This coming holiday weekend marks the 8th anniversary of the first Maine Peak to Peak Challenge, a wild adventure to ski at least one run at all of Maine’s 17 Alpine ski areas in a single, continuous push. Incredibly, our fantastic team of skiers and riders made it, and had more fun doing it than you could possibly imagine. It was probably one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.
I wrote this story of our Peak to Peak Challenge later that winter, and still get a chuckle from it. We had a blast! Take a trip down memory lane on this crazy skiing adventure, eight years hence…
Lonesome Pine Trails may have only 500 feet of vertical, but from the top of the T-bar you get a fantastic view, out over the Aroostook County village of Fort Kent, the St. John River and on into Canada. It’s pretty much as far north in Maine as you can get, and a picturesque snapshot that most skiers haven’t yet experienced.
But here we stood, a group of diehard skiers and riders, bundled up against the -20F mid-January cold, poised to take a run on perfect packed-powder snow. It would be mountain #16 of the Maine Peak to Peak Challenge, a quest to ski at least one run at each of Maine’s 17 ski areas in a single long weekend. Only Camden Snow Bowl, 300 miles south on the Atlantic Ocean, remained.
The idea for the ultimate Maine ski adventure had percolated in this skier’s head for more than a decade. Maine is a big state, its ski areas geographically scattered far and wide. I schemed and scribbled and pondered, season after season. Could it be done? Yes, I figured, but how?
The project needed a champion, and I found it finally when I pitched the notion to Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association. The chance to criss-cross Maine to ski everything from the small community areas to the large resorts and showcase the wealth of terrain and trails was attractive and exciting to Sweetser, and he bought right into the plan.
The logistics of how to assemble and move a team of skiers and riders, a support crew and a mountain of gear over a projected 1,000-mile route in a 3 1/2-day window (we chose Martin Luther King weekend, January 18-21, 2008), proved challenging. It took a couple of months to craft a workable plan, and with the energy and organization of Sweetser and Ski Maine, the enthusiasm of Maine’s ski areas, and a handful of generous sponsors, we did it.
Sweetser and I knew enough slightly off-kilter skier-types, so it wasn’t hard to gather up an enthusiastic team. The route map was a trickier task, but it sorted out like this: We’d start in the Oxford Hills, drive south to the city of Auburn, then west to the Maine-New Hampshire border. From there we’d zigzag northeast through the mountains, cross into eastern Maine, and cruise north to Aroostook County. At the Canadian border we’d do a 180 and finish far to the south on the coast.
Event supporters lent the effort some cash and two Jeeps, plus food, meals and lodging en route. Oh, and free lift tickets to boot. Mother Nature helped out too, with plenty of early season snow. As a twist to our statewide ski and ride spree, we decided to make the event an opportunity to raise funds for the Ski Museum of Maine.
By mid-January the team was ready to go, more than ready to drive an estimated 1,000 miles, ski some 85 of Maine’s 560 ski trails, and have a heckuva good time along the way. The Maine Peak to Peak Challenge was on!
Sunshine and 50F temperatures and a throng of local ski enthusiasts and media greeted us at our official Friday afternoon kick-off at quaint Spruce Mountain in Jay. We took to the rope tow for two fun runs overlooking the Androscoggin River, clad in our spiffy new team vests.
People and gear piled into the vehicles and headed for Lost Valley in Auburn, then on through the twilight to Shawnee Peak and a run overlooking Moose Pond in Bridgton. We chowed down in the Mount Abram base lodge, then hiked up the dark slopes and, with headlamps ablaze, carved shadowy turns above sleepy Greenwood.
On Saturday morning we caught a brilliant sunrise and untracked corduroy at Sunday River in Bethel. More great snow and blue skies over Black Mountain in Rumford were followed by family crowds at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington. The alpine heights of Saddleback beckoned, but time was short and so was our run. On the last chair at Sugarloaf we drank in views of the Bigelows drenched in alpenglow.
The wood stove was cranking early Sunday morning at Baker Mountain in Moscow, where you can still get a lift ticket for $6 and enjoy, as we did, stunning views over the Kennebec River. The next three mountains were fun but quick visits: Eaton Mountain in Skowhegan, Hermon Mountain in Hermon and Mt. Jefferson in Lee.
The afternoon light waned as we sped up I-95 into Aroostook County. The folks at Bigrock opened up the base lodge, turned on the lights, cranked up the triple chair, and up we went. Then it was on through the dark, snowy streets of Presque Isle to Quoggy Jo Mountain, where the entire volunteer staff waited patiently to take a few turns with us.
We drove further north still on Monday morning, through the Arctic cold (it was -26F) to Fort Kent and Lonesome Pine Trails. Warm smiles greeted us and we treated ourselves to a couple of magnificent runs.
The final leg of the journey was long and tiring, a Canada-to-the-coast beeline to Camden Snow Bowl. Despite our exhaustion, spirits were high and soon enough we were enjoying a mountaintop sunset and views of the ocean amid happy faces and hugs. Success was ours! And we celebrated in style with champagne in the base lodge.
The Maine Peak to Peak Challenge was an amazing journey that took us across the beautiful winter landscapes of Maine and introduced a wide variety of skiing terrain. Each mountain has its own unique character, passionate and friendly owners and staff, and loyal skier base, and we were fortunate to experience it together in a very up close and personal manner. Maine skiing will never look the same to this skier ever again. Icing on the cake: We raised $2,000 for the Ski Museum of Maine (www.skimuseumofmaine.org).
TRY YOUR OWN MAINE PEAK TO PEAK CHALLENGE
During the 2015/16 season, skiers and snowboarders are challenged to visit as many Maine ski areas as they can (there are 17 Alpine areas in Maine, or maybe 16 if Saddleback doesn’t open this season). The challenge is simple: Keep track of your visits and you will be entered to win great prizes. With each area you visit the pot gets richer. Check the Ski Maine Association website for the latest details on this winter’s fun Peak to Peak Challenge!
The 2008 Peak to Peak Challenge raised $2000 for the Ski Museum of Maine. Photo courtesy Carey Kish.