv’s place Joe and I change into our bathing suits, open the sliding door and brave the icey air as we slip into the hot tub. Another dip accompanied by white wine on the river! Can’t beat it.
7:30 p.m. Rhythm and Booms @ The Beach As we pull into the parking lot, streams of colorful fireworks fill the sky. This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Reggae Fest and Sugarloaf pulls out all the stops. With the Sugarloaf Hotel in the foreground, it looks like a scene from a fairytale palace.
7:45 p.m. @ 45 North Since laying out a feature on this restaurant in the December 2012 Sugarloaf issue, I’ve been anxious to check it out. I am struck by the creative lighting fixtures and barn board on the wall. It feels like a refined rustic farmhouse right on the slopes. Feeling cozy and warm, we select a bottle of pinot noir from their wine menu displayed on an iPad and peruse the paper menu for our meals by candlelight. We both agree the grilled romaine salad is amazing and the seared diver scallops hit the spot.
9:00 p.m. @ King Pine Room We meet our friends Mali and Derek in a huge crowd at John Brown’s Body live in concert. This is the headline act of Reggae Fest, which includes five other bands that perform throughout the weekend. These guys seriously get the crowd jumping with horns, drums, and good vibes.
11:30 p.m. @ The Rack
Before calling it a night, we meet up with Liv and Lee to take in more fun at this Sugarloaf staple owned by Olympian Seth Wescott. This is definitely the popular hang out; it’s easy to get lost in all of the ski paraphernalia hanging on the walls.
9:00 a.m. @ Snowbrook
Joe hits the slopes for some morning runs while I visit the Kearing residence to scout their house for a story in this issue. I’m greeted by Kim Kearing, who walks me through her gorgeous timberframe home with views of the mountains that are to die for.
10:30 a.m. @ Base Lodge
I head back to the base lodge and hit D’Ellies for a breakfast sandwich and coffee. This place is packed, but I find a seat and enjoy a hot cup of coffee while I wait for my order. I peruse the rest of the retail shops and dip back into Downhill Supply Company to buy Joe the tie-dye T-shirt of his dreams. Finally Joe tears himself away from the mountain. We meet at the firepit and head back home from there. What a great weekend of skiing, music, food, and friends. On our way out of town, we decide that we need to grab some friends and go in on a winter rental next year. I can’t imagine there will be a Sugarloafless winter in my future.
Le Anna Grosso,
My excitement grows as the weekend draws near in anticipation of the journey ahead. For people who grow up in Maine, the legendary Sugarloaf Mountain is a familiar topic of conversation and beloved destination during the long months of New England winter. However, uttering the word Sugarloaf in the thick of summer was foreign and intriguing to me. What is there to do at a ski resort in the summer? The answer is: A LOT. Here are the adventures Jason and I encountered during 48 Hours in Carrabassett Valley.
5:45 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel
The two-and-a-half-hour drive from Portland is a breeze. The rolling mountains covered with lush green trees are a beautiful contrast to the blanket of white snow that most are familiar with. As we drive through Kingfield, a rainbow appears beneath the dark rolling clouds. It might seem silly, but the rainbow sighting sends another surge of excitement through me and I know this weekend is going to be amazing. When we arrive at the hotel we receive a bright welcome from Erin at the front desk. Her big smile and wealth of knowledge about the resort put us immediately at ease and make us feel right at home. We go to our spacious, condo-like room, throw our swimsuits on, and head down the hill to the pool for a quick dip before it closes.
7:00 p.m. @ The Rack
We passed the Rack on our way in and decided immediately that we would go back to relax and have dinner. The vibe is friendly and we choose a quiet, candlelit table outside. We enjoy a local red ale on tap, made just for the Rack by Geary’s, and enjoy the soft music coming from the singer-songwriter performing inside. We contemplate playing a game of tetherball for old times’ sake but decide instead to watch a family that is clearly enjoying a little fun sibling rivalry. The house-made guacamole is a perfect starter and the tasty haddock sandwiches are a perfect end.
9:30 a.m. @ Strokes Bar and Grille
I have seen a lot of golf courses over the years but nothing could have prepared me for the magnificence of the course at the Sugarloaf Golf Club. This unique course looks like a golfer’s dream, offering challenge and awe-inspiring beauty at every turn. Although tempted to give golf lessons another try, we are unprepared to try the course today and I hope that next year we will be ready to tackle it, as amateurs, of course. It is a perfect autumn-like day and we decide to enjoy the views and sit outside for breakfast. We take our waitresses’s advice and walk around the grounds. We are pressed for time so we do not make it to legendary hole #11, although from our table we can see how its cliffside home and heart-stirring views could create a buzz.
11:30 a.m. @ Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel
It is warming up outside so we decide to run back to the room to change for our next outdoor adventure.
12:00 p.m. @ Scenic chairlift ride and a picnic lunch
I feel the need to confess that I am slightly afraid of heights, so the activities that I chose for the weekend were a little out of character for me. It seemed like a great chance to conquer my fear. Baby steps, right? I thought the scenic chairlift ride was a good place to start. Our front desk friend, Erin, suggested that we pack a picnic and enjoy the scenery at the summit. This idea is right up our alley. Growing up on the slopes, one of my childhood dreams was to ride the chairlift all the way to the top and back down again. I never dared break the rules. But here I am, 15 years later, on a chairlift that I am not only allowed, but expected to ride down. The air is clear and the sky is bright with a gentle breeze to keep the temperature just right. It takes about 15 minutes to get to the top and then we are free to explore the summit. Picnic tables are scattered around the grassy trails, full of happy families and smiling faces enjoying the spectacular view. We decide to go off the beaten path for a hike and find a grassy spot to enjoy our lunch, lie back, and watch the clouds float by.
1:00 p.m. on the descent I am a little nervous as we hop back on the lift at the top of the slope. The feeling quickly dissipates as the bird’s-eye view of the Carrabassett Valley draws me into the wondrous beauty before me. I do not want it to end.
2:00 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Outdoor Center
The newest addition to the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center is a challenging and beautiful disc golf course, which is generously provided for free to the public. Many friends have tried to persuade me to try disc golf over the years. Needless to say, I am eager to finally have the experience. When we pull up to the center it is alive with visitors gearing up for adventures and mountain-bike excursions. Music is pumping through the speakers into the wilderness and one of the staff members points us to the kiosk, which provides free discs and maps of the course for us to enjoy at our own pace. The next hour flies by. Jason and I decidedly agree that we both have terrible aim, that disc golf is not a joke, and is a tremendous amount of fun. The course incorporates both easy and expert level shots and winds through the woods and fields of the valley. We spend a lot of time laughing and just as much time searching for our lost discs thrown clumsily into the woods.
3:30 p.m. @ Java Joe’s
We are starting to feel a little fatigued from the day’s activities and it is just our luck that Java Joe’s has opened in Sugarloaf Village, offering rich shots of espresso, sandwiches, and other treats. We each order two espresso shots on ice and grab a seat on a bench to enjoy the view outside.
4:00 p.m. @ Ziplines
Promptly at 4 p.m. we finish our coffees and meet with the rest of our group. I am glad that I made reservations in advance because the 4 p.m. slot is full. Our young, vibrant, and informative guides calmly walk us through the process of putting on our harnesses. Yikes! I experience a brief pang of panic but there is a not a doubt that I need to experience Sugarloaf’s 1400 feet of ziplines. The lift ride is brief and followed by a short hike into the woods. I am anxious to get the first run over with so I throw myself at the front of the line. Jumping off the first platform and flying with complete freedom and not so much grace, the run is over before I know it. Not only did I conquer my fear, I cannot wait to do it again. Luckily there are six more runs to go. Over the next hour and a half the camaraderie that forms within the group is exhilarating. In the end there are cheers and high fives as we all walk away from the experience a little taller.
6:30 p.m. @ Tufulio’s
The warm and comforting food and atmosphere suits the evening just right. We share a bottle of wine, talk about our exciting day, and enjoy a great Italian meal. Perfection.
8:00 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel Fitness Center
By the time we get back to the hotel we are exhausted. In a good way. We find just enough energy to enjoy one of the hot tubs in the hotel fitness center and call it a night.
9:00 a.m. @ 45 North
It’s a no-brainer to stroll downstairs to 45 North, sit on the deck, and linger over coffee. Jason and I order the homemade waffles with fresh seasonal berries and blueberry pancakes to share.
10:30 a.m. @ Maine Huts and Trails and Poplar Stream Falls
Today we plan to enjoy the 4.5-mile loop hike to see the Poplar Stream Falls. Once again the weather is just right and the drive to the trailhead is not far. For the next two and a half hours we relish nature’s beauty, marvel at the 24- and 51-foot-tall Falls, and encounter several friendly travelers along the way. This stop is a must for amateur and expert hikers alike.
1:30 p.m. @ The Doors Bistro
The Doors Bistro came highly recommended by locals. As we pulled up to the bright yellow home covered in vibrant flowers and greenery we instantly fall in love with it. We grab a seat on the welcoming and shaded deck and devour our lunches. I have to say it is one of the best burgers I have had in a long time, with sriracha mayo to boot. We will definitely stop by again the next time we are in town.
While many people recognize Sugarloaf only when coated in snow and whipped into a frenzy by the surplus of skiers, I see the mountains as summer spaces, made for hiking and biking and losing oneself in the dense thick forests of green. I prefer a rough trail to a powdery slope, so it’s with heady anticipation that I venture north to see the mountain in the early blush of fall. My boyfriend, Garrett, is, as usual, along for the ride.
7:00 p.m. @ Hug’s Italian Restaurant After an uneventful and rather dark drive from Portland, we pull into the Hug’s parking lot. My coworker, Sophie, recommended this restaurant, and it’s a good thing she did. Otherwise, we might have driven right by this unassuming building and missed out on a great dining experience. Inside, Hug’s reminds me of my grandmother’s house—complete with floral napkins and frilly cloths and twinkling Christmas lights. It doesn’t hurt that the food is truly wonderful. My dish of creamy pasta is filling and rich, piled high with vegetables and fatty crumbles of sausage. Together, we drown a carafe of wine and polish off several plates of fresh pasta. I silently tell myself that I’m fattening up for winter, which means the calories are purely practical.
9:00 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel
We lumber over to the front desk, heavy from our meal, and gain access to our lovely room. We won’t know it until the next morning, but the window above our bed provides a stunning view of the mountain. For now, all we care about is sleep.
Saturday 7:00 a.m. @ Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel
I wake up before my alarm sounds and take a moment to soak up the view before heading outside for a quick run on Sugarloaf’s extensive trail system.
9:00 a.m. @ Flagstaff Fuel and General Store
We stop in at the General Store to get directions and ask about breakfast spots, but it turns out that this is more than just a place to fuel up your car. They have fresh-baked mini-pies for sale, breakfast sandwiches made to order, and hot coffee to wash it all down. The owner is kind enough to show us some of his old maps of the area, and tells us we have to talk to his buddy Jeff, because he knows absolutely everything there is to know about the area. As coincidence would have it, that’s who we’re meeting next.
10:00 a.m. @ the public boat launch
Jeff Hinman is the owner and operator of Flagstaff Lake Scenic Boat Tours. For the past eight years, he’s been taking groups out on the sprawling, shallow lake. From his pontoon boat, he explains the complex anatomy of this body of water. The man-made lake was created back in the 1950s, when Central Maine Power Company decided to dam the Dead River, thus plunging several small towns under water. The residents were forced to move to higher ground. Some moved their houses, others simply left. As we listen to Jeff describe the strange history of this lake, we stare across the surface, which is lacquer-smooth and mirror-sharp. It’s a beautiful day for a history lesson, and this is one I won’t soon forget.
12:30 p.m. @ The Looney Moose Cafe
Judging by the number of cars in the parking lot, this place is popular with the locals. That means the food is probably delicious, so we take a gamble on the Looney Moose and duck in. It pays off immediately. We’re quickly served sandwiches, chowder, and steaming cups of coffee. Garrett’s turkey club sandwich is outrageously good, and my corn-and-clam chowder is perfect for the crisp fall day.
1:30 p.m. @ Sugarloaf Outdoor Center
We stop by to check out the Carrabassett Valley Bike Shop and say hello to the owner, Bob Ash. Unfortunately, we can’t stay long—there’s a wedding party in town, and the Outdoor Center is hosting the festivities.
2:30 p.m. on the trail
Our plan for tonight is to attend the Harvest Dinner at the Stratton Brook Hut, which is located off the road and in the sprawling woods of the Bigelow Preserve and is part of the Maine Huts and Trails system. In order to reach our meal, we have to hike three miles of steep, winding trail that bends and curves so rapidly that I wonder if we’re going in circles. But the leaves are beginning to change and the sun is shining, so I don’t mind too much.
4:00 p.m. @ Stratton Brook Hut
As we reach the top of the slope and the hut comes into view, I wonder aloud: “this is a hut?” The gorgeous, spacious structure is bigger than most houses—and prettier, too. My spirits lift; if the venue is this nice, the food is bound to be good, too.
5:00 p.m. @ the scenic overlook We check in and set down our bags, claiming a bunk bed at the very end of the building. A friendly hut staffer informs us about a scenic overlook, just a few minutes walk into the woods. We grab glasses of wine and make moves to check out the view. It is fantastic. From this rocky outcropping, we stare out at Sugarloaf and the surrounding blue peaks. In the late afternoon light, everything looks golden and warm and soft—or maybe that’s just the wine.
5:30 p.m. @ Stratton Brook Hut It’s a half hour before dinner, and appetizers are beginning to appear. Servers carry around trays of lobster sausage, goat meatballs, and a creative shredded take on crudités. There are around 30 other diners milling about the hut, and all of us look dressed for the wilderness. The tables, however, look dressed for a wedding. The service, the food, the decor, and the scenery at the Stratton Brook Hut is all beautifully planned and executed, which makes me briefly regret my attire. Fortunately, it’s hard to be vain when the food is this good. The chef, a young bearded man named Josh, has done an amazing job. There’s parsnip soup with roasted beets, shredded ribs that fall off the bone, a fresh bright salad with leafy spinach, and for dessert, a sweet golden apple tart that tastes like autumn in heaven.
10:00 p.m. outside the Stratton Brook Hut
Before we slouch off to bed, Garrett and I decide to do a little stargazing. We find some rocks to rest on, and chat lazily for a minute before falling quiet. The sky is so bright here, glowing with stars.
8:30 a.m. @ Stratton Brook Hut
I’m still full from last night, so we grab a few apples from the hut’s plentiful supply, and hike back to civilization. It’s another sunny fall day, and we take the trail slowly, enjoying the walk.
11:00 a.m. @ Sugarloaf Base Lodge
I’m starting to get hungry, and I’ve heard great things about Bob’s Clam Hut. Unfortunately, it’s not open yet (one of the downfalls of visiting during offseason, I suppose). I end up chatting with the man behind the front desk, who gives us two passes to the SuperQuad. I decide to ignore the rumblings of my stomach and take a ride in the sky.
11:30 a.m. in the air somewhere
The view is really something else. “This is my favorite part of the weekend,” Garrett says as he kicks his feet like a kid. 12:00 p.m. @ Longfellow’s Restaurant By the time we’re served, I’m so ravenous that I immediately burn my mouth with French onion soup. Once I slow down, I realize that the soup is pretty great, loaded with cheese and crusty bread and succulent, salty onions.
12:45 p.m. @ Schoolhouse Gallery
Before we drive south, we stop into this pretty gallery in Kingfield. Last night, I noticed a stunning triptych of fall foliage in Maine hanging in the Stratton Brook Hut. I’m not surprised to find out that it originated here—they have a truly amazing collection of nature photography, prints, and paintings, most of which were captured by John Orcutt and his wife, Cynthia. I fall in love with the golden wooly creatures in Tuscan Sheep. I find even more objects of material lust in Scent-Sations, a neat little shop brimming with locally made lotions, oils, and soaps.
1:00 p.m. @ Nowetah’s Indian Store and Museum
It’s early afternoon and we’re driving back to Portland when I spot a strange sign on the side of the road. I tell Garrett to pull over, and, tires screeching, we stop at this gravel road. Down a long driveway is a brown house, and inside is one of the strangest museums I’ve ever been in. Every square inch is filled with Native American folk art, homemade trinkets, taxidermied animals, and leather goods. I wander around dreamily for a few minutes, wondering at all the little surprises you find in Maine. Not as obvious as a panoramic view, but just as joyful.