Our family was thrilled at the quality of the ski experience we found at Sunday River in Maine. A favorite of New England skiers and an easy reach from Portland (1.5 hours) Boston (3.5 hours), Sunday River is, arguably, one of the best ski mountains in the Northeast .
Good Snow, Good Grooming, Nice Runs at Sunday River
Starting with the mountain — eight peaks spanning three miles, 135 trails (and glades), 2,340 feet of vertical, 16 lifts, lots of snowmaking capability over 820 skiable acres — you’ve got a lot to work with, a lot to experience. New for the 2013-2014 New England season, Sunday River has become second in size only to her sister resort, Sugarloaf, with the addition of the T72 terrain park trail, five new gladed areas and some extended runs.
The trails are a fine mixture of blues and blacks, tougher when left ungroomed, with a tasty mixture of gently rolling greens traversing the inclines. The beginner area is at the main base at South Peak Lodge, but after a lesson or two novices can take the “chondola” – an enclosed gondola cabin alternates with open-air quad seats on the same lift – to mid-mountain and ski slowly down from there.
In this video, you can hear from my clan what everyone’s favorite run is at Sunday River:
We ski solidly in the blue zone and found a very satisfying, even exciting array of challenging trails with surprisingly long vertical drops. Although our boys immediately peeled off for the steep blacks and moguls, we found it fun to work our way across the peaks in the morning (our hotel was at the easternmost Jordan Peak) and back again in the afternoon. And the views across the White Mountains, with Mt. Washington looming above all, are nothing if not stunning.
The snowmaking team tends to 1900 snowguns, a number of them recently purchased for their energy and water use efficiency. The grooming was first rate, making those New England crusty first morning runs a total delight. The night skiing is surprisingly good if you have the energy to get back out on the slopes after dinner. Even in the late morning on a spring break Saturday, lift lines were rarely more than a few minutes so the trail quality remains good all day long.
Sunday River’s Ski School & Kds Programs
This mountain has many Perfect Kids learning programs, starting with Tiny Turns for 3-year-olds and ranging from private to group clinics for ages 3-16. For young skiers, the Mogul Munchkins (ages 3-6) is the best group; for skiing and riding group classes, ages 7-14 at any level are enrolled in the Mogul Meisters. Discounted lift tickets and $10 rental rates make teaching the kids very affordable. Parents of shredders will appreciate the mountain’s snow-made rollers, berms, and fun features in its beginner Who-Ville terrain park located in the South Ridge base area.
Regulars enroll in the Gould Academy Competition Programs for ages 7-18, so you know there are plenty of top notch instructors. There are also seasonal classes for high level juniors; see the Perfect Kids page for more details.
To add to the fun, the resort’s mascot Eddy the Yeti visit the slopes in the Enchanted Forest glade on North Peak and occasionally take the to chairlifts.
Sunday River Has Big Resort Amenities & Two Lodges
The infrastructure is first-rate, as well. The base lodge is modern and comfortable and the food service well above average for Northeast ski resorts. The staff is friendly and capable, regardless of their role throughout the resort.
There are two major lodges, one at each end of the mountain, with timeshare units that rent overnight like hotel rooms. Our stay at the Jordan Grand Resort Hotel could not have been better. The spacious two-bedroom condo with a balcony looked out to the mountain and down on the large, heated pool below, flanked by two hot tubs. The fully stocked kitchen was perfect for the breakfasts, snacks and dinners we cooked.
We treated ourselves to a great meal at the in-house Sliders Restaurant. Sliders serves an excellent slopeside lunch for those skiing the far right trails, and a dinner of locally sourced ingredients. For après ski and late night there is a fine array of New England micro-brews. At the other end of the mountain, the Grand Summit Resort, almost a twin of the Jordan Grand, is a slightly smaller version with similar services. Both are ski-in, ski-out convenience with terrific midweek deals that include lift tickets and extra perks.
There are rentable condo clusters tucked into the woods across the range, with ski-in/ski-out access. For groups, there is also a Youth Ski Dormitory, with bunk-style bedding in four- or eight-person rooms. A free shuttle serves all lodging, so you can depend on easy access to the main lifts.
The icing on the cake includes a tubing run, ice skating rink, mountain ziplines and weekend night skiing. Each of the major lodges has a child care center for supervised, apres ski activities, and nightly programs during the holiday seasons.
International Flair Mixed with Small Town Maine Charm
Living in New York City, for many years we have gravitated toward the good ski mountains with the shortest drives — upstate New York and the southern tier of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Our family has experienced some wonderful days of skiing at some fine Northeastern ski resorts where amenities, dining and services make up for less than ideal snow or limited terrain.
But the size of the White Mountains of Maine had always beckoned and we finally heeded that call. Despite the seven-plus hour drive, we were not disappointed. The lodging values, terrific ski school (one of our son’s friends was a novice who found his instructors reassuring and empowering), snow making and grooming made the ski experience we found at Sunday River comparable to some of the best big resorts out West.
As you might expect, much of the clientele comes from nearby New England (Maine, New Hampshire) and Boston (a 3.5 hour drive). However, we were pleasantly surprised to find many Canadians in the mix, from distant New Brunswick (9 hours) and nearby Montreal (3 hours).
A New Brunswick couple in the après-ski hot tub felt strongly that Sunday River offered more friendly service and instructors than Quebec resorts the same distance from their home. One Montreal family chose Sunday River over Mt. Tremblant, where they had a weekend house, because their kids preferred the longer runs and variety of terrain. A New Hampshire family skied at Sunday River once a month to have a different experience from that found at Loon Mountain, Sunday River’s sister Boyne Resort in New Hampshire.
Exploring Bethel and Nearby Maine
The charming town of Bethel, Maine is about seven miles away, accessible by car or by the Mountain Explorer, a free shuttle bus that goes between the South Ridge basecamp and several points around Bethel, including favorite bars (a good thing if you’ve got college students in your group), shops and restaurants.
Favorite restaurants for those who have energy remaining at the end of the day include Sudbury Inn and its downstairs bar, Cho Sun for its Korean and Japanese fare (there is an outlet in the food court of the South Ridge basecamp building), and Mill Hill Inn for its tapas-style menu.
Trip Planning Details for a Sunday River Break
There are lots of good deals throughout the season, and a regular “Snow Guarantee” which means when you buy a lift ticket, if you’re not satisfied with the snow conditions, you can exchange it (or a multi-day ticket) for a voucher to come back another time. day. Just bring your ticket to Guest Services within one hour after purchase or by 10am for multi-day tickets to make the exchange.
There are many small inns around Bethel, but nothing beats the on-mountain experience and their big pools and hot tubs. Sunday River lodging values are strongest early and late season, as well as midweek, when there are many ski and stay packages that include slopeside lodging, lift tickets and group lessons, starting at just over $100 per night per person.
Room rates are higher weekends, which is when most of their live performances and special events are held. If we’ve sold you on this place, check out the season passes. Passes come pre-loaded with savings throughout the season as well as perks at Boyne Resorts’ Western Mountains like Big Sky, Montana. Another value is their College Lift Tickets that begin at just $39 per day.
We hope you’ll check it out. Sunday River (800/543-2754) is located in western Maine’s Mahoosuc Mountains at 15 South Ridge Road, Newry, ME 04261.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.