To the outrage of my native Vineyard companions, including my boyfriend, I’ve always found the mountains superior to the sea. Perhaps it’s because I grew up landlocked. Maybe I just haven’t acquired my sea legs yet — a windy day on the ferry still turns my stomach over. I’ve dragged my boyfriend westward on several occasions, but the tide always pulls him back to Martha’s Vineyard. I understand. It calls me back too.
Regardless, I always jump at the chance to view the world from more than 300 feet above sea level, especially in the lull of the winter months. A mid-winter ski trip with my boyfriend and six other friends seemed the perfect opportunity.
Planning a ski trip with seven other people necessitates flexibility. We were skiers and snowboarders, beginners and experts, park shredding daredevils and glade shooting speed demons. I fancied myself an expert skier as a youth, but I hadn’t set a ski on the slopes in more than 10 years. The one thing we had in common was none of us had much money. After an extensive search, the best deal was a ski and stay package at Saddleback Mountain in Rangeley, Maine.
As it turned out, Saddleback was a wise choice for our spectrum of skill sets. There was a good selection of groomers, glades, and parks, despite the disappointing closure of the western side of the mountain. At 4,120 feet, with a 2,000 foot vertical drop, Saddleback boasts “a big mountain with a small mountain feel,” and it delivers. The mountain only felt as big as you wanted it to be. Some runs hugged the base lodge, while others wound through miles of scenic vistas. There were wide, easy rides, and harrowingly steep backcountry chutes. There was something for everybody, with room to grow.
Unlike my sea legs, I found my ski legs were stable. Though the black diamonds racked my nerves, my muscles remembered how to execute each turn, how to lean into each acceleration, and glide to a stop. Just like riding a bike. I followed my most advanced friends into every challenge, eager to earn my stripes, even though sometimes it meant falling directly on my face. (Public service announcement: always wear a helmet).
By the time the lifts closed, our bodies were ready to follow the sun down the mountain. We walked languidly back to our cabin to dethaw our gear — and limbs — in front of the propane fireplace. We home cooked our meals in the fully equipped kitchen and ate them under the high, wood-beamed canopy of the common area. Each evening, through the expansive glass windows, a dusting of snow fluttered down in answer to our repeated wishes.
By the final run of the last day, the sun was setting behind the mountain. An orange glow was cast on the runway of snow descending from our feet, where the mountain dropped off suddenly into a basin of lakes. I smiled, squinting into the last rays, then I turned to my boyfriend, who was still buckling into the bindings of his snowboard. “I told you so,” I wanted to say, but I swallowed my words. Whether we were 4,000 feet above sea level or 300, it didn’t matter. The feeling I got looking down from the mountain was a lot like watching the ocean disappear into the sky. The world felt huge, limitless, and I wanted to carve into it at a high speed. There was something out there for everybody, with room to grow.
Getting to Saddleback
- Rangeley, ME is roughly six hours from Woods Hole. Take 95 North as far as Auburn, ME, and follow a map from there. Careful: GPS devices and phones don’t always work in the boonies of Maine.
- The best deal at Saddleback is the Ski & Stay package: $69 per person, per day (two day minimum). (207-864-5671; saddlebackmaine.com).
Other Things to Do in Rangeley, ME
From Saddleback Mountain, the town of Rangeley is only about a ten minute drive, and since the lifts close at 4 pm, there’s plenty of time to explore in the evenings.
- The Red Onion, which presides over the village’s main street, serves great pizza with homemade dough and any topping they can dream up. (207-864-5022; rangeleyredonion.com).
- The Moose Alley bowling and billiards center offers food, drinks, and an indoor fire pit: a low-key way to unwind after a day on the slopes. (207-864-9955; moosealleymaine.com).
- If your legs somehow muster more energy, Haley Pond, right in town, is cleared of snow and lit up each evening for public skating.
- Ascend Saddleback via snowshoes from from the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center. (207-864-4309; rangeleylakestrailscenter.com).
- The region is a huge hub for snowmobilers, with plenty of areas devoted to the sport.
- Vineyarders should also bring their fishing poles and ice fishing set-ups — trophy sized landlocked salmon and brook trout dwell in Rangeley Lake and surrounding bodies of water.
Going someplace interesting this winter? We’d love to hear about it. Send photos or travel dispatches (or questions for other travelers) to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.