When Krissy and Bob Vigneaux decided they wanted a second home in New England’s ski country, they had plenty of choices.
The couple had raised their children — Matthew, Andrew and Lauren — skiing at a number of Northeast hills, from tiny Powderhorn in Maine to Pats Peak in New Hampshire. Essentially, they were looking for a resort that featured three fundamental factors — snowmaking, variety of terrain and good proximity to both their home in Boxford, Mass., and an airport, given Bob’s work in the financial world.
Sunday River in Newry, Maine, hit the trifecta, and the Vigneauxs closed on their home-away-from-home last spring.
“The western Maine area has been a favorite for us as long as I can remember,” said Bob. “Now that we’ve bought a place, I’m constantly surprised at how much more the region has to offer than we originally expected. I figure we have another 30 to 40 years to finally figure it out.”
Given the cost of the Vigneauxs’s investment, it’s worth a closer look at those three key factors that the couple put a premium on. First, snowmaking.
“I’ve always felt that Sunday River aims to provide the best possible snow conditions, given the inconsistent New England weather,” said Bob Vigneaux. “That’s no small endeavor. I’m not alone in that thinking, as you constantly see race teams from other mountains training at Sunday River when the conditions on their home turf are less than optimal.”
Snowmaking was Les Otten’s calling card since the risk-taking entrepreneur acquired the fledgling resort in 1980. Now under the umbrella of Boyne Resorts, which took over management from Otten’s American Skiing Company in 2007 and bought the resort outright in 2018, Sunday River has continued to invest in its snowmaking capabilities over the years to provide skiers and riders with the most dependable snow in New England. Upgrades to the system’s infrastructure will remain a priority to maximize the potential that this summer’s upgrades will offer. Presently, Sunday River’s on-mountain snowmaking system services 90 percent of the groomed terrain and includes 2,000 snow guns, most of which are energy efficient, 2,200 hydrant stations and more than 80 miles of pipe.
This year, Sunday River is investing an additional $4 million in capital improvements across a variety of projects. The most significant of these projects takes the first step toward doubling the resort’s water capacity for snowmaking. The renovation, which was expected to be completed by the end of this summer, includes nearly two miles of newly engineered ductile iron high-pressure pipe and a new 600 horsepower pump and will increase capacity for the 2018-19 season by 15 percent.
Next up for the Vigneauxs was variety. That’s especially important for a young family, with children in their teens or pre-teens. You’re bound to have a disparity in their abilities, or the abilities of the friends that they bring for ski outings.
“The mountain and area has plenty to offer for all skiing abilities — beginners, adaptive skiers, backcountry hermits, hard-core racers — and non-skiers, with shopping, dining, ponds, rivers, biking, hiking, fishing, snowshoeing, et cetera,” said Bob Vigneaux. “The housing options also vary from inexpensive single-room condos to multimillion dollar estates. The tagline for Sunday River is ‘Find Your Happy Place,’ and I truly believe this area has something to offer everyone.”
A quick look at the 59-year-old resort’s statistics back up Vigneaux’s claim.
For starters, Sunday River consists of 135 trails spread across eight interconnected, serrated peaks with a combined vertical of 2,340 feet. Those summits include White Cap (base, 825 feet; summit, 2,425 feet; and vertical drop, 1,600 feet), Locke Mountain (base, 1,165 feet, summit, 2,570 feet; and vertical drop, 1,405 feet), Barker Mountain (base, 1,150 feet; summit, 2,540 feet; and vertical drop, 1,390 feet), Spruce Peak (base, 1,480 feet; summit, 2,690 feet; and vertical drop, 1,210 feet), North Peak (base, 1,168 feet; summit, 2,140 feet, and vertical drop, 972 feet), Aurora Peak (base, 1,673; summit, 2,765 feet; and vertical drop, 1,092 feet), Oz (base, 2,110 feet; summit, 3,150 feet, and vertical drop, 1,040 feet), and Jordan Bowl (base, 1,750 feet; summit, 3,090 feet, and vertical drop, 1,340 feet).
That all adds up to almost 900 acres of developed trails and glades, or 53 miles of trail, rated 30 percent beginner, 36 percent intermediate, 18 percent advanced and 16 percent expert. Years ago, when I could ski straight through lunch without my legs (and lower back) seizing up, I was able to ski the entire resort if I hit the lifts as soon as they started running. Today, not a chance.
But the terrain is simply outstanding, among the best in New England. From wide, impeccably groomed cruisers to the SUV-sized moguls on White Heat, the runs at Sunday River don’t take a back seat to any resort in the Northeast. Speaking of lifts, the resort boasts 15 lifts, including a hybrid chairlift/gondola called the Chondola, four high-speed detachable quads, five fixed-grip quads, three triples, one double and one surface lift for an uphill capacity of roughly 29,000 passengers per hour. Impressive.
Park hounds also will be impressed with the resort’s seven terrain parks that offer something for everyone. T72, a dedicated 15-acre super park, features a jump line, halfpipe and jib park. Parallel to T72’s jump line, Sunday River’s halfpipe is one of the longest in New England. T72’s Jib Park is a large rail garden at the bottom section of the trail with upward of 25 features. 3D is a medium-sized park that features jumps in the upper section and a collection of jibs and jumps. Flow State, named after the Warren Miller film, is a family-friendly boardercross trail located on the Rocking Chair trail on Barker Mountain. Who-Ville is designed as a fun park perfect for young grommets and families, with smaller jump lines and beginner boxes, plus lights for night skiing. Wonderland is a start park, built with extra-small snow features designed to help beginners dabble in terrain park safety. Fun stuff.
Plus, parents will appreciate the resort’s exceptional ski school, and the Someday Bigger Day Care, adjacent to the South Ridge Lodge, offers on-site care for children ages 6 weeks to 6 years.
Now mix in the resort’s myriad amenities and Sunday River takes “variety” to an entirely new level. First, you don’t need to be the owner of a second home to appreciate the number of lodging options. The last two times I’ve visited Sunday River, my clan and I have stayed at the Jordan Hotel. It’s a little remote, set on the western edge of the resort, but exceptionally wellappointed, with rooms that can expand to accommodate larger families (thanks to fold-out and Murphy beds) and kitchenettes for those who are bringing their own food (a great way to save a few pennies).
It’s also home to the Jordan Spa, as well as a number of other conveniences like the fitness center, heated pool and two outdoor hot tubs. In short, the ski in/ski out Jordan Hotel is well worth the extra drive.
“Being from Kansas, I enjoy taking the lift to the top of Oz and skiing following the signs to the ‘Kansas’ trail,” said my wife, Lauri. “It’s a nice green cruiser crossing the top of Oz, bypassing mul-tiple double diamond trails too scary for me to tackle; with names to match, like Flying Monkey.
“Fortunately, Kansas leads me to one of my favorite trails on Aurora Peak, Northern Lights, a long intermediate cruiser with some pitch, leading to the Super Nova lift back to the top of Aurora, where a skier like myself — not particularly risk taking at this point — has great options covering both Aurora and Spruce Peaks,” she said. “It’s also the perfect point where one can ski from to reach most any of the base lodges at Sunday River, or the midmountain North Peak Lodge.”
Other solid lodging choices include the Grand Summit Hotel, which combines the amenities of a full-service hotel with the convenience of a slopeside location (and the popular heated pool overlooking the slopes of White Cap is a major hit with guests of all ages) and the Snow Cap Inn. The latter offers standard rooms with two queen beds, as well as a limited number of dog-friendly rooms (a big plus) along with an outdoor hot tub just a short walk from South Ridge Base Lodge. The Youth Lodge (32 rooms, 200 capacity) and slopeside condominiums (700 units, 4,300 capacity) bring the total “on mountain” beds to 6,000.
Hungry? You’re in luck. At Jordan Hotel, we’ve enjoyed Sliders, known for its extensive menu of burgers, sandwiches and salads, plus great views of the Jordan Bowl; the upscale Grand Avenue (with entrees ranging from sirloin steak to cedar-planked salmon); and the Northern Lights Cafe for a quick breakfast. But there’s so much more.
The Barker Bar, upstairs in the Barker Base Lodge, is home to a highly coveted mug club, a cozy fireplace and prime deck seating (the perfect spot to watch the World Pro Ski tour). The stylish Camp restaurant, located in the Grand Summit Hotel, highlights the best of Maine comfort food every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the South Ridge Lodge, Cho Sun is a Korean and Japanese extension of local favorite, Bethel-based Cho Sun, specializing in noodle bowls, sushi and sake. Cilantro Burrito Bar in the South Ridge Lodge has beef, chicken, pork or vegetarian burritos with your choice of toppings, including signature sauces and salsas.
For the best in après ski and nachos, stop by the Foggy Goggle at South Ridge Lodge. With outside deck seating, the Foggy Goggle features kid-friendly, all-American fare, including handcrafted soups and chowder, traditional Maine lobster rolls, burgers and salads, and, of course, a full bar, combined with live entertainment most weekend nights through the winter. Portland restaurateur Harding Lee Smith is the talent behind the Mountain Room, with small plates, craft brews and signature drinks within walking distance of the Chondola.
Finally, the Vigneauxs wanted an option that provided good proximity, finding the right balance between “close but not too close” to Massachusetts’ North Shore.
“Sunday River takes less than three hours of driving from home,” said Vigneaux. “That’s not too far, but far enough away to keep the weekend crowds manageable.”
Plus, Sunday River is close enough — roughly 90 minutes — to Portland’s airport, which Vigneaux can access for his work commitments. But, all things considered, the head of the Vigneaux household said he’d rather be with his family (which includes two dogs) at Sunday River. Who can blame him?