Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Road Trip: Ski Trip to Sugarloaf

The morning broke with the sun shining brightly in the sky, its rays gleaming off the slicks of ice that were all that remained from the snow earlier in the week. We had already packed our gear and I just needed to deal with a few work related things before we could head out. Weather was looking like it would be cooperative for the drive, but ski report conditions were not looking promising, despite the hefty bit of snow earlier in the week. Just before noon, we picked up a few supplies and stopped to pick up a friend who would be joining us for this annual tradition. The trunk of the TSX packed to the brim with our gear, food, and booze, we headed out on the road.

Traffic heading away from the Boston area was light and we made excellent time all through New Hampshire, stopping only briefly so that the TSX could quench its thirst for premium. The further north we went, the more intense the wind chill. Despite the air temperature maintaining in the mid-30s, it felt more like the low teens. Along the way, the size of the snow piles along the side of the road got bigger and by the time I pulled the TSX off of the highway to begin our trek up into the mountains, some piles were as high as the car's windows.

With the bright sun that day, the back roads were coated in snow melt and a little slick, though the TSX handled it like a champ, deftly bounding through the conditions almost as if it were totally dry. Usually, cold weather, a full load of stuff and people, and increasing elevation means reduced fuel economy, but I was seeing fuel figures well over 30 mpg on the cruise into Maine and even the back roads did not eat into that much. Relaxed and fueled by caffeine, I pushed the car a bit whenever opportunities presented - carrying a bit more speed into corners and making passes where appropriate, all accompanied by the wailing intake track of the revvy inline-4 breathing in deeply the crisp mountain air.

As the sun sank below the horizon, we arrived at Sugarloaf Mountain and picked up the keys to our condo. A fantastic 4-floor plus basement affair with room for eight, the accommodations were far beyond our expectations, especially given our experience from a year ago. Unpacking the car, food in the fridge and our rooms picked out, we checked in with the rest of our group and discovered that they would be arriving later so we took the opportunity to head up to the lodge to get our rental skis, snowboards, and boots before settling in for the evening, fireplace warming the house as we enjoyed dinner and drinks awaiting the arrival of our compatriots.

The next morning, a full house awoke to the sounds and smells of a hearty breakfast being prepared. Pancakes, cheesy eggs, toast, juice, and coffee. A few of the skiers left early to try to squeeze in more time on the slopes while my wife and I enjoyed a leisurely morning before heading up to join them. The cold temperatures overnight had made for some rather icy conditions while the warm sun continued to melt what little snow there was on the hill. Still, we spent the day improving our skills on the snowboard and trying to keep ourselves from getting too seriously injured. After taking a break to grab a late lunch, we stayed out until the lifts closed before turning in our gear and heading back to the warmth of our condo. The rest of the house trickled back in and we set up for a hearty hot pot dinner, accompanied by plenty of drink to make us forget our sore and tired muscles.

On the final morning, we were greeted by some light snowfall, which dramatically improved conditions for the skiers who went out. After a hearty breakfast to try to make sure we did not waste any food, my wife and I took a chance to explore the area around Sugarloaf, checking out the nearby outdoor sports center and a nearby town. Just after noon, we headed back to the lodge and picked up our two passengers for the drive home. Conditions has started to worsen a bit as the snow continued to fall, coating the roads in a slushy mix of dirt, snow, and water. The traffic headed off the mountain churned the slush into a treacherous mix yet the appearance of a plow trundling slowly down the road was greeted by all with a chain of high speed passes by every driver in front of me.

The route that the GPS selected deviated from the route we had taken up the mountain, directing us down some roads with a light dusting of undisturbed powder. Still the peaceful scenery blanketed in fresh snow proved a pleasant change from the crowded main road. Cresting a small hill, a few dark shapes darted across the road and I put the brakes on, ABS fighting to bring the fully loaded TSX to a stop. The shapes sharpened into view - large game fowl, an entire flock of which chose that very moment to rush across the road. We chuckled to each other in the car as we watched the curious sight of these fairly large bird crashing through the snow banks into the brush. However, as they had selected the bottom of a small valley for their crossing, getting the car moving again in the slippery conditions up over the next small hill took a little skill to keep the tires from breaking loose. Of course, the TSX powered through and returned us all home safely despite the slick roads and sketchy conditions.

Each time I make the trek, I tell myself that I want to do it again, but on two wheels instead. I imagine that without all of the snow on the roads, this entire region of the Carrabassett Valley would be great fun by bike and I look forward to maybe giving it a try in the spring, perhaps as a detour on my way to some adventures over the border in Canada.

Tags: Acura, automotive, Carrabassett Valley, Maine, ski, snowboardSugarloaf, travel, TSX, vacation