At Sunday River you can get the feeling of skiing out West without the expense of flying there OR having to book expensive rooms. I like to think of Sunday River as budget-friendly powder compared to the champagne powder of Utah. Sunday River would be the sparkling wine that you love and can get at Trader Joe's for $15 a bottle. Reliable and tasty!
On my second visit to Sunday River, I was able to crystallize what makes this place so happy. It's the locals who really, really love to ski. I understand the #HappyPlaceFound motto as I saw countless families spending time together in the snow.
Folks are out there making memories large and small at a resort that caters to on-snow experiences. To sum it up, come for the snow, stay for the people. Everyone we met had a sunny demeanor and was truly eager to make sure we had a great stay. From the "dudes" operating the lifts, to the cleaning crews to the servers—you can tell the Boyne team spends time and energy on training. It matters. Families make a lot of effort to get to the snow and it should be rewarded. My kids loved this shuttle bus driver who dressed as Santa during our stay.
How to Ski Sunday River
Like the better-known mountains in Colorado, Sunday River has a massive amount to ski—there are eight interconnected mountain peaks and they get the most dependable snow in New England.That's why so many race camps are held there (and the reason for our first visit).
Sunday River Resort is spread over three miles of terrain in western Maine's Mahoosuc Mountains. The resort offers skiers the chance to experience eight interconnected peaks each with its own personality.
We started each day from the Locke Mountain side, taking the White Cap Quad up to Wildfire. The racers tend to ski off of Locke Mountain (most of the time while we were there the Locke Mountain Triple was dedicated to a variety of racing programs). We went up the adjacent Barker Mountain Express lift. It was fun to ski there to try to catch glimpses of our girls training. I like the long Lazy River blue run and challenged myself on the Right Stuff expert run.
We didn't get to ski much on White Cap—but that's got lots of expert terrain too. And Sunday River grooms plenty of blacks as well as blue and green runs. For more challenges, Oz Peak is a great place to dig in to some steep runs and bumps when the fresh powder hits.
Mr. Momtrends and I loved Jordan Bowl. We were hooked on the zippy Jordan Bowl Express lift and traded off doing Excalibur and Rougue Angel runs. We spent the better part of a day there in complete bliss. We made the most of the foot of fresh powder that the snow gods provided on our visit.
To get to easier terrain, head over to Spruce Peak, Aurora Peak and North Peak—there's tons of green there. We ambled over on the Three Mile Trail from Barker. North Peak is full of wide open gentle runs—there's plenty to work with and this is where most of the lessons happen.
It's also home to most of the terrain areas. Thankfully with all the space, beginners and freestyle skiers & boarders can coexist...for the most part. I do wish there were more ski patrols out watching the speeds of the riders and skiers coming out of the parks. I saw a few tiny tots almost get taken out.
There are five terrain parks in all, ranging from Wonderland (perfect for tiny rippers) to T72 the bad boy of the parks with 15 acres of jumps. It should be noted there are A TON OF SNOWBOARDERS at this mountain.
Snow conditions are fabulous. Sunday River has a well-earned reputation for being the best snow-makers on the East Coast (sorry Killington). Before our arrival ,there wasn't a ton of god-made snow but the place was in excellent condition with not much thin cover. Sunday River owns a ton of snow guns to make the white stuff that the heavens don't provide. They know how to blast it and how to groom it. As I said, during our stay, there was a foot of fresh powder (coincidence? I think not). The mountain left some ungroomed which was awesome and handled the rest deftly. There is a variety not only in difficulty of runs but in groomers vs. snow left untouched.
What surprised me most? How much fantastic green/beginner terrain there is on Sunday River. A family with young children has a ton to ski or board at this resort. In fact, 30% of the resort is dedicated to green runs.
Families also love the Chondola. It can get cold up in Maine, to help warm up, take the Chondola lift from the South Ridge Lodge area. This is a combo lift—half high speed chair half gondola (hence the name). There are two separate lines—hearty souls can take the chair, I want to warm up a bit so I pick the gondola part. Kids love the chance to rest up a bit and Sunday River provides help loading and unloading skis.
Plan a Sunday River Ski Vacation
Ski School meets at South Ridge and starts at age 3. Lessons are grouped by age and ability. Privates are available, but kids like to ski with other kids. For the group lessons, expect the groups to be 6-8 kids per instructor. Many local families take advantage of the season-long programs. Maine folks embrace winter sports like no-one else. You'll see a ton of great young skiers on the hills. Many of these tiny tykes grow up to be racers and there's the nearby Gould Academy that runs a hard-core race program from Sunday River too.
Someday Bigger is the nearby licensed day care facility. This is great for moms that have babies too young for ski school. Mom doesn't have to sit in the condo all day. Tots 6 weeks and up can avail of this service. Call 207-824-5083 to book.
Where to Stay
For a large resort, Sunday River is extremely well-priced. Adult lodging packages for lift tickets and lodging start at $109 per person. We stayed at the Grand Summit Lodge in an ENORMOUS suite. We had three bedrooms and a massive kitchen. You could easily fit two families in this place. What it was missing? A laundry room.
The Grand Summit is truly a ski-in, ski-out resort. It's incredibly easy to get going in the morning. Head to the first floor to the ski storage room (it's free) and grab your skis. It's okay to leave poles and boots in your room (by the way I love these portable book warmers/dryers—we travel with two sets now). It's a quick zip down to the White Cap Quad Lift.
Grab a hearty breakfast at CAMP, the new restaurant that highlights local food and flavors. We stopped by for cocoa and cocktails one afternoon and I loved the vibe of the place. The Grand Summit also has a large heated outdoor pool and hot tub. Get your workout in at the large fitness area and treat tired muscles to the sauna.
There are tons of condos to rent (head to ski.com and book your package) and three full-service options: the Grand Summit Hotel, the Jordan Hotel (never saw this so I can't report), and the Snow Cap Inn.The Snow Cap is dorm style lodging—not a great fit for families.
Where to Eat
I highly recommend getting a condo with a kitchen. While Sunday River is investing money in on-mountain dining experiences, it's not quite there yet with options. CAMP over at the Grand Summit is a great resource, and I hope to see more restaurants pop up.
On Mountain is pretty standard. You can get the usual fare at Barker Lodge and South Ridge Lodge. Passable salads, sandwiches and soups. I am excited about what's in the works at the Peak Lodge. It's still a work in progress, but Sunday River hired a notable chef to create some buzz at this mid-mountain spot.
I liked the vibe (roaring fire and huge windows) when I stopped in for a yummy sticky bun—currently the item they are most famous for. Plans are in the works for some tasty dinner options.
Sunday River by the Numbers
5 Terrain Parks
870 Skiable Acres
3 miles wide
15 lifts (5 high speed)
Cool to do: Night Skiing! Every weekend and Saturday thru March 18th, your family can ski under lights from 4-8pm over on the North Peak area.
Next week (January 9-13, 2017) is Sunday River’s Children’s Festival Week. Adults who book three or more nights of lodging at a Sunday River Resort property earn free lift tickets, lodging, equipment rentals, lessons, and breakfast for their kids (between the ages of 3 and 12 years old).
Free Lessons! During Children’s Festival Week, kids can take advantage of their free lesson with Sunday River’s Perfect Turn Ski and Snowboard School
After lessons, kids can join in aprés-ski activities like the Pajama Bonanza, an exotic animal presentation, fire-dancing and fireworks, and an Audio Body Light Show. There also a Family Peak Dinner planned at Sunday River’s mid-mountain Peak Lodge on January 14, where family guests can ride the iconic Chondola lift over lighted trails and dine with the resort’s mascot, Eddy the Yeti. Reservations are required (800-543-2754).
Sunday River is part of the Max Pass as well as The New England Pass (you can go to Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Loon all on the same pass). Read more about season pass deals here. Sunday River is also a Boyne Resort—a group of 12 mountains. Join the BoyneRewards program to earn points that can be used for stuff like lift tickets, season passes and more. It makes sense to join if you are a regular skier.
What Else is There to Do?
I'm going to grudgingly admit that this is where the West has the advantage. The other offering is tubing and The Snow Cap Inn has an outdoor rink and they do offer a movie night for kids so parents can get a break.
Bethel is a really small town and it's not geared towards fancy visitors. Sunday River is about on-snow fun...mostly skiing and snowboarding. If you are a spa-loving mama who loves to shop, this is not your spot. If your family loves to ski, this is your spot.
For more snow fun, visit our 2016/17 Family Ski Guide:
This is not a sponsored post. Lodging accommodations and lift tickets were provided to facilitate this review. All photography is property of Momtrends Media and may not be used without express permission.