Carrabassett Valley: Summer
In the summer, Sugarloaf’s steep, snow-covered trails give way to green, opening up opportunities for an outdoors-focused weekend on and around the mountain.
My friend Emily Ryan and I check into our room at the Sugarloaf Mountain Hotel for our end-of- summer weekend trip. We are thrilled to find that it’s a two-story suite with a sitting area, kitchenette, Murphy bed, and bathroom on the main floor, and a spiral staircase to a bedroom and bath on the second level. We also have a great view of Sugarloaf Village just outside our windows, which is especially busy because there are three weddings on the mountain this weekend. Intrigued by the Murphy bed, Emily calls dibs, and we head downstairs for drinks and dinner at 45 North, the hotel’s restaurant.
Decorated in modern farmhouse style, 45 North has barn wood walls hung with groupings of vintage plates, deliberately mismatched wooden chairs at each table, and pendant lights that resemble giant birds’ nests. It’s charming and comfortable, the ideal vibe for a Maine ski resort. Emily orders the Maine Mule, made with vodka, blueberry syrup, and ginger beer, and I opt for a Jamaican Old Fashioned, with rum instead of the traditional whisky. The menu features Maine-focused food, much of it locally sourced. We start with an unusual appetizer of fried cauliflower with shallots, spinach, capers, and golden raisins, served in a paper cone, and a beet salad with ricotta, hazelnuts, and wild blueberries, both flavorful and delicious. We decide to share a main course—salmon with white beans, summer squashes, and mushrooms with a saffron remoulade. The salmon fillet is nicely crispy on the outside, pink on the inside, and the rich remoulade pulls the whole dish together beautifully. The fresh green beans in a side dish, enhanced by pistachio pesto, taste like they came out of someone’s garden that afternoon. A bottle of rosé is the ideal accompaniment, and we skip dessert to chat over our last glasses.
We open the curtains to a glorious day with a cloudless, bright-blue sky. Our suite is equipped with a coffee maker, so we have our first cups in our pajamas before getting dressed and heading just across Main Street to D’Ellies. It’s hopping with wedding guests and families on the mountain for a weekend in the outdoors. We order egg and cheese bagel sandwiches to fuel up for the day, and help ourselves to coffee from Carrabassett Coffee Company, roasted just down the road in Kingfield. A sign over the coffee counter reads
“Today Will Be Awesome,” just in case there were any doubts. We snag a table on the D’Ellies patio and savor the view of the Bigelow Mountain Range across the valley.
The Outpost Adventure Center, headquarters for zip line tours, SuperQuad chairlift rides, Segway tours, and kayak and paddleboard rentals, is just a few steps from D’Ellies. We check in and meet our guides: Mathias, Kirby, Kobi, Tom, and Tim. They talk us through putting on harnesses and helmets, tempering the necessary safety precautions with plenty of goofy humor. Soon we’re loaded onto a bus bumping up the mountain to the first of six zip lines that zigzag through the woods. I’m not super keen on heights, so I’m prepared to be a little nervous, but the guys make it easy and relaxed; they even put on the brakes at the end of each run, so all we have to do is fly and have fun. A few of the runs involve challenges: dropping a stone into a bucket (much harder than it looks) and getting a hula hoop over a post (ditto). The last run is the longest—600 yards—and sends us flying out of the woods across a ski trail. It’s a blast, and we’re all a little sad when it’s over.
The quaint village of Kingfield, known as “the gateway to Sugarloaf,” is quiet on this off- season Saturday. We wander over to the Carrabassett River, which flows through town and over a small dam, check out Barbara Wiencek’s whimsical collection of furniture and gifts at Red Barn Upcycled Market, and browse the sale racks at Sugarloaf Sports Outlet. Our much-anticipated lunch stop is Rolling Fatties Restaurant and Bar, which owners Rob and Polly MacMichael started in an Airstream trailer and later moved to an orange farmhouse downtown. Warm and engaging, the MacMichaels chat with us as we devour their delicious food and pints of local beer—a falafel fatty with a Bigelow Brewing Avery Peak 4088 Summer Wheat for me, and a fresh vegetable bowl with a Foundation Brewing Burnside for Emily. “Fatty” is a cheeky name for a fat burrito; the MacMichaels make their own tortillas and fill them with everything from maple pulled pork to cheeseburgers—all made with local ingredients.
Then it’s back to Sugarloaf for a ride up the mountain on the SuperQuad chairlift. The view at the top is breathtaking and continues on the way back down. We have just enough time before dinner for a soak in the hotel’s outdoor hot tub and a drink on the patio of The Bag and Kettle, a Sugarloaf institution.
I met Sandy Lamontagne, the owner of Tea Pond Lodge and Cabins, at an event at Sugarloaf in the summer of 2016. Ever since, I have been curious about the old, off-the-grid fishing camp that she and her husband, Craig House, bought a few years ago and have made their own. The 20-mile trip takes us along the western edges of the Bigelow Preserve and Flagstaff Lake and down a dirt road that extends just over two miles. Despite the remote location, the parking lot outside the lodge is full, and the dining room is packed, with a large group gathered around the fire pit below the porch. We catch a glimpse of the lake before the sunset and join the happy crowd inside. A fried green tomato appetizer is a home run, setting the stage for the rest of the meal. My honey-bourbon steak tips with mashed potatoes and local vegetables are hearty and satisfying, and Emily is delighted with a big salad featuring beets, Amish blue cheese, pickled onions, and pumpkin seeds, topped with grilled shrimp. We wrap up our fine meal with a generous slice of first-rate, very berry pie, made by Lamontagne, with ice cream, of course. Back at Sugarloaf, we stop for a nightcap at The Rack, where the Ice Out Band soon has us dancing to familiar tunes.
Maine Huts and Trails, which is headquartered in Kingfield and maintains four off-the-grid eco lodges in the area, has invited us up to the Poplar Hut for lunch. We meet Cayce Frigon, the organization’s marketing communications director, at the trailhead for a moderate hike through sun-dappled woods carpeted with moss. Arriving at the hut, we relax with Maine Root lemonade on the screened porch before lunch, a simple, nourishing meal of potato soup and grilled cheese and vegetable sandwiches. On the return trip, we hike down a steep trail to see Poplar Stream Falls, which tumbles down a sheer rock face into a wide, shallow—and cold— pool.
Heading home, we make a final stop at Scent-Sations gift shop on the edge of downtown Kingfield, where owner Rose Winter stocks everything from essential oils and natural beauty products to clothing, books, and kitchenware. We joke that no “girls’ weekend” is complete without a little shopping, and Winter sends us on our way with bags in hand and satisfied smiles.