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Downhill From Here

Downhill From Here: Saddleback or Sugarloaf?

  • Blue skies and eight inches of fresh powder made for a memorable day at Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley, Maine. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Blue skies and eight inches of fresh powder made for a memorable day at Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley, Maine. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Flawless corduroy under blue skies made for smooth sailing on the slopes at Sugarloaf in Carrabasset Valley, Maine. Corduroy is the next best thing to fresh powder! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Flawless corduroy under blue skies made for smooth sailing on the slopes at Sugarloaf in Carrabasset Valley, Maine. Corduroy is the next best thing to fresh powder! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Blue skies and eight inches of fresh powder made for a memorable day at Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley, Maine. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • Flawless corduroy under blue skies made for smooth sailing on the slopes at Sugarloaf in Carrabasset Valley, Maine. Corduroy is the next best thing to fresh powder! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

Last week, I told you that Feb. 24 at Saddleback (207-864-5671, saddlebackmaine.com) in Rangeley, Maine, was – for us at least – the best ski day of the 2012-13 season. In fact, it ranks high in the top 10 ski days my wife and I have ever shared. By all rights, it definitely should have stayed the best day of 2012-13, but it wasn’t, because the next morning, we woke up to eight more inches of fluffy, light powder on the trails, and a mountain with nobody on it.

Though she can handle any groomed trail in the East, and can even conquer some bumps, Marilyn, like many Eastern skiers, is more comfortable on hardpack than she is on powder. So she went off to practice her powder turns by herself on Red and Blue Devil, Silver Doctor, Parmachenee Belle and Grey Ghost (most of the trails at Saddleback are named for Maine trout flies), the blue square and black diamond trails to skier’s left off the main double chairlift from the base lodge. These trails had been groomed overnight, but still had several inches of fresh powder – perfect for practice.

A powder morning trumps any relationship, even marriage, and I went off on my own to explore the trails off the summit quad, which I reached via Peachies Peril, a black diamond that had only one set of tracks down it. I was all smiles by the time I reached the base of the quad, but things just got better from there. The few skiers and riders ahead of me all made a beeline to Muleskinner, one of the toughest trails in the East, and the Casablanca Glades, one of the largest gladed areas anywhere in New England. In doing so, they bypassed Frostbite and Black Beauty, both of which gave me spectacular runs through knee-deep fluff. Everyone seemed to be ignoring Warden’s Worry and Supervisor, and I got four runs on each before anyone else cut a track. I had 10 long runs in untracked powder by 10 o’clock.

That took some of the edge off, and I went back to the double to see if I could find Marilyn. I wasn’t ready to ski on groomed trails just yet, but Professor and Jane Craig still had untracked lines and Nightmare and Thrombosis Glades were almost untouched, and I made five or six (or seven) more runs before I happened to catch up to my wife. By then, I was more than ready to ski a couple of semi-groomers with her and watch her actively seek out piles of powder. I was very proud of her.

After she quit, I took a few more glade runs before my legs, too, told me it was time to quit. It was 1 o’clock in the afternoon and I’d skied untracked powder almost non-stop since 9. I haven’t had a day like that in a couple of years, and I can’t wait for the next one.

The next morning we headed up Sugarloaf (207-237-2000, sugarloaf.com) in Carrabassett Valley, Maine. Sugarloaf gets a lot more traffic than Saddleback, and to find any fresh powder we’d have had to go exploring deep into the glades. We got there in time for first chair and spent a bluebird morning tearing up soft, smooth corduroy. Some people scoff at corduroy snow, but on a morning like this, it’s the next best thing to fresh powder and we had a ball. You can ski faster on corduroy and cover a lot more miles with less effort, and Sugarloaf is one of the best places in the world for long, fast runs down steep, smooth slopes.

These are two of our favorite mountains, and though the two are only a few miles apart as the crow flies, it takes an hour to drive from one to the other and the mountains have a very different feel. I love ’em both. They’ve been getting a lot of snow lately with more in the forecast and conditions should be prime long after more southerly areas are shut down. If you want to read a comparison of the two resorts, there’s one on EasternSlopes.com.

If you want my advice, you’ll forget about choosing between Saddleback or Sugarloaf and start making plans for Saddleback and Sugarloaf in one trip.

Your own private ski hill

Pico Mountain (802-422-3333, picomountain.com) in Rutland, Vt., is one of those forgotten gems. Big sister Killington gets all of the publicity, but, honestly, except early and late in the season when snowmaking rules, I prefer Pico,

If you’d like to “own” Pico for a day, and share it with up to 500 of your closest friends, and in the process benefit Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports, the largest year-round organization in the state to offer daily adaptive sports programs to people with disabilities, here’s how to do it.

First, Pico Mountain will be selling a total of 500 raffle tickets for $100 each through March 22. Tickets can be purchased on site at the Pico Ticket Sales Center, at PicoMountain.com, Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports, Pico Ski Education Foundation and a variety of local stores. The winning ticket will be randomly selected at Pico’s 75th anniversary party on March 23. Once the winner has been determined, they will have private access for one day at Pico Mountain any non-peak Tuesday or Wednesday of the 2013-14 winter season.

Here’s the deal

Spring is coming and pass prices are falling.

Pats Peak (428-3245, patspeak.com) in Henniker is offering great online-only deals for good causes in March. March 4-6, $35 full-day (8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.), lift ticket online only. $20 of your $35 lift ticket will go to support the Childhood Cancer Lifeline of NH. March 11-13 a full-day lift ticket is $30 with $15 going toward pet items for the Concord SPCA. In addition, you may bring three pet items with you to the ticket window and get a $10 Pats Peak Cafe Card. March 18-20 and March 25-27 are SPF Days Go Sun Smart with $25 lift tickets and $10 will go toward “Peter’s Fund Racer” to support melanoma research. You will also receive a sample of sunscreen (while supplies last).

Pats is also offering a fully transferable, unlimited season pass for 2013-14 for $599 if you purchase before April 1.

Like many areas, Bolton Valley (877-9BOLTON, boltonvalley.com) in Vermont will let you ski free for the rest of the season if you purchase a discounted 2013-14 season pass before April 1.

Attitash (attitash.com) in Bartlett and Wildcat (888-754-9453, skiwildcat.com) in Pinkham Notch are offering $40 Friday lift tickets in March and April. It’s the perfect excuse to start the weekend early.

Crotched Mountain (crotchedmountain.com) in Bennington is offering a Spring Fling pass with unlimited skiing from now to the end of the season for $139.

Stratton Mountain Resort (stratton.com) in Vermont is offering up to 50 percent off lift tickets purchased in advance online in March, with the biggest savings available midweek for midweek, multi-night lodging stays in March.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)

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