Despite the lack of snow, it's officially ski season. The ski resorts have been furiously blowing snow any time the temperature dips below the freezing mark in an effort to keep their scantily snow-covered trails open. But rest assured: Winter, in all its snowy glory, will eventually come to Maine. Droves of weekend warriors will hit the slopes — the line for the Superquad at Sugarloaf will be a 30-minute wait, Sunday Punch at Sunday River will be filled with kids from New Jersey bombing past you out of control — all good signs for the ski resorts.
BEST IN NEW ENGLAND ‘Montréal Fries,’ a/k/a poutine, at Vermont’s Jay Peak.
Fortunately in these times of snow famine (or wind holds or sub-zero temperatures), ski season isn't all about the snow conditions. For many skiers and riders, the après-ski scene — food and drinks with a view — is nearly as important as epic runs.
For post-skiing brews with a view, the Widowmaker Lounge at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort has a large deck, perfect for critiquing those last runs of the day. The Widowmaker has fairly standard comfort food and wins points for creativity with choices like Powdah Chowdah (New England Clam Chowder), T-Bar BLT, and the Igniter (shaved prime rib in a hoagie roll with onions, peppers, mushrooms, and a zesty cheese sauce). If you're in the mood for a burger, check out the Bag Burger at the Bag and Kettle, a pub located in the village. They have a great beer selection and a decent après-ski scene, even without the deck.
For late-night options, check out the Rack at the bottom of the Sugarloaf access road. This is Maine's two-time Olympic champion Seth Wescott's place, where you can find live music and, if you're lucky, score a spot in the old-school gondola overlooking the stage. If you're hungry, the Rack has good sharing options including decent pizza, the most unique being the owner's namesake, "The Wescott" made with smoked chicken, pesto, tomatoes, mushrooms, and banana peppers ($14.99). And, for those with dietary issues, they offer gluten-free dough and lactose-free cheese, too.
Another great après-ski spot is the South Ridge Lodge at Sunday River Ski Resort. It's got a great deck with spectacular mountain views, perfect for those sunny afternoons. If you're in the mood for more than wings and burgers, on Saturday nights you can dine atop the mountain at the Peak Lodge. To get there, ride the Chondola (the high-speed lift with both a six-person chair lift and an eight-person enclosed gondola). Every Saturday night is a different four-course menu and some Portland restaurants are even getting in on the action, with menus from Vignola and Cinque Terre.
But let's not forget that ever-important mid-day meal to get you through a solid day of skiing. Poutine — the Canadian dish made with French fries smothered in cheese curds and hot gravy — is always a solid choice. New England's best slopeside poutine is at Jay Peak Ski Resort in Vermont. The resort just underwent some serious renovations for this season, including the addition of new bars and restaurants. The coolest spot is the Tower Bar with awesome steelwork décor and amazing mountain views. They serve poutine (called "Montreal Fries") for $9, made with fries, Maple Brook cheddar curd, and house-made gravy. Go all out and pair it with a Jayhattan, made with bacon-infused bourbon, Vermont maple syrup, and Angostura bitters.