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Come to escape the crowds. Stay for the snow, the Steeps, and the sweet 70s vibe.
By Hilary Nangle
posted: 11/30/2012

More steak than sizzle, more substance than flash, beautiful, remote Saddleback woos skiers with old-style New England trails, take-no-prisoners glades, stunning views, and an unpretentious Yankee disposition that embraces locals and visitors alike. Its 4,210-foot peak rises above the Rangeley Lakes, a waterway-splashed wilderness populated with more moose than people and favored by generations of anglers and summer rusticators. In winter, this spectacular chunk of western Maine real estate is all but deserted except for in-the-know skiers, who treasure Saddleback’s blend of big-mountain terrain, friendly vibe, and small-mountain charm.

Decades ago, Saddleback was poised to become the Vail of the East. A prolonged battle squelched that dream, so the mountain, seven miles from town, remains undeveloped, except for the base lodge and a handful of condos. Those who pine for “skiing the way it used to be” will find it here, along with just enough updates and modern conveniences to ease the experience: Think 1970s trail design, with contemporary snowmaking and grooming. Although owner Bill Berry is modernizing the resort, he’s adamant about preserving Saddleback’s throwback appeal, the sinuous trails and edge-of-wilderness experience.
A fixed quad has replaced the summit T-bar; a new beginner area was carved out of the gentle wooded terrain below the expanded and updated base lodge; a handful of new homes and condos dot the base area; and massive glades have been selectively cut. Still, Saddleback remains in a time warp, with a pokey double providing primary access to the mountain’s 2,000 feet of vertical.

Thanks to that limited uphill capacity, the balance of power favors the downhill experience. It’s not rare to be the sole skier on one of the white ribbons unfurling from Saddleback’s summit. But what clinches Saddleback’s appeal is the Kennebago Steeps, a self-contained expert playground with a quad chair and yurt café. That combo makes it easy to spend the day ricocheting between the groomed and bumped runs that drop off the summit ridge and exploring endless possibilities in the 44-acre Casablanca Glades & Chutes, Saddleback’s double-black diamond-in-the-rough. It’s a natural terrain park with rails, kickers, jibs, and pillow drops, where, thanks to the lack of crowds, powder stashes linger longer than at nearby Sugarloaf or Sunday River.

SLEEP » Carve first tracks by staying in an on-mountain condo, townhouse, or trailside home.

EAT »  Savor martinis along with entrées such as hickory-molasses rib eye or pan-fried trout at Corner Side Bistro in downtown Rangeley.

DRINK » Swap stories and get the local lowdown over a Saddleback Ale at the Swig ’n Smelt Pub, upstairs in the base lodge.

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