Snow guns blow a mist over skiers as they make their way down Hayburner trail on last year’s opening day at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley. This season, Sugarloaf and Sunday River in Newry have already opened, with other resorts scheduled to welcome skiers and snowboarders in December. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer, file

The sight of a man in yellow snow pants gripping his roof rack while trying to shimmy his foot into a ski boot was difficult to reconcile with the weather on opening day at Sugarloaf ski area on Nov. 17.

It was 57 degrees.

“I feel like it’s the wrong season right now,” one woman said as she hefted her skis onto her back to make the trek from lodge to lift.

Temperatures are certain to drop soon as Maine’s Alpine ski resorts open for the 2023-24 season. Sunday River in Newry was the first to open, on Nov. 15, with other large ski areas planning to do so in the coming weeks.

On opening day at Sugarloaf, cars were lined like books, facing one way only, in the parking lot. One skier, Kevin Mitchell, of Turner, made a point to take in the first day at both Sunday River and Sugarloaf, the state’s largest ski resorts. He lauded Sunday River for its convenience – “The parking’s right there,” he said – of proximity to the Jordan 8 chairlift.

As for the opener at Sugarloaf, “the conditions were epic today,” Mitchell said. “It was amazing to get out there with my friends. Kudos to the snowmaking team here. … They’ve been working really hard.”


Sugarloaf is in the midst of a major expansion. While early-season snowmaking draws the eye away from its West Mountain project, the resort is primed to offer a second opening day when the West Mountain expansion debuts in January. It will add 12 beginner and intermediate trails and a quad chair dubbed the “Bucksaw Express,” forming a family-friendly area with shallower grade. It is the largest ski terrain expansion in the northeast since the 1970s.

The SuperQuad and mid-mountain Timberline chair were running on opening day at Sugarloaf to provide access to about five total skiable miles and one continuous top-to-bottom line. All eight of the open trails were covered in glossy, manmade snow. The surrounding routes looked neglected with their patchy white stubble, barely standing out from the tattered green blanket of trees.

“It feels like mid-January snow, not a lot of ice patches around,” said Emma Small, a snowboarder who lives 20 minutes up the road in Kingfield. “It’s the best opening day in four years, for me at least.”

Malina McKendry, a high schooler on the Carrabassett Valley Academy ski cross team, was more critical. “This morning was great hard pack,” she said, “but it’s a little skied off now, it’s corn snow.”

The crowd was mostly local, and while there was more than one determined skier who had made the early-morning drive (“My boss thinks I’m working remotely,” said Rick Burnham, of Lewiston), it was clear from the shouted conversations between lift line and lodge that many people knew one another. Opening day tickets were $69, or $39 if you ordered online two or more days in advance.

One skier put it succinctly: “I’m not wearing my rock skis today,” said Abe Furth, of Old Town.


Here’s a look at what’s going on at some of the larger Alpine ski areas in Maine:

SUNDAY RIVER opened Jordan Bowl, the westernmost of its eight peaks, on Nov. 15. The Jordan 8 chair opened last December and features a red, translucent wind screen and ergonomic heated seats. There were four trails accessible from the Jordan chair on opening day. New to the resort this year is the Barker 6 chair – opening later in the season as a high-speed upgrade to the former Barker quad. Early season tickets start at $80 for adults, $50 for juniors.

At SADDLEBACK, snowmaking is already up and running for the scheduled opening day on Dec. 2. Tickets are on a sliding scale based on demand and start at $49. The resort in Rangeley built new employee housing since last season, with ski in/ski out accommodations for 70 full-time staff, as well as a new 2,700-square-foot restaurant, The Nest, serving comfort food at the midway summit.

MT. ABRAM, a quieter (and cheaper) alternative to Sunday River in nearby Greenwood, is scheduled to open Dec. 21, returning to its regular Thursday-Sunday schedule after the holidays. Mt. Abram offers a number of deals to match its community feel – tickets are $35, except on Fridays, when they’re $100 per carload (is that a challenge?) and Thursdays ($19.60 for Maine residents, honoring the year when the resort opened). Snowmaking at Mt. Abram started on Sunday morning.

PLEASANT MOUNTAIN in Bridgton (formerly Shawnee Peak) began snowmaking Monday evening and expects to welcome skiers during the first week of December for its earliest opening ever. The resort has widened one more trail for night skiing, Sunset Boulevard, bringing the after-dark trail count up to 20.

LOST VALLEY will open Dec. 15 with snowmaking on about 50% of its skiable terrain in Auburn. The operators focused on snowmaking this year, increasing their capacity by just about 30%. The Lost Valley Brew Pub will hold a lodge party on the eve of opening day, with live music and house-made beer from 4 to 9:30 p.m. Regular-season tickets are $50 for adults, $37 for juniors.

Two of the CAMDEN SNOW BOWL’s three phases, beginner and progressive, will open on Dec. 23, just in time for Christmas. Snowmaking will start two weeks prior. The Snow Bowl offers a night-skiing-only ticket – $27 for adults, $23 for students, in addition to the normal rate ($48/$42). New to the Snow Bowl this year is an S-turn terrain park element.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.