Tag Archives | Maine

Maine-ly Biking.

If you’re looking for something really fun to do this summer,  here’s a suggestion:

Go biking along the coast in Maine.

Why? Well, where else do you get such a combination of gorgeous, rocky shore…………

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beautiful wetlands……

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lovely harbors……….

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and lobster?

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Each year my husband and I try to take a trip or two to Maine to do some road biking. This year we went to Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland, for a celebratory 42-mile anniversary ride.

Here’s a map of our route:

Map

The route is great for a number of reasons: it’s not difficult, because the terrain is pretty flat. And with plenty of water views, the scenery is gorgeous. It also takes you by a number of lighthouses, from the very tiny “Bug” light to the quite large, iconic Portland Head Light. Here are a few:

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Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

Some tips if you decide to go:

Lodging: Staying in Portland area can be pricey, especially if you opt for one of the hotels by the waterfront. We cut our costs by staying by the airport in South Portland, which is a short ride from just about anywhere you decide to go. Plus we liked the cancellation policy, an important consideration in case it rained and we decided to change our plans

Eats: Portland restaurants regularly get named among the best in the country, so there are tons of great options to choose from. Go on Yelp.com, and you’ll find lots of reviews. I love lobster roll, so I’ll put in a good word for Eventide Oyster Company (tasty but a bit small), Two Lights Lobster Shack (south of Portland near Two Lights State Park), and Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster (about 20 minutes north of town on the way to Freeport). If you love baked goods — and who doesn’t — check out Standard Baking in Portland and Scratch Baking in South Portland. Yum.

Shopping: If you’re so inclined and want to drop a few bucks, Freeport, of famous LLBean fame, is only about half an hour north. There are loads of outlet stores to investigate. We didn’t do it this time, but, well, just sayin’…….

Beaches: This is MAINE. There’s about 3,478 of shoreline. Sure, a lot of it is rocky, but there are plenty of beaches, too, and everyone has their own favorite. Remember, though; the water is C-O-L-D. We spent a day at Crescent Beach State Park, a lovely swath of sand on Cape Elizabeth. We also biked through Higgins Beach, which is about as charming a beach town as you’ll find anywhere, with a nice, though fairly narrow, stretch of sand.

Cool stuff: chairs made out of lobster pots!

Cool stuff: chairs made out of lobster pots!

 

I look pretty happy, don't I? Having fun on the Maine coast!

I look pretty happy, don’t I? Having fun on the Maine coast!

 



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How to survive a snowless ski vacation in New England.

What a difference a year makes. Last winter New England was positively drowning in snow. Early season was fantastic. There was snow everywhere, and all the resorts were going full blast.

So who could blame you for booking a ski vacation for Christmas week? Seemed like a no-brainer. So what if you were locked in and couldn’t get your money back. We were going to get hammered again, right?

Uh, no. Mother Nature is fickle, and this year she’s been keeping all the snow out West (and yes, they deserve and need it, given the abysmal snow drought they’ve been through) and throwing nothing at New England but warm temps and rain. It’s actually the East’s lowest snow year on record. Yay us.

Just take a look at this tongue-in-cheek snow report posted on December 19th by Mad River Glen. If it wasn’t so funny,  I think I’d cry. (Keep in mind that MRG depends heavily on natural snow and has very little snowmaking.)

 

The bottom line is that a ski vacation in Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine is going to be a bit of a challenge this year. The skiing right now, frankly, doesn’t look too promising. Still, who knows. We could get lucky. It could snow. And even if it doesn’t, the resorts are doing all they can to blast snow the moment that temperatures allow.

But before you scream obscenities at the sky, take a moment. Breathe. Believe it or not, you could still have a great vacation. It might just be different than what you had in mind. There’s still a lot to do in ski country, if you’re creative and a bit flexible.

Among the most obvious: explore the surrounding area. This is something you might not have a chance to do when you’re spending all your time on the slopes. For example, if you’re in Vermont around Stowe or Sugarbush, you could visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory, where they make all the good stuff. Not far from Killington, the town of Woodstock, one of the most picturesque in the state, is well worth checking out. Visit Long Trail Brewery in Bridgewater or Harpoon Brewery in Windsor. If you’ve got kids, a good choice is Billings Farm & Museum or VINS (The Vermont Institute of Natural Science). And farther south, the town of Manchester, VT, offers terrific shopping and one of the best bookstores anywhere.

The resorts have a lot non-skiing options, too. For example, Jay Peak has its 50,000 square foot Pump House indoor water park. Okemo and Killington both have alpine coasters that rocket riders down the mountain all year long. And Bretton Woods has a 3-hour canopy tour that’ll have you zip lining through a network of platforms high in the trees, as well as an indoor slopeside climbing wall.

Bretton Woods Canopy Tour, from the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce

Bretton Woods Canopy Tour, from the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce

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Timber Ripper at Okemo, photo courtesy of Okemo Mountain Resort

Many of the resorts have scheduled a lot of events during Christmas week to keep the family entertained. You’ll want to visit the resorts’ websites for a complete listing, but here’s a sampling of some of the things going on:

Stratton Mountain is holding “The Running of the Bears” 5k, which will take place at the resort’s golf course on December 28.

Sugarbush has added programs through its Schoolhouse Adventure Camp like guided nature hikes and field games. They’ll also be holding a Gingerbread House Building Workshop on the 26th, and a Food and Wine Sampler on December 28.

Jay Peak is planning to play ski movies in the resort’s ballroom every day during the holiday. They’re also holding a mixology class for adults.

Q Burke Mountain Resort is offering an adult dinner and comedy show on December 26

Okemo will be screening Warren Miller’s Chasing Shadows on December 27.  They’re also hosting a DJ Dance Party on December 28, Paint & Sip on December 30, and an early Family New Year’s Eve Party on December 31.

There’s a pretty good list of events at ski areas in Vermont here.

Loon Mountain is hosting a Best Damn Ugly Sweater Party on December 26, Kids Face Painting on December 27, and Kids Karaoke on December 28.

Sunday River has a bunch of off-slope activities planned, including twin ziplines, family games, live music, a fire dancer, and fireworks. They’ve added a second family dinner at the Peak Lodge on 12/29. For New Year’s, they’re having a Black Diamond Entertainment party geared toward families and kids, with laser tag, a photo booth, and an inflatable sumo wrestling ring — all before 8pm, so the countdown will be on Icelandic time.

Of course, there’s the usual stuff, too. A lot of resorts will be having firework displays. Many provide spa services, like facials and massages. And your lodging may have a pool. For the kids, that’s often enough.

I know, I know. There’s no denying that the skiing situation in New England is awful. The important thing is not to let it ruin your vacation. You’re out of the house and away from work. You’re with people you love. Enjoy one another’s company. Go out to eat. Talk to each other and be sure to listen — really listen — too. Remember it’s the season for peace, family, and love. Just enjoy your time together.

Wishing you a very happy holiday and remember, THINK SNOW!

 



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Back to the future.

I have seen the future of ski area management, and it’s in Maine.

Actually, it’s more like Back to the Future. But instead of hitching a ride with Marty McFly in a modified 1981 DeLorean, we’re moving ahead with an organization called Mountain Riders Alliance.

If MRA sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about them here in March. To me, this organization is like a breath of fresh air. MRA offers a vision of ski area management that’s a 180 from the way things have been headed for the past few decades: back before ski areas were run by corporations who had no connection to their local communities; before fancy-schmantzy base villages brought urban sprawl and environmental problems to the mountains’ doorstep; and before lift ticket prices were so high that a lot of people were effectively closed out of the sport.

Instead, MRA is dedicated to creating values-based, environmentally-friendly, rider-centric mountain playgrounds that encourage environmental sustainability and community involvement.  The idea is to concentrate on great skiing and the things that make skiers happy, rather than on generating profits for faceless investors on Wall Street.

It all sounds good to me.

So why am I writing about them again? Well, a few days ago MRA announced a partnership with Mount Abram in Maine to create its first eastern MRA Mountain Playground.

Mt Abram Trail Map

It’s a terrific fit.  Owned and operated by Maine businessman and recent Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductee Matt Hancock, Mt. Abram is known for its laid-back vibe, affordable prices, and environmental commitment. This year Mt. Abram was awarded NSAA’s Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence (along with Stevens Pass and Aspen). And it’s very close to installing one acre of solar panels, which would make  them North America’s first negative net energy ski area.

This is big news. According to MRA, energy is a ski area’s second largest expense, just after payroll. On-site clean energy creation can help minimize that expense. And when you figure in tax depreciation, grants, and other incentives, the whole thing becomes even more viable.

Right now the business model looks like this: MRA will sell membership shares to the public, loosely based on a co-op business model. The membership shares will offer a variety of benefits and privileges. Members will hold elections and be represented in a dialog with ski area management. Mt. Abram will also remain open to the public, so non-members can ski there, too, except during peak times. You can find more information here.

Mt. Abram is MRA’s first conversion of an existing ski area. The organization is also working to restore Manitoba Mountain on the Kenai Pennisula in Alaska, bringing it in line with the MRA paradigm. Over the next 5-7 years, MRA plans to add  five more ski areas to its line-up. According to co-founder Jamie Schechtman, the organization will focus on underperforming ski areas that offer on-site renewable energy potential, an engaged community, and a large enough population base to make the project viable. Schechtman mentioned June Mountain and Snow King in Jackson, Wyoming, as areas that could fit the model.

I don’t know about you, but I find all of this very exciting. Anything that keeps open mountains that might otherwise fold is pretty sweet. Add MRA’s vision of skiers, environment, and community, and you’ve got a winning combination.

There has to be a place for those of us who want an alternative to the Vails and Breckenridges and Park Cities out there. And thanks to MRA, I think there is.

 

 



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A cure for the summertime blues.

I’m one of those people who would ski all year, if I could.

Unfortunately, here in New England, that isn’t possible. And since I don’t have the  bucks to follow the snow to the southern hemisphere, I’m doomed to spend a good portion of the year ski-less. Which means that for me, summer can be less than ideal.

Still, we all have to cope. So this summer, my husband and I spent a week at one of my favorite places: Acadia National Park, on Mount Desert Island, Maine.

If you’ve never been, take it from me: Go. Acadia is gorgeous. The combination of mountains, ocean, sky, and rocky coast makes for some spectacular scenery. And there’s so much to do: hiking, eating lobster, biking, eating lobster, whale watching, and yes, eating lobster. A week wasn’t nearly enough.

Like a lot of people, I have tons of vacation pix. Wait — don’t leave — I won’t post them all. But indulge me. Let me show you a few, just so you can see how wonderful Acadia is.

We stayed on the “quiet side” of the island in Southwest Harbor, a charming fishing village away from the hustle and bustle of the island’s biggest and most touristy town, Bar Harbor.

Here’s the view from our front porch:

Southwest Harbor, Maine

On our first day, we went whale and puffin watching. It was kind of foggy when we were near the puffins, so we couldn’t see them very well. But the weather cleared when we set out for the whales, and we were lucky enough to spot some humpbacks. These are pretty incredible creatures, growing to lengths up to 52 feet and weighing as much as 48 tons.

Humpback Whale

We also biked the Park Loop, a 27-mile paved road that runs pretty much around the perimeter of the park,where you can stop at overlooks to see this:

And this:

And we biked some of the carriage roads, too. These are 45-miles of crushed stone roads that meander throughout Acadia. We also took a few hikes, including one to the top of Mount Cadillac, the highest point along the Atlantic seaboard and believed to be the first place in the United States to get the sun’s rays each day. During our hike to the summit, we had views like this:

Oh, did I mention we ate lobster? I’m sure it must be the official food of Maine. That, and blueberries.

Yum!

Hmmm. Maybe I need to rethink this whole summer thing.

How do you cure your summertime blues?

 

 

 



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How cold is too cold to ski?

It differs for everyone.

Right now I’m in Sugarloaf, Maine, a resort known for its extremely cold temperatures. The high today is forecast for -1°F, the low tonight, a bone-biting -22°F.

Yeah, that’s cold.

This is tough. I hate to be  cold, but I love to ski. So yes, I’ll still go out there. I’m not sure how long I’ll last, and I’ll probably have on everything I own to stay warm.  But this is New England. It’s January. The alternative is to stay indoors and wait for summer.

In case you’re interested, here’s what I’ll have on, from bottom to top:

Feet: Thin pair of ski sox, Hotronics boot warmers, Boot Gloves (these go over my boots) with a toe warmer heat pack placed underneath it.

Legs: three pair of base layers (Hot Chilly’s micro-fleece, Smart Wool, Mountain Hardware Power Stretch Tight), Cloudveil Madison Pants.

Torso: Thin baselayer followed by heavier one; Patagonia Nano Puff pullover; EMS Prima-Loft layering piece; Cloudveil Down Patrol jacket

Face: Definitely a face mask & goggles

On my head: My Smith Variant helmet

Whew! Sounds like a lot to go through, just to have some outdoor fun. I feel kind of like an astronaut gearing up for a space walk. Or a scuba diver getting ready for a big dive. Will I look beautiful? No. Will I stay warm? Hopefully. Am I crazy? Probably.

As I said in the beginning, everyone’s tolerance of the cold is different. There’s even a discussion about it on TheSkiDiva.com.

The bottom line is you have to do what you can to stay as warm as possible, avoid frostbite, and have fun. Let’s hope that’s in the cards for me today.

 



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After Labor Day/Before Ski Season.

Welcome to the season otherwise known as fall. Well, that’s not entirely true. Because even though fall doesn’t officially begin til September 22 (at 11:09 AM, to be exact), here in the US we traditionally put fall as anything post Labor Day/pre-Thanksgiving. So since I’m an American (and proud of it), I’ll go with that.

So what does a Ski Diva do in the fall (besides tap her foot while impatiently waiting for winter)?

Right now I’m on the coast of Maine, doing some hiking, some biking, and eating a lot of this:

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Yes, it tasted just as good as it looked. Here’s a plug for Red’s in Wiscasset, Maine. If you’re ever in the neighborhood, don’t even think about passing it by. Just go. You won’t be disappointed.

Anyway, yesterday we hiked up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. This is the highest mountain on the eastern coast of the US. The mountain is known for its outstanding views. On a good day. But on this particular day, there was so much fog we couldn’t see a blasted thing on the way up. The park ranger counseled us to “look for the pretty little pond.” We were within 10 feet of that “pretty little pond” and didn’t even know it was there. It’s lucky we didn’t walk off a cliff.

Happily, the sun came out right when we reached the top, and voila! Beautiful views, just as advertised. The trip down was lovely. Well worth doing.

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Today we have more hiking in store. Then tomorrow and Saturday, biking. We’re doing a ride in Portland, Maine, that’ll take us past eight (count ’em, EIGHT) lighthouses.

As much as I love skiing, this is a very nice trip. As Mr. Ski Diva says, it can’t all be about skiing. And in a moment of weakness, I can see his point.

 



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