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One of the marvels of our age: good coffee in the unlikeliest of places. I slam on the brakes just before 8 a.m. in what amounts to downtown Stratton, Maine. There it is: a Green Mountain Coffee Roasters sign, tacked to the chipped and peeling clapboard of a tumbledown grocery store, like a dust-covered beacon to wandering coffee addicts from Vermont.
Inside, it takes a second for my eyes to adjust. Low ceilings, jumbled aisles, creaking wide-plank floors. A stocky logger leans on the deli counter. He looks me over, then goes back to giving the preparers of his lunch a loud, good-natured ribbing. And there it is, over in the corner beside the prepackaged doughnuts: not the stale, near-empty pot of sludge I feared, but one of those newfangled single-serving brewers. Bless me.
Five minutes and 95 cents later, the smell of fresh-brewed French roast perfumes the interior of my gear-crammed Honda. What’s more, my eyes are finally wide open, which is good, because as I’m about to discover, the next 50 miles of road are as scenic as any of the 400 I’ll cover on my skiing odyssey through interior Maine. In fact, I’d put them right up there with almost any I’ve seen in American ski country.
The road in question is Route 16, the back way between Sugarloaf and Saddleback ski areas. It’s the third of four legs as I make my way from Vermont to Sunday River, north to Sugarloaf and Saddleback, then back south to the coast. It’s early April. The snow is still deep, the days are long, and these will be my last runs of the winter. From here, I’ll head to the Midcoast region to open up my family’s summer place. Not a bad trip, if you ask me.
Stop reading here if you’re not a fan of rural New England viewscapes, or if you don’t enjoy narrow ski trails, thickly forested mountains, ramshackle barns and crumbling stone walls. If winding, frost-heaved two-lane roads through the wilderness just make you queasy, there’s a Boston-to-Salt Lake flight with your name on it. You can check into a slopeside hotel room, eat in nice restaurants, enjoy the sun and ski soft powder. No one will blame you, least of all the folks who do their skiing in these parts.
They’re hardy souls, and a road trip to ski the major resorts of Maine requires a sense of adventure as well as a sturdy car. You might stay in a very nice hotel, but it won’t be Aspen-lavish. You might find some rowdy nightlife, but that’ll either be through blind luck or your own ingenuity. You might score a sunny powder day, or you might ski in the fog and rain. But if you never make the trek to the mountains of Maine, you’ll never know what you’re missing.