2002 Number 6 Resort in the East: Sunday River, Maine

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Readers complain about getting here, eating here and partying here. So why do they come to Sunday River, and in droves? To paraphrase James Carville: It's the skiing, stupid. Even in a ski season blessed with Western-sized natural snowfall, Sunday River earned consistently high marks for its grooming, snowmaking and vast selection of trails. One reader grouses, "nothing there but skiing." Which must have been just fine with the others who say, "best area in the East" and "about as good as it gets." The recipe that turned this hometown ropetow resort on a relatively low ridge into the flagship of the American Skiing Co. is apparently still working at Sunday River. There isn't much of an après scene, you have to drive 40 minutes to Gorham to find a really great meal, and the condos can look like they were built and inhabited by a posse of teenagers. But when you snap on the skis, you're going to smile. Chances are good that compared to most other Eastern resorts, the trails will be whiter and better corduroyed, the lifts so myriad and fast that even on holiday weekends liftlines will be nil. And those 126 trails, from the killer bumps of Agony to the mellow curves of Lollapalooza, provide enough space and variety for entire families to disappear for days, earning Sunday River golds for Snow, Grooming, Lifts and Terrain. The reader was right who wrote that the off-mountain experience is "generally not up to what it takes to attract a national following." But so is the one who says, "most consistent ski experience in the East."

WHAT'S NEW A 400-foot-long pipe, with 16-foot walls; greatly improved nightlife and dining thanks to a free 20-minute shuttle to Bethel.

A GOOD DEAL Meals to go at the Good Food Store on Route 2; everything from chicken pot pie to Thai curry, in big portions and reasonably priced.

MEDALS GOLD Snow, Grooming, Terrain, Challenge, Lifts; SILVER Value, Service, Family Programs.

HIGH/LOW RANK Lifts (3), Grooming (5), Snow (8); On-Mountain Food (57), Scenery (57), Access (65).

DON'T MISS Old-fashioned grange and church suppers in town, listed each week in the Bethel Citizen.

READER REMARKS (+) "A quiet, homey atmosphere with kick-ass skiing." "The snow was great, the weather perfect and the price downright reasonable."
(-) "A long way from Philadelphia." "Not the place to find a hottie. Better snuggle up with your dog."