What better way to celebrate the coming of spring than by skiing to the beat of your favorite tunes?
You won’t even need to strap an iPod to your ski helmet — at least not at two Maine festivals that combine live music and great spring skiing.
Friday is the start of the annual Spring Festival at Sunday River in Newry, which includes a beach party rave that night, plus a day of slope-side music on Saturday and events like the Margarita Mix-Off tasting challenge. Less than a week later, April 6-9, is the 29th Annual Reggae Festival at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley. Nine local and national reggae acts will play by the ski lifts, in the lodge and all over the resort.
“You can be up on the mountain, hear your favorite band and ski right down to where they’re playing,” said Andrew Yankowsky, 33, of Portland, who has been to the Sugarloaf Reggae Festival twice. “You can snowboard or ski all day, then at night have a few beers and listen to the music.”
Yankowsky has seen Maine’s ski resort spring bashes from two different vantage points — as a skier and as a musician. He’s gone to ski and hear the music, and has brought his kids. But this year his band, Zeme Libre, is playing at both the Sunday River and Sugarloaf events.
“It’s such a different vibe playing at a ski resort, everybody’s on vacation, a lot of people are staying overnight, so it’s a pretty mellow atmosphere,” said Yankowsky, lead singer of Zeme Libre, which plays reggae, ska and funk.
Sunday River’s Spring Festival, which has been going on in some form as long as anyone there can remember, used to be known as the Parrothead Festival and celebrated the feel-good, island-flavored music of Jimmy Buffett (whose fans are called Parrotheads).
But the festival has been renamed to reflect a broader range of music, and its focus on spring skiing.
Both festivals, after all, are designed to help draw attention to the last month or so of skiing in the mountains of western Maine. This year, after heavy snows in February and March, the skiing should be excellent.
“We had five feet in February and two feet in March, so it still looks like mid-winter here,” said Darcy Lambert, director of communications for Sunday River. “This event is to celebrate spring, and spring skiing is part of that.”
Sunday River’s festival includes an outdoor beach party rave, with a deejay, on Friday night, as well as ’70s rock from the Bethel-based Ball Brothers Band indoors Friday night. Then on Saturday, there are outdoor shows all day long, including the Singepole Mountain Band, former Rustic Overtones member Spencer Albee and Portland rock band El Grande.
All the music is free, so even if you don’t ski, you can hang out and listen to tunes. There will also be a Margarita Mix-Off contest, with people judging the best drink, and a wacky Slip & Flip race. It’s a team relay in which people slide down part of the hill any way they can, and drink a cup of (non-alcoholic) punch, then flip over the cup to signal the start of the next team member’s slide.
Sugarloaf’s spring festival is sharply focused on reggae music, with nine bands playing over four days. Indoor shows at night have admission charges, while outdoor daytime shows are free. The headliner, New Kingston from New York City, will play in the 1,000-person capacity King Pine room with Gorilla Finger Dub on April 8. Other bands playing night shows include Royal Hammer from Maine and John Brown’s Body, while daytime shows will feature Green Lion Crew, Dub Kartel, Spiritual Rez and CatchaVibe.
Both ski areas attract big weekend crowds anyway. But for their spring festivals, the lure of spring skiing on a sunny day with a live music soundtrack brings thousands of people out. The skiers call the snow this time of year “corn snow,” because after several days of melting and re-freezing the snow is like little kernels of corn and makes for a fast but easy-to-control ride.
“We get a lot of people who just come for the music on a nice sunny day with the mountains all around,” said Ethan Austin, director or marketing for Sugarloaf. “But it’s really great skiing. It’s a great way to celebrate the shifting of the seasons.”
For what to do the rest of the season, see our guide to spring events.
SUNDAY RIVER SPRING FESTIVAL
WHEN: Friday and Saturday
WHERE: Sunday River, 97 Summit Road, Newry
HOW MUCH: Free, lift tickets required to ski
ENTERTAINMENT: Outdoor beach party rave with DJ BREK.ONE and ’70s rock from the Ball Brothers Band, both at 8 p.m. Friday; Saturday’s schedule includes Singepole Mountain Band from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Spencer Albee from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. and El Grande from 4-6 p.m.
SUGARLOAF REGGAE FESTIVAL
WHEN: April 6-9
WHERE: Sugarloaf, 5092 Access Road, Carrabassett Valley
HOW MUCH: Outdoor daytime shows are free, access passes to indoor concerts range from $20 to $100; lift tickets required to ski.
ENTERTAINMENT: Bands include Zeme Libre, Green Lion Crew, Dub Kartel, Royal Hammer, John Brown’s Body, CatchaVibe, Spiritual Rez, DJ 4eign, Gorilla Finger Dub and New Kingston. For days and times, go to sugarloaf.com.