A quiet Maine community wakes up for winter
A forested pocket of Maine named for the birch lined, boulder-strewn river that runs through it, Carrabassett Valley is nestled between the majestic Bigelow Mountains to its north and several peaks along its western edge. The tallest of these, Sugarloaf, is the largest ski area in Maine and the reason most people come to quiet Carrabassett Valley. For arriving skiers, Sugarloaf’s 4,237-foot peak remains hidden from view until a bend in Route 27 known as “Oh My Gosh Corner” reveals its snow-covered trails. At Carrabassett Valley Academy, however, the mountain is a constant.
“Sugarloaf’s unwavering presence is always felt, and we mold ourselves around it,” says Kate Webber Punderson, head of school at Carrabassett Valley Academy (CVA). “Mountain leadership and employees play an important role for our athletes.” For three decades, CVA has offered a college preparatory education coupled with ski/snowboard competition training for 7th through 12th graders. “The rugged landscape shapes who we are, collectively and individually,” says Punderson. “Our home region is a critical aspect of our recruiting process; it’s a place where young people will find passion, persistence, and community like nowhere else.”
When families come to visit CVA, Punderson recommends on mountain spots such as D’Ellies for breakfast and Java Joe’s for coffee and hot chocolate. For those who arrive with their skis, she suggests one of the mountain’s newest adventures: cat skiing. “I’ve skied on Burnt Mountain in Brackett Basin and the Androscoggin Glade many times by hiking up, but now these areas will be accessible via snowcat,” Punderson says. For après-ski, she says, “The Bag and Kettle and the Rack can’t be beat for a bustling crowd and local flavor.” She also sends visitors to Sugarloaf’s new Bill and Joan Alfond Competition Center, whose lobby features historic photographs and a sculpture by celebrated Maine artist Bernard Langlais.
Off the slopes, Punderson suggests the Anti-Gravity Complex for its climbing wall, trampoline, and skate park; Sugarloaf Sports and Fitness, which has a pool and hot tubs; and the SugarBowl for bowling. The Sugarloaf Outdoor Center offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice-skating. Rentals are available, and the Bull Moose Cafe in the center’s new lodge is “a perfect lunch spot.” In addition to the Narrow Gauge Pathway, this winter, fat bikers can also roll along groomed trails on the Sugarloaf Golf Course. “The views are breathtaking,” Punderson says. In snow-covered Carrabassett Valley, memorable views are almost everywhere you look.