Comparing the King Pine Quad at Sugarloaf with the Aurora Peak Quad at Sunday River is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. To push the analogy further: King Pine is a true home-grown New England offering, crisp and steep, best tasted by the skilled and fearless; Aurora Peak often is choicest in the morning, its trails juicy and sweet, with wide appeal to a broader range of abilities from solid intermediate to advanced expert. Locals agree both areas are among the quietest at each resort, less visited because the lifts are slower, the trails more remote, and the amenities fewer.
Sugarloaf built the King Pine Quad in 1988, replacing the old No. 5 T-bar put up in 1961, with vintage fall line trails. Sunday River built the Aurora Peak Quad and trail in 1991, among the projects ASC founder Les Otten undertook as Sunday River expanded steadily across a series of peaks. Both resorts are now owned by CNL Lifestyle Properties and managed by Boyne Resorts, to general approval, although skiers and riders often have strong opinions and are rarely shy about voicing them.
The Aurora Peak Quad starts at 1,665 feet above sea level, is 3,494 feet long, and has a vertical of 1,091 feet. Ride time on Aurora is about 7 minutes. Among the trails accessible from Aurora are six that lead back to the base of the lift: Upper Vortex (green), Vortex (double black), Airglow (black), Black Hole (double black), Northern Lights (blue, and the longest at 1 mile) and Celestial Glades (double black). Witch Way also leaves the top of Aurora Peak, heading west. It crosses Kansas and drops into Flying Monkey, which goes to Oz, a fixed-grip quad.
Need a bailout? Three greens - Aludra, Lights Out and Kansas - criss-cross Aurora Peak, offering relief for folks who feel they are in over their head.Dropping down Quantum Leap off North Peak into Aurora early in the morning is one of the local joys of Sunday River. This is a pretty good "Oh my gosh" view. Another is from Upper Vortex, an easy green with sweeping views of the Mahoosuc Range. Still another is from Northern Lights, which also looks toward the Mahoosucs, but also has a better angle on Oz.
The King Pine Quad starts at about 2,505 feet above sea level, is 3,400 feet long, and has a vertical of 1,074 feet. It has a ride time of 7.5 minutes.King Pine serves some of the steepest terrain around, truly for experts only. Haul Back (0.61 miles long) and Ripsaw (0.63 miles long) both drop 1 foot in 3, for a pitch of 15 degrees or grade of 33 percent. That steepness is characteristic of the King Pine trails. Killington's super-steep Bear Mountain, by comparison, has a pitch of about 18 degrees and grade of about 46 percent.Upper and Lower Boomauger combine into the longest run off the King Pine, at 0.8 miles, for a slightly gentler pitch of 11 degrees and grade of 25 percent.Misery Whip plunges 0.47 miles down the old No. 5 T-bar line in a straight shot. Widowmaker, Old Winter's Way, Ramdown, Cant Dog Glade and Choker complete the trail system that many consider prime New England terrain.
A big reason the trails attract so many regulars is snow quality. Prevailing winds tend to load the area with powder, so that when a half-foot falls on the middle of the mountain, a foot or more piles up on King Pine. One local noted Ripsaw and Misery Whip in particular get buried.Another reason is solitude. The slower pace of the fixed-grip quad, combined with the difficulty of the terrain, tends to keep traffic low. Less challenging terrain, and newer, faster lifts, draw crowds elsewhere.