With the atrocious weather of late, all the freezing rain followed by sub-zero temps, this skier was skeptical about what I might find on my first trip of the winter up to Saddleback Mountain.
Checking in with the mountain folks the day before, JoAnne Taylor, Director of Marketing and Communications and always one to provide the real deal on conditions, told me that “we actually have packed powder surfaces on the mountain. Our ops crew did amazing things. I think you will enjoy your time on the snow.”
With that good news my wife and I, along with a friend, packed up and headed to the mountain. There was a tiny nugget of skepticism in me, however, lodged in my brain from the moment I skidded across the icy driveway to the car, but I was certainly hopeful.
Now mind you, any day spent outside and skiing is better than most alternatives, regardless of conditions and weather and whatnot. I think we all can agree on that. And on this particular day it would be what it would be and it would still be fun.
While 30 trails were open, we stuck to the 13 groomers. From the Rangeley Double we enjoyed excellent runs on Gray Ghost and Royal Coachman, the latter with corduroy from top to bottom, which is something I haven’t found before.
Off the Kennebago Quad we made lap after lap on Tight Line, occasionally veering off onto Tri-Color and Mickey Finn to Green Weaver back to the quad. We also made numerous full mountain runs all the way down to the base lodge.
For extra credit we even skied below the lodge on what’s known as the Cruizin’ Slopes, a part of the mountain I’d never been. From below you get a heckuva a view of the upper mountain, and the sign on the lift shack at the South Branch triple is good for a chuckle.
The grooming was phenomenal and each and every run rated a gold star. Thirteen really good trails were plenty for many thousands of feet of vertical fun. I lamented only that we hadn’t gotten out on the slopes earlier than our lazy 10:30 start!
I caught up with a couple of the mountain’s key people après ski (but before trundling upstairs to the Swig ‘n Smelt) to get the skinny on how Saddleback could get the mountain in such good shape given the tough stuff Mother Nature has brought down on Maine this winter.
“We really care about the snow,” said Jared Emerson, Mountain Operations Manager at Saddleback. “We do a trail, stay on it, and finish it. It’s about quality not quantity, which sometimes hurts us in early season. But every trail out there is fantastic.”
All of the mountain’s groomers are skiers and snowboarders themselves, and as such, they are very conscious about the product they put out.
“Quality skiing is what the public wants,” said Emerson.
And I can attest that quality skiing – great grooming and great snow – is what you get here at Saddleback. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was.
“We had super cold, then above-freezing weather, and then it dropped 40 degrees in a day,” said Chris Farmer, General Manager at Saddleback, referring to the wild weather of just a few days back. “But our guys were just on it.”
When Chris told me next that they add a little something to their snowmaking that makes it special, well, I thought for sure he was pulling my leg.
Huh? Say again?
But he wasn’t kidding.
“When we make snow we add a special organic additive called Drift,” said Farmer. “It’s injected while we’re making snow. It coats the crystals and doesn’t allow them to compress.”
This is the same environmentally-friendly additive that Deer Valley in Utah uses to make their renowned snow.
“It allows us to recover the mountain, to bring back optimum conditions much more quickly.”
I’m no chemist but I think I’m a believer in whatever this stuff called Drift is.
Drift isn’t the only reason, of course, that Saddleback’s snow is so good. In fact, there are 7 other good reasons why. Chris pointed me to their website and the page “Our Snow is Better.” Check it out for the pretty compelling evidence.
Of course, the pricey new PistenBully 600 Winch Cat will help too, allowing the crew to groom the steeps like never before, like on Tight Line, where the oft-gnarly start at the top was formed into a nice square edge to drop over.
No trip to Saddleback is complete without a hike up to the ever-festive Swig ‘n Smelt for a cocktail, and after getting my fill of good information, that’s where I joined my ski pals for a little refreshment as this fine day slowly gave way to nighttime.
And while sometimes we stick around for a bite (the piled-high nachos are always a treat), we decided to get a little closer to home before stopping to eat dinner.
That idea only got us a few miles down the road, when the draw of the Loon Lodge and its cozy Pickford Pub on Rangeley Lake was simply too strong to ignore. Amid the warmth and charm of this 100-year old log lodge we stuffed ourselves on outstanding burgers (great price too, just $10) and a pint of good ale. Stop in, you’ll really love this place!
Good ski day… check!