Sugarloaf is in east-central Maine on the far north of the more or less populated area of the state. This is our favorite resort in the Northeast.
|Real Vertical ?
|2,800′, Rank: 33
|1,240 Acres, Rank: 65
|Annual Snowfall ?
|200″ claimed / 173″ actual, Rank: 93
|Ski Pods ?
|7, Rank: 36
|Distinct Trails ?
|142, Rank: 15
|Number of visits
This resort was the first stop on our 2023 trip to the Northeast. With 142 trails to ski (the way we count them) and a very high probability of bad weather and lift closures, we knew we had to spend 2 days at this large resort. We are glad we did because this turned out to be our favorite resort in eastern North America. There are some unique features that make Sugarloaf stand out from a lot of the other resorts in the region.
To be sure, we were very lucky with conditions. It didn’t really snow until mid February in 2023. 2 weeks out we almost canceled the trip, but we rolled the dice and sure enough it kept snowing and snowing. By the time we arrived just about everything was open and the snow was soft. They had received almost the seasonal average 200″ when we skied it. The 2nd day was a full-on powder day — our best of all the days we skied in the East.
The good feelings started in Kingfield, Maine where we were staying. We were walking around the town and stopped to help a local with their snowblower — something we are intimately familiar with in Tahoe. She was a local school teacher and we had a great conversation about the town and ski resort. We ended up seeing her up on the mountain the next day at lunch. Small-town friendly vibes are part of the culture here.
Talking about the weather
The first day was breezy in the morning, which is pretty much the default condition for this very exposed peak that towers above all the surrounding terrain. We heard stories about the vicious winds from other skiers and we believe them. There is no place to hide from the prevailing winds that seem to come straight up the mountain which faces mostly north and northeast. Often the highest lift Timberline is shut down and that was the case until the afternoon that day. Everything else was open though, and there was plenty to choose from. We couldn’t have been luckier with clear blue sky and comfortable temps. Locals told us it was the best day of the year to date.
Something for everyone
The trail ratings here are a little generous. We were scratching our heads at some of the double-black trail ratings. Our first run was down Upper Skidder which was groomed and relatively easy. Other trails like Double Bitter are ungroomed and narrow and these are more difficult, but we were pretty comfortable on all the terrain. This comfort level only applies to the named trails on the main mountain however. The terrain is that of a classic mountain — generally steep at the top and gradually mellowing out until it’s basically flat on the Snubber lift. Skiers of all abilities will find plenty to ski here.
The sidecountry in Brackett Basin is a whole different experience. There are tight trees, cliff bands, and creek beds to be wary of. We did venture in there and were super impressed with the glading they’ve done and the quality of the terrain. It’s huge and would probably take a whole season to explore in depth. This is one of the unique features of the resort that make it our favorite in the region.
Skyline, Timberline and the Snowfields
We spent most of our time the first day on the two highest lifts Skyline and Timberline. These are fixed-grip quads which makes sense given the wind and rime ice. Skyline gains a decent 1,450′ of vertical which is the best part of the mountain. We skied every run served primarily by that chair. Steep groomers and interesting bump runs are on the menu there.
Timberline opened after the wind died down so we got to ski the Snowfields on White Nitro and Gondola line. Sugarloaf calls this “the only above timberline terrain in the east” which is kind of a stretch but it is interesting and spooky up there. The snow was very compacted by wind and although it’s not excessively steep a fall would mean a long high-speed slide. There are many runs shown on the Snowfields map, but really only 2 or 3 are going to be regularly skiable due to wind stripping the snow off and/or creating nearly un-skiable conditions. The terrain under Timberline is much mellower and we skied all those runs as well.
The Superquad is where most people will start the day and it’s also a great chair to lap some classic intermediate terrain. Most of the runs there are groomed so the chair gets a lot of traffic, but we never waited more than 5 minutes even on a weekend day in early March after a lot of fresh snow. This is where we first noted that most of the groomed runs are very wide like they generally are in the west. It felt very familiar to us — a lot like skiing at Park City.
Wiffletree is the other way out of the base area but this is on the beginner/low intermediate side of the mountain and we didn’t ski all the terrain there. This is the other most popular chair on the mountain and there were a lot of kids and families lapping that one.
King Pine is the 3rd upper mountain chair and it’s another fixed-grip quad. For the size of this place it’s a little disappointing that the 3 upper mountain chairs are fixed-grip, but it does work well. The lift profiles are fairly steep so the rides are not excessively long and fixed-grip chairs are more reliable in bad weather. King Pine has some super wide steeper groomers and an interesting bump run on skier’s right “Ripsaw”. It’s also how you access Brackett Basin and there was a constant stream of people entering the gate at the top of the chair both days.
There are a lot of lifts on the mountain, but the ones mentioned so far are really the only ones most people will ski. Snubber and West Mountain are more to access private homes than for skiing since there is only one run under each of them and Snubber is super long and flat. They had already started on the West Mountain chair replacement and terrain expansion project which will be available next year. That should open up some more much needed lower intermediate terrain on the more protected lower mountain.
As far as I know the snowcat operation at Sugarloaf is the only one in the Northeastern US, so we had to do it. It’s $60 for 2 rides. They had just started running the cat the day before so there was still some powder available, but this is a really small amount of terrain for a snowcat operation so it does get tracked out quickly even on a powder day. It was enjoyable and somewhat adventurous, so if you happen to be there when conditions are good give it a try. For the price it’s well worth it.
Food and Lodges
We don’t normally focus on this aspect of a resort which is a good thing for Sugarloaf because they need help in this area. The main lodge at the base is old and crowded and the cafeteria food was forgettable. This is the first thing they should spend money on once they complete the West Mountain expansion. Luckily we found D’Ellies the 2nd day which has great moderately priced sandwiches, salads, and soups. This was the recommendation of the local we met in Kingfield and it was a good one.
- Only above-treeline terrain in the East
- Only snowcat operation in the Northeastern US
- Massive amount of quality grooming
- Great snowmaking coverage for a resort this size
- Nice variety of terrain
- Small town friendly ski culture and vibe
- Great views
- We hear the typical weather is really bad: cold and windy
- Only 200 inches of natural snowfall which puts it near the bottom of the list
- Main base lodge really needs help
- Lodge food was adequate at best. Best bet is to eat at D’Ellies.
The bottom line
Sugarloaf was a complete surprise to us. This was the first place we ever skied in Maine and it was super impressive with a substantial number of runs and a large vertical drop. It skis more like a Western resort with wide runs and lots of terrain variety. The unique features here of Brackett Basin, the Snowfields, and the Burnt Mountain snowcat make it our top choice in the East.