A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
Maine is way up there in New England. In fact, it is the northernmost state in the entire country. The good news is the skiing and riding stands tall when comparing to the other states in the region. Besides all that, it’s home to LL Bean. That’s worth the drive alone.
Most of the ski resorts in the Pine Tree State are modest or small in size, but three stand out as among the very best New England has to offer: Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Shawnee Peak, all owned by Boyne Resorts.
It will take a bit of extra effort to get to Maine as there are lots of good alternatives along the way if you are driving from Boston and, for sure, from Connecticut and New York. Lots of temptations are calling you in Vermont and New Hampshire and the Berkshires.
Still, there are thousands of skiers and snowboarders who do make that extra effort every season who don’t live in the Pine Tree State and they are generously rewarded.
Will Rogers put it like this: "Did you ever see a place that looked like it was built to enjoy? Well, this whole state of Maine looks that way."
Sugarloaf sits in the Carrabassett Valley, about a 4.5-hour drive from the Boston skier market, but Sugarloafers will tell you it’s well worth the extra miles. The terrain can be both gnarly (lots of good, challenging terrain) and nice (plenty of expert opportunities and enough family-style runs to keep everyone happy). Sugarloaf offers the East’s only lift-served above treeline skiing. The village is pretty and compact and everything brings you down off the mountain into it. Nothing is lacking from convenient and comfortable lodging to quality restaurants, nightlife and shopping. Put on your rugged hat here – locals laugh off the wind and the cold. Sugarloaf is owned by Boyne Resorts who announced a 10-year expansion plan in 2020 focusing on West Mountain. More than 450 acres will be developed here with a new high- speed lift, new trails with snowmaking, and the largest slopeside residential real estate development in a generation.
Sunday River in Newry, Maine is about an hour closer to the Boston market than Sugarloaf and all regular skiers know for sure that if conditions might be “iffy,” head to Sunday River. Les Otten bought the resort in 1980 and put a huge focus on making sure Sunday River had the snowmaking infrastructure to always be ready. After all, he was Killington trained. Today, Boyne Resorts shares that focus, along with a sprucing up of the faciltities in its 10-year plan. Sunday River spreads over 8 trail-connected peaks serviced by 15 lifts. Looking for double black action? You won’t be disappointed with White Heat and Agony. And, the rest of the family will languish in in the glades like Oz and Aurora. There is plenty of lodging of all types at the mountain in Southern Maine and in the surrounding towns, such as Bethel, just a few miles away.
Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, Maine, under three hours from the Boston ski market, offers what might be called an “intermediate’s paradise” with 50 percent of the ski area’s 249 acres ideal for that skill level. The mountain has 40 trails and 7 glades falling off a 1,300-foot vertical. So, it’s a big mountain, but not that big. People who live in the region knew their home ski resort as Mt. Pleasant for 50 years before new owners re-named it to match the name of their Pennsylvania resort. Boyne Resorts acquired it in 2021. There is on slope and nearby lodging.
Saddleback Mountain can be found in Sandy River Plantation near Rangeley, Maine. The Saddleback saga includes a five-year shutdown starting in 2015 when owners could not raise lift improvement financing. There were some fits and starts, but finally a Boston economic development fund bought the ski area and is investing large sums to bring it back to stardom. Skiing is over 600 acres, served by 4 lifts (including a high-speed quad). The mountain is divided into three logical sections: bottom = beginners; middle = intermediate; top = advanced and is known as the Kennebago Steeps. Be sure to try the Casablanca Glade trail. There is plenty of lodging choices in Rangeley and Rangeley Lakes. Fun fact: all the runs are named for famous fishing flies.
Big Squaw Mountain Resort overlooks Moosehead Lake and is located near Greenville, Maine. Currently operated by Friends of Big Squaw, a non-profit, one chairlift services 27 trails. The mountain also offers a snack bar and grill in the lodge and a full-service ski and rental shop. Ski and snowboard lessons are available and a racing center was built to accommodate special events and visiting teams. Big Squaw has been in operation since 1968, though it needed to emerge from a 1990 bankruptcy. Several lodges are within a few miles of the ski area.
New Hermon Mountain is close to Bangor and is a small ski resort with a good mix of skill level terrain spread over its 71 acres and 20 trails. The vertical is 350 feet. The ski area is covered by 100 percent snowmaking. There are some motels and cabins nearby for lodging. It is owned by Bill and Marlene Whitcomb.
Mt. Abram Ski Resort is a small family ski area that often gets lost in the discussion as it sits a few miles outside of Bethel in Greenwood, and smack in the shadow of much, much bigger Sunday River Resort. The vertical drop is 1,150 feet and the skiing is spread over 250 acres. There are 44 runs (21 intermediate) served by 5 lifts. All the runs are named for Rocky and Bullwinkle themes.
Lost Valley Ski Area near Auburn, Maine is just 480 feet tall. Well, you won’t really get lost. The vertical drop is 241 feet. There are 4 lifts, including 2 double chairs. Also two terrain parks for riders to practice tricks. The ski resort has been doing business since the 1960s.
Camden Snow Bowl offers up a friendly small-town vibe and is the only ski area on the East Coast with ocean views. The vertical drop is 1,070 feet with skiing and riding over 105 acres (60 acres with trails and 45 acres with glades). Night skiing is on 15 trails. There are 4 chairs. Camden is 3 hours from Boston and 1.5 hours from Portland.
Mainers – mostly outdoor types – enjoy cross country (or Nordic) skiing almost as much as they relish the downhill variety. The state offers up numerous cross country trails, touring centers that specialize in the sport, offering equipment, lessons, racing, and special events. Maine’s Nordic centers serve up 550 kilometers of trails. Nordic skiing also may be done at state parks and public land conservation areas. Cross country skiing is done on groomed trails or more rugged backcountry trails. The best place for complete information on the state’s skinny-skiing options is to visit the Cross Country Ski Areas Association website.
Carrabassett Valley’s Sugarloaf is Maine’s largest single ski mountain. It’s spread over 1,241 acres with 135 slopes. The area has a breathtaking summit and miles of trail options.
Note: 10 of these Maine ski areas are monitored by OnTheSnow.com.
Yes. Maine's mountains provide alpine skiers and snowboarders with some of the most challenging trails and often the best snow conditions in the Northeast. Maine has everything from world class ski resorts with big mountain skiing to family and community-operated ski hills.
About 40 percent of Maine’s population lives near Portland. Here are the 9 closest ski resorts to the city: Lost Valley-Auburn, 40 mi.; 1 hr.; Shawnee Peak-Bridgton, 45 mi., 1.25 hrs.; Mt. Abram Ski Area-Greenwood, 65 mi., 1.5 hrs.; Sunday River-Newry, 71 mi., 1.75 hrs.; Black Mountain-Rumford, 80 mi., 1.75 hrs.; Camden Snow Bowl-Camden, 85 mi., 1.5 hrs.; Sugarloaf-Carrabassett, 133 mi., 2.5 hrs.; Saddlebrook Mountain-Rangeley, 137 mi., 2.75 hrs.; and Big Squaw-Greenville Junction, 160 mi., 3 hrs.
Bangor, a city in eastern-central Maine, is near by several ski resorts: New Harmon-Harmon, 12 mi., 20 mins.; Eaton Mountain-Skowhagen, 49 mi., 50 mins.; Mt. Jefferson-Lee, 61 mi., 1 hr.; Titcomb Ski Resort-Farmington, 89 mi., 1.5 hrs; Sugarloaf-Carrabassett Valley, 102 mi., 2 hrs; Saddlebrook-Rangeley, 120 mi., 2.5 hrs.; Sunday River Resort-Newry, 173 mi., 2.75 hrs; and Powderhouse-So. Berwick, 173 mi., 2.75 hrs.
Sugarloaf, Sunday River, and Shawnee. Total slope length of Sugarloaf is 87 km (54.06 miles); Sunday River boasts 84.8 km (52.69 miles), and Shawnee Peak only 23 km (14.29 miles) are the biggest, all owned by Boyne Resorts.
Winters are generally cold, but very prolonged cold spells are rare. Average annual snowfall in Maine is 50 to 70 inches along the coast and 60 to 110 inches inland. The coast rarely has more than 15 to 20 days annually with snowfall of one inch or more, although a "Northeaster" may occasionally drop 10 or more inches of snow in a single day. January is normally the snowiest month, with an average of about 20 inches.
Nighttime temperatures often drop to 0°F (-17.8°C) and sometimes even below, while the day temperatures are around the freezing 32°F (0°C) mark during the peak of the cold season. Maine winters are cold even during the day as the sun disappears for long hours, sometimes even for days.
The small town of Bethel, Maine, just 1.5 hours north of Portland and 5 miles from Sunday River, is the home of Gould Academy, a top private ski and snowboard academy. Bethel is a classic New England village, with a walkable downtown and comfortable lodging and dining options. Dining in Bethel you'll find some gems like Smokin’ Good BBQ to fine dining at Brian’s, or a freshly brewed beer from the Sunday River Brewing Company.
“Ski the Sea” is the slogan of Camden Snow Bowl. Situated between the mountains and the sea, the town of Camden is a quaint, charming, four-season community with historic sites, excellent cuisine, galleries and museums, shops, various accommodations, and outdoor adventures for every skill level and taste.
The small town of Kingfield situated near Sugarloaf Mountain, offers views of the mountains, dense forests and the Carrabassett River that runs through town. The Narrow Gauge Pathway follows the Carrabassett River for six miles on a former rail bed. Kingfield is home to the Ski Museum of Maine where you can learn about the history of Maine's ski industry and get to know prominent Mainers in the ski world.
Planes, trains and automobiles can get you where you want to go for your skiing holiday. Portland International Jetport is the largest major airport and is roughly 5 miles from Portland’s city center. Bangor International Airport is a 2-hour drive northeast of Portland, off of Interstate 95.
Maine offers scheduled and charter bus services. Greyhound offers service throughout the state with connections to New York City and beyond. Cars, limousines and taxis are readily available at both major airports as well as several regional fields. Railroad buffs will enjoy Maine’s train service. Ride on an AMTRAK liner into Portland from Boston or points farther afield. Or hop aboard the vintage Art Deco style cars of the Maine Eastern Railroad for a 57-mile coastal ride from Brunswick to Rockland. Driving? Interstate 95 runs the length of the state, passing through the interior on its way to Canada. It is the fastest way to get through the state, but does not sacrifice natural beauty.
Maine skiing and snowboarding is on a par with the other New England states and the big three resorts – Sugarloaf, Sunday River and Shawnee Peak – are as good as any you’ll find in the region. Add in a plethora of smaller ski areas, unbeatable scenery, and take your skiing just a little bit further.