When it comes to skiing, I’m what I call a perpetual beginner. I’ve skied a few times in my teens, a few more in my twenties, once in my early thirties, and now one weekend a year for the past few years in my forties. While I’m no longer a hot mess on the bunny hill and I haven’t knocked down any kids in a while, I’m perfectly happy on green trails and have no ambitions to ever ski a black diamond. I enjoy it, but I don’t LOVE it, if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, we have a bad habit of introducing our daughter to expensive sports (horseback riding, golf, and skiing) that she then LOVES and wants to do more. If only she was into team sports — but too late!
It all started a few years ago we “won” a three-night stay at a condo up near Sunday River; in Maine and we figured, why not try a family ski weekend at Sunday River? It had been about 10 years since either my husband or I had been on skis but we decided to give it a try and headed north. While I marvel at the parents out on the slopes with their toddlers in harnesses, controlling the child’s actions, or skiing backwards and providing direction to their kids, we were clearly not in a position to teach our daughter anything except, perhaps, how to fall. So we signed her up for Sunday River’s Mogul Munchkins Ski School, had a minor panic attack, and sealed our fates to coming back year-after-year (more about Sunday River’s awesome ski school later.)
Why We Love Sunday River
Every year we tell ourselves we need to break out of the rut and try somewhere else as there are plenty of options within the same four hour drive (Jiminy Peak in the Berkshires, MA, White Mountains of NH, Green Mountains in VT, Sugarloaf in ME…) Maybe it is that we are novice skiers who are finally getting comfortable on one mountain and we are scared that won’t translate somewhere else. Or maybe it is that as much as we love traveling to new places, it is also nice to go back to the something you know. All I know is that it really is our #HappyPlaceFound.
Here is what we like best about Sunday River:
- Not Crowded — I’ve skied a few times at Killington and Mt. Snow in VT. Both are big mountains that attract large crowds, as is Sunday River. Yet I can attest that even Sunday River’s crowds on two MLK Weekends didn’t come close to the congestion I had experienced at other mountains on an average weekend. I think because it is in Maine, they are really attracting people from Boston north, whereas the VT mountains draw the NY/NJ crowd. It could also be that we stick to the beginner area and there are so many other lifts for different peaks. Whatever the reason, I like it! We never wait longer than a few minutes in a lift line and many times (especially in the afternoon) we ski right up to the lift. And, because the beginner trails are mostly in the same area and don’t go all the way to the top, I avoid that problem of standing frozen at an intersection between a green trail and a black diamond, waiting for my opportunity to get across without getting cut off by someone zooming by (I have literally stood for 15+ minutes terrified to cross some of these trails at Mt. Snow.) When we were up at Sunday River last weekend (February 8-9th), Saturday offered perfect ski conditions, sunny skies, and moderate weather (20 degrees). It was busy, but I wouldn’t describe it as crowded. On Sunday, the slopes were wide open, especially in the afternoon when the biggest problem was getting around the kid’s competitive ski program without embarrassing myself. By afternoon it was a dream for beginner skiers that need the space to turn and the ability to ski with confidence without being startled by people shooting by you or jumping out of the woods right in front of you and throwing you off your game.
- Beginner Area — Sunday River offers a large beginner area from its South Ridge Lodge. In addition to its ski school training hill with a “magic carpet” conveyor belt surface lift, this area also features 16 green trails accessible from the South Ridge Express lift. It is so nice to have such a variety of trails to choose from to gain confidence without getting bored. This weekend I skied for two full days and kept switching up which trails I used and how I connected one to another to keep it interesting. This year, Sunday River also debuted a Beginner Lift Ticket. For $39 a day (less than half the cost of a full ticket), you have full access to this beginner terrain.
- Ski School — Sunday River offers an extensive ski school catering to skiers and snowboarders of all ages, from teeny tiny munchkins to adults. Through the Maine Adaptive program, they also offer free lessons and access to equipment for children and adults with physical disabilities. What I like about the program is that they have so many instructors that they are able to break the groups up by skill level and work pretty closely with each child. We have found that the ski school is busiest on Saturday mornings. But, since many parents only sign kids up for a half-day program, Saturday afternoons and Sundays tend to be smaller groups and we’ve even experienced some one-on-one instruction for the price of a group lesson. The school keeps your information on record so that even if we go once a year, they can look up what level she was at last time we visited, who she worked with and what skills they were working on. It is very helpful in placing her in the right group and not wasting time figuring out what level she is at. One other tip about ski school…while it runs 10am-3pm, if your child is already skiing, they can show up early (about 8:45) for “fun runs” and get an extra hour of ski time and coaching. The full day program includes lunch and warm up hot chocolate breaks. The kids all eat together in the River House (separate from the lodge) and our daughter loves the food. She leaves raving about the chicken soup and macaroni salad. The buffet offers plenty of options including stuffed shells, steak and cheese, and other yummy food. It is truly amazing how much progress they make in just a weekend with two full days of instruction!
- Terrain Parks — you are probably thinking why does a beginner skier like the terrain park? But here is the thing, because Sunday River has invested so heavily in terrain parks it attracts the daredevils with jumps, rails, and a halfpipe and keeps them away from where I am skiing! Seriously, nothing is more startling than cruising along, doing my turns, pacing myself when boom, an aggressive snowboarder bursts out of the woods or swooshes down next to me spraying me with snow. Let all the future X Games contestants knock themselves out (not literally) on the terrain parks and leave me with just the mini daredevils to contend with.
On this trip I actually successfully braved a blue trail so maybe someday I might break away from the Beginner Terrain. All this Olympic fever is definitely inspiring. Plus I know that at some point we’ll have to stop paying for ski school and need to either have the little one bring a friend at her skill level or do more than just the occasional family run. I have a lot of work to do before I’m ready to be responsible for anyone but myself on the slopes.
More soon on where we’ve stayed and where we’ve eaten but for now, I need to start planning our next trip. What about you, do you have a favorite ski mountain? Any where you recommend for a beginner family to try? Leave a comment below.
This post was re-posted from Tamara Gruber+ at We3Travel, a blog about travel tips and tricks, reviews, ideas on what to do and where to eat, as well as tips for traveling with kids and some apps and products that make the traveling-life easier. To read more posts from Tamara, subscribe to her blog.