Why Rangeley: Ringed by mountains, surrounded by wilderness and located at the head of the Rangeley Lakes chain, this tiny Northeastern hamlet is renowned for fishing and snowmobiling and prized by rusticators, who swell the year-round population of 1,325 to 10,000 each summer. "It's a gem of an area, says local school superintendent Phil Richardson, "and with Saddleback moving forward, it'll only get better. Now that the state has finally approved its 10-year, $150 million plan, retro Saddleback has begun its evolution from family sleeper to destination resort. Since acquiring the resort in 2003, the dedicated Berry family has expanded terrain, added new lifts, replaced the grooming fleet, increased snowmaking capacity and enlarged the base lodge. Future plans call for the development of gentler terrain on the resort's eastern edge and of the coveted expert bowls to the west, the addition or replacement of nine lifts (including the summit T-bar with a chairlift) and the construction of daylodges, a tubing park and a mountain village.
The Skiing: From Saddleback's 4,120-foot summit, views extend over the Rangeley Lakes to Mt. Washington and the Presidential Range. Its 2,000 feet of vertical offer terrain choices that range from lollygagging "Wow! Look at that view beginner runs to the tight, twisting and steeply treed. With 200 inches of snow annually and few crowds, it's the place Sugarloaf and Sunday River skiers seeking untracked powder head to after their home turf is tracked out.
The Vibe: Rangeley remains a small town where locals trade fish stories over coffee at the BMC Diner and order pizza at the Red Onion. There are just 225 kids in grades K—12. "Every year I tell graduates that they don't know how lucky they are to go to a school where they're known by everyone, Richardson says. "Kids don't feel lost here.
The Life: Moose outnumber people, and the rural economy provides few jobs. "No matter what time of year it is, it depends on tourists - fishermen, hunters, skiers and especially snowmobilers, Richardson says. "A lot of people work two or three jobs just to stay here, adds Jan Welch, a local teacher and innkeeper. Those relocating here tend to be retirees, self-employed or telecommuters, and while $275,000 is the median home price, expect to pay two to four times that for a year-round waterfront home. Lining Rangeley's one-street downtown are restaurants, inns, two grocery stores and shops, including the Alpine Shop, a clothing, sports and gift emporium; Books, Lines, and Thinkers, which sponsors book discussions weekly; and boutiques selling moose-themed merchandise. Rangeley has its own community health center, but it's an hour to the closest hospital (or big-box store).
The Visit: Fly into Portland and drive 243 miles - three hours - to Rangeley. For first tracks, rent a slopeside condo; for big breakfasts and local know-how, bed down at the Pleasant Street Inn, a half- mile from downtown. Got kids? The newly renovated Saddleback Motor Inn has an indoor pool. Order takeout from Thai Blossom, wash down a burger with a cold beer while watching the Patriots at Sarge's or savor the excellent homemade chowders at Parkside & Main.
Information: Saddleback Ski Area: rangeleymaine.com; 800-685-2537