Here are 13 things to love about it:
1. Mountain Peaks that Go On Forever.From the parking lot of South Ridge, you are greeted by a sweep of trails that march a full three miles across eight interconnected peaks. All trails have stunning views of the Mahoosuc Range. Ride to the top of the Jordan Bowl Express, and climb to the observation deck. On a clear day, the view stretches to the Atlantic Ocean.
2. Skiing and Snowboarding.Out of 135 trails, 75 percent are either intermediate or beginner. Five of eight peaks have a beginner trail off the top, so you never have to worry about riding a lift to a trail that is beyond your family’s ability. Plus, with trails spread over 870 acres and 16 lifts, you may have a trail completely to yourself, which is good for youngsters who zig while others zag. The best strategy is to pick a lift and lap several runs, and then bop over to the next peak, so you aren’t always traversing. Five high-speed lifts keep you moving. As the central runs get skied out, move to White Cap to the east for serious pitch and Jordan Bowl to the west for long, scenic cruisers and youngster-friendly tree skiing at Blind Ambition and Wizards Gulch.
3. Easy Access.Start at the South Ridge Base Lodge, which has all the essentials: tickets, eateries, ski school, rentals, ski shop, cubbies, and easy terrain for warming up. Keep tabs on the action through large windows facing the slopes. It’s just a few steps to the popular Chondola (gondolas plus six-person chairs) that whisks you to the top of North Peak in less than seven minutes.
4. Adrenaline.Double black White Heat is one of New England’s premier trails. Aurora Peak’s glades and steeps keep experts coming back for more. At Oz, from Kansas, drop into ungroomed double blacks like Flying Monkey and the Tin Woodsman.
5. Big Air.Local boy and X Games winner Simon Dumont designed North Peak’s T72 and 3D terrain parks, while Wonderland, with its easy snow rollers and berms, is perfect for little rippers. Four terrain parks in all.
6. Top-Notch Conditions.In 2007, Michigan-based Boyne Resorts bought Sunday River and channeled $20 million into improvements, including extending snowmaking to over more than 90 percent of the terrain. As for grooming, that perfect corduroy you see in the photos? That’s for real.
7. Bethel.A small Maine town of 3,000 souls just six minutes from the mountain, Bethel has lodging, shops, and eateries. Says Wende Gray, a 40-year resident, “I love Bethel because it is a real rural town, not just a ‘made for the resort’ town. Our Brooks Brothers is the local hardware store, not a haberdashery. Timberland Outlet is a woods road with logging truck traffic. You can eat with the locals at the Crossroads diner.”
8. Dining.On-slope, you are never far from fuel. South Ridge Base Lodge offers everything from burgers to a sushi bar. North Peak has the sticky buns. Barker’s Lodge is known for its crêpes. The best lunch spot, some say, is Sliders at Jordan Bowl. Try the kids’ buffet at Camp in the Grand Summit Hotel. Downtown Bethel has a good share of pub food for affordable family dining. The recently renovated Sunday River Brewing Company specializes in casual dining options like pizza and burgers. Bethel also has many choices for more upscale eateries. Located in the Grand Summit Resort Hotel, Legend’s Restaurant offers hearty dishes like steak, seafood, and pasta and a recently expanded pub menu. Its fresh-cut fries are made from potatoes grown at Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg. In the South Ridge Base Lodge, Foggy Goggle is popular thanks to its laid-back atmosphere and frills-free menu: burgers, chili, chowder, nachos, lobster rolls, and lobster mac ’n’ cheese. If you’re brave enough, take the Goggle Wing Challenge: patrons who can eat 10 atomically hot wings in five minutes get their wings for free, plus a T-shirt and their picture on the Wall of Flame. Dining at The Peak combines food and fun: guests dine on fare from customized, seasonal menus at the resort’s mid-mountain Peak Lodge, which they reach by Chondola. Sittings are available Saturdays throughout the winter, by reservation only. Hungry yet?
9. Variety of Lodgings.Sunday River offers a variety of lodging options, but two grande dames stand out among the rest: the Jordan Grand Resort Hotel and the Grand Summit Resort Hotel. Each property’s offerings include everything from standard guest rooms to three-bedroom suites, with slopeside accommodations affording views of the action on the mountain. The Jordan Grand, the resort’s premier property, lies just at the base of (and provides slopeside access to) the Jordan Bowl. Feel like giving the ski boots a break? Take a dip in the Jordan’s heated outdoor pool or hot tubs; work up a sweat at its fitness center; or indulge in a relaxing spa service.
10. Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing.The Bethel Village Trails at the Bethel Inn Resort offer 25 miles of XC ski, snowshoe, and fat bike trails. Families like to ski to the historic Artists’ Covered Bridge. Carters X-C Ski Center in Bethel has 34 miles of trails with great views of Sunday River Resort and the Mahoosuc and Presidential Ranges.
11. Kids’ Night Out.At the River House in South Ridge on Saturdays and some holidays: pizza and movie night for kids ages 5-12. Mom and Dad can enjoy a nice evening out, whether they head to the Foggy Goggle for live music and a great selection of beers or into Bethel to explore the dining options. Snowtubing, lighted ice-skating, and fireworks at South Ridge on Thursdays and Saturdays are other kids’ entertainment options.
12. Dog-Friendly Options.The Bethel Inn and other hotels accept pooches, and you can cross-country ski and snowshoe on the Bethel Village Trails with them. There’s also day boarding right in town.
13. The Outdoor Center.Alpine skiing and snowboarding are obvious choices. The Sunday River Outdoor Center offers 40 km of cross-country and snowshoe terrain, plus dogsledding tours. For adventures above the ground, check out the resort’s Winter Zipline Tour and Racing Ziplines, also new this season. The zipline tours stretch across six lines, ranging from 100 to 300 feet in length. As of Christmastime, Sunday River added two parallel racing zips, pitting racers against eachother for a zip along 750 feet of cables. Sunday River seemingly has it all, but if you’re in search of an off-site excursion, nearby Bethel Village (bethelmaine.com) is just the ticket, literally: Ski magazine voted Bethel one of America’s best ski towns. Sunday River Ski Resort, 15 South Ridge Road, Newry, ME, 207-824-3000, sundayriver.com.
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