Downhill skiers won’t be the only ones heading to Big Squaw Mountain near Greenville this weekend for some end-of-winter fun. The Portland-based Mallett Brothers Band, which has drummed up a national following with its blend of rock, country and Americana music, headlines the First Annual Summit Music Festival at the ski area, from Friday to Sunday.
The event is a fundraiser for Friends of Squaw Mountain, a nonprofit that revived and runs the ski area with snow-loads of support from area businesses and residents. Closed in 2010, Big Squaw’s 29-trail lower section reopened in 2013 after the group leased the mountain from its out-of-state owner, restoring trails, equipment and the chalet-style base lodge. With super cheap lift tickets ($30 for adults), no lift lines and a friendly, retro vibe, it’s making a comeback as a family ski destination, with its mostly intermediate trails open through at least March this year.
Visitors enjoy the same don’t-drop-your-ski-poles views of mountain-lined, island-dotted Moosehead Lake that helped make Big Squaw one of Maine’s premier ski resorts after it opened in the 1960s. North Woods vistas stretch for miles beyond the state’s largest lake, and Katahdin can be seen on a clear day, even from the base lodge. Cliff-faced Mount Kineo, on the lake up Route 6/15 overlooking the resort hub of Rockwood, is visible from many trails, too.
Big Squaw’s upper mountain has been shuttered since a 2004 ski lift accident. The festival will raise money for reopening its winding, classic New England ski trails, but not lift service. That may return someday, but the current goal is to enable a sort of backcountry skiing, with skiers driven up by snowcat. The service should be online next season, along with a beginner surface lift for the lower mountain, which only has a triple chairlift. For a $500 donation, festivalgoers can ride to the summit this weekend and enjoy a guided ski down or return on the trail groomer.
Looming slope-side along the Fitzgerald trail like something out of a Stephen King novel is the abandoned hotel/upper lodge near the idled two-chair summit lift. The long beginner trail is a must-ski for the views, not to mention a look at the abandoned green, modernist-architecture hotel with a walkway to the two-story, chalet-style lodge. Don’t miss the base lodge’s old photos and promotional art from Big Squaw’s resort heyday.
Festival musicians will perform in the larger of two main rooms there. The event is free except on Friday. Inside seating is sold out, but outdoor tickets ($20) can be bought online and at the door. Doughty Hill Band kicks things off at 4 p.m. after the lift closes, followed by The Mallet Brothers at 7 p.m. Music will flow through open picture windows to the outside, where you can warm up by bonfires and outdoor heaters. Bangor’s Blaze restaurant will sell wood-fired pizza and barbecue, and you buy wine and Maine craft beer and cider at the lodge’s charming Northwoods Gourmet Girl cafe. Fireworks start at 9 p.m.
At 5 p.m. Saturday, the largely locally-sourced eatery hosts Belfast’s Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. Enjoy free samples and chat up the brewer; there will be a special small plates menu, plus beer and wine for sale. Also on Saturday is a morning summit hike, a nearly full moon trail walk (with candles and ice sculptures en route) and musical performances by Junction Express at 2 p.m. and Rich Daigle Jazz Trio at 5 p.m. during the beer tasting. The Whitefields play at noon Sunday.
For information on Moosehead Lake Region lodging, dining and activities, visit the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce at mooseheadlake.org, and for more information about the mountain, go to skibigsquaw.com.