Ski Escape: Sunday River, Maine

February 24, 2021 Updated: February 24, 2021

What’s the cure for a family suffering from a pandemic-fueled case of cabin fever?

Road trip!

Instead of running from winter’s chill, we decided to drive toward it. As a blizzard was forecast, we drove 5.5 hours northeast from Connecticut to the Sunday River ski resort in Newry, Maine—just before a foot of fresh snow blanketed its slopes.

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Snowcat operators at Sunday River work to make fresh groomed “corduroy” snow for skiers to enjoy the following day. (Nick Lambert/Sunday River)

Traveling During COVID

Unlike the state of Vermont, which has made ski tourism nearly impossible this season for out-of-state visitors, with a mandatory quarantine for at least seven days for those who aren’t vaccinated, the state of Maine will waive the quarantine requirement if the adults in the travel party provide a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of check-in at your hotel. Since we wanted to ski, shop, and visit restaurants, we took rapid tests just before traveling.

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A sweeping view of the Sunday River ski resort in Newry, Maine. (Kyra Hunsicker/Sunday River)

There was signage throughout the resort, and gentle reminders from ski patrol and hotel staff to wear a face mask while in the lift line and when walking the halls of the hotel. The end result for us was feeling welcome, but also safe. We felt genuine Maine hospitality wherever we went—a direct and laid-back kindness that was distinctly recognizable and consistent.

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A bird’s eye view of the Grand Summit Lodge’s heated pool and the hotel’s back door slope side access to the Sunday River ski resort. (Kyra Hunsicker/Sunday River)

The Mountain

Sunday River is easily among the top resorts in the East. It boasts eight mountain peaks with trails evenly split between beginner, intermediate, and expert. With such a large resort, one can benefit from a strategy, and my son and I enjoyed frequently studying the printed trail map to explore the often-humorous names of the 135 trails and glades to plan our day or reflect on the runs we had completed. I also referred to the resort app for weather forecasts to inform how to layer our ski clothes, and to look up the trail map between runs on the chairlift.

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Kids get the royal treatment at the Sunday River SnowSports School. (Nick Lambert/Sunday River)

Sunday River is especially known for its smooth “corduroy” beginner and intermediate trails made by its snow grooming machines, as well as its vast expert gladed tree runs that one would expect from the higher elevation resorts of Colorado and Utah.

The mountain layout reminded me of Vail, with its many distinct areas accessible via connector trails. While smaller in scope, Sunday River’s Jordan Bowl has a similar vibe to Vail’s epic Blue Sky Basin, both on the resorts’ edge deep into the wilderness with a forgiving level of steepness and ample powder tucked into the many lines through the gently spaced trees.

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Sunday River resort is known for its excellent grooming to help beginners enjoy the mountain and more advanced skiers enjoy higher speeds. (Kyra Hunsicker/Sunday River)

The most clutch part of the skiing was getting the kids into Sunday’s SnowSports school. They loved their incredibly patient coach Ally, who put fun first, helped them improve their skills as well as handle all the little frustrations that can overwhelm children, such as adjusting their goggles and gloves during the snowfall, and scraping stuck-on ice from the bottom of their ski boots. They also enjoyed the food, snacks, and hot chocolate.

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The base area near South Ridge Lodge where the Sunday River SnowSports meet-up is for kids drop-off and pick-up. (Shelley Bowen/Sunday River)

Knowing the kids were in good hands gave me the confidence to enjoy the powder, since Ally could simply call my cell phone if anything was wrong (and she never did!). After months of school shutdowns and alternating homeschool days, the kids and I were happy to have some independence for six hours a day.

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Powder and glades are two of Sunday River’s hallmarks. (Marina French/Sunday River)
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Enjoying a moment of rest between runs on the chair lift at Sunday River. (Marina French/Sunday River)

Lodging and Dining

We stayed at the slopeside Grand Summit Hotel and Conference Center with its many creature comforts, such as a ski valet directly on the mountain, so you don’t have to lug your skis to your room. Our spacious and recently renovated two-room suite had a granite kitchenette, dining room table, marble bathroom with twin sinks, and comfortably slept six. It was a relief to the kids that they didn’t have to share a bed.

After a long day of skiing and tired legs, it was therapeutic to enjoy a swim and hot tub. We entered the waters of the toasty warm pool from inside the fitness room, and then swam through a connector to the outside, where it was snowing! While there was a fair amount of people in the pool, everyone maintained social distancing, and wore face masks while enjoying the hot tub. The number of guests in the pool and fitness center were limited via a reservation system with the front desk.

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Enjoying some early morning corduroy groomed runs at Sunday River. (Marina French/Sunday River)
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Sunday River has great wide and gentle trails to help skiers and riders build confidence and feel free to roam. (Marina French/Sunday River)

Every morning, we sauntered down to the lobby restaurant Camp in our pajamas. There, servers boxed our choices of eggs, potatoes, bacon, toast, pancakes, and pastries and place the food in a large to-go bag so we could enjoy breakfast in our room’s kitchenette. We also enjoyed an excellent dinner at Camp when we were too tired from the day’s skiing to venture out.

Several miles away, on the other side of the resort, is the smaller Jordan Hotel, where my wife visited the spa for a massage while the kids and I skied. She was definitely relaxed after the 90-minute treatment, aptly named “Blues Be Gone.”

The resort has a family-friendly, laid-back vibe, with hotels, condos, restaurants, bars, and shopping all located between the five base areas, all accessible via car or resort shuttle.

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Skiing the powder at Sunday River. (Marina French/Sunday River)
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The back terrace of the Bethel Inn’s Millstone Tavern has been transformed into a place for “igloo” dining. Patrons can also choose to be seated inside. (Courtesy of Bethel Inn)

Bethel

On our last night, we ventured into the picturesque town of Bethel just at the foot of the resort. It’s exactly what you’d imagine a charming Maine ski, whitewater, and golf town to be. We enjoyed dinner at the Millbrook Tavern inside the historic Bethel Inn, which dates back to 1913. We had reserved an outdoor “igloo” tent on the terrace. It was toasty warm with a heater and adorned with Christmas lights on the inside and shoveled out from the foot of fresh snow that had just fallen on the tavern’s terrace. The kids loved it and were well-behaved through two courses and then went to play in the snow while my wife and I finished dinner.

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A view from the back of the historic Bethel Inn in Bethel, Maine. (Courtesy of Bethel Inn)

Earlier that day, we had received an email from our kids’ school nurse, asking us to provide a COVID negative test before bringing our kids back to school. So, we conveniently made an appointment for a rapid test with the drive-through pharmacy in Bethel, and we were even able to administer the test ourselves, sparing the kids the discomfort of having a stranger stab them through the nose.

After five gentle rotations of the swab in each nostril, we handed them back to the pharmacist in a pre-packaged tube via the drive-through window. While the necessity of all this is subject for another article—there is no doubt that Sunday River made us feel welcome despite these current realities, and it was definitely worth navigating these inconveniences in order to have this precious time away.

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A view of the expert glade Wizard’s Gulch. Sunday River is known for both is diverse trails for all ability levels, as well as the clever trail names, such as the beginner trail Moonstruck, the intermediate trail Cascades, and expert trails Chutzpah and iCaramba! (Sunday River)

Before starting our drive back, we explored Bethel’s adorable cafes for coffees and treats for the car ride and shopped for gifts of local syrup and beer. Several hours later, as we were driving home, we received the negative COVID results via email, which we forwarded to the school nurse so that the kids could promptly return to school the next day.

When we pulled our car into our garage, we were happy to be in our home without any remembrance of the cabin fever. Mission accomplished!

Our short trip to Sunday River was over, but not forgotten, as my son had pinned the resort trail map on the wall next to his bed so he could begin planning his triumphant return.

The author was a guest of Sunday River Resort.