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Ski Resort Life

Snow Jam: Sugarloaf's Reggae Fest

Sugarloaf’s Reggae Fest sets the season’s glorious finale to an infectious island beat.

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“Sun is shining, the weather is sweet, yeah, make you wanna move your dancing feet…”

Understand this: Whether you want to dance or ski, the place you want to be is Reggae Fest, Sugarloaf’s annual spring bash.

In Maine, the reward for making it through another winter is April. Sugarloaf hardcores look forward to the long, sunny days and deep snowpack—maybe even deep enough to open the legendary Snowfields, Sugarloaf’s signature high alpine terrain. The problem, from the resort’s point of view, was that only passholders showed up to enjoy the best conditions of the year. So in 1988, it created a weekend of nonstop parties set to the grooves of some of reggae’s tightest acts. Sure, other resorts have cabin-fever relievers, but few have achieved the notoriety of Reggae Fest. It’s one of the East’s premier spring shindigs, attracting as many as 12,000 revelers.

Don’t let the crowds scare you. Many of the partiers are city folk, here for the music and the good times, not to steal your favorite line in the woods off Ripsaw. Yes, the resort is busy, but the skiing crowds tend to hunker down around the Super Quad. The higher and farther out you go, the fewer the people. By early afternoon, beer lines are longer than liftlines, and skiers have plenty of room to move in the spring sunlight. In a good year, the Snowfields are open. Even in a bad year, the trails are reliably covered. Down below, the revelers dress for the occasion—many decked out in ’70s spring-skiing garb or Hawaiian prints, others tie-dyed and accessorized with tacky plastic leis, Mardi Gras beads and Jamaican toques. “You even see dogs in dreadlocks,” says one festival regular.

The fine print? OK, it’s not always all sunshine and corn snow. “April is Sugarloaf’s second-snowiest month,” says Chip Carey, Reggae Fest’s founder. “There have been years when I’ve skied powder all day, then come down and listened to reggae.” It has rained on Reggae, and it has snowed on Reggae, but usually the sun does shine on Reggae. And no matter what the weather, the bands play on, sheltered by tents. The Beach (those tanning benches in front of the base lodge), the surrounding decks and the slush pit in front of the stage are all packed for the free concerts. Beer flows like spring runoff. And yes, there’s something more than a bit ironic about a sea of white people at a ski resort getting down to music intended to lift the spirits of oppressed black islanders. But it works.

This year’s Reggae Fest, April 16–19, marks the event’s 20th anniversary, and Sugarloaf promises to make it one to remember (despite the fact that many of its biggest fans rank it by how little they remember). Let’s just hope the sun is shining, and the weather is sweet, yeah.

SIGNPOST: Sugarloaf, Maine

1,400 skiable acres; 2,820 vertical feet; 210 annual inches; 133 trails and glades, 2 terrain parks; 15 lifts, including 2 high-speed quads. Tickets: adult weekend/holiday $67; young adult (13–18) $59; junior (6–12) and senior (65-plus) $39.


It’s best to stay at the resort during Reggae Fest—to be near the action and to avoid driving afterward. Sugarloaf has two on-mountain hotels—the homey Sugarloaf Inn and the condo-style Grand Summit Hotel—plus numerous on-mountain condos (800-943-5623;



Reservations are crucial during Reggae Weekend. In the base village, both Gepetto’s (207-237-2192) and The Bag (207-237-2451) are reliable choices for lunch or dinner. D’Ellie’s (207-237-2490) is a great choice for take-out sandwiches, soups and salads (order in the morning for later pick-up at the express window). Off-mountain, Hug’s serves northern Italian fare (207-237-2392). Tufulio’s, down-valley, is always popular for its casual atmosphere and Italian-accented menu (207-235-2010).

Getting There:

From Boston (about 4.5 hours) take I-95 north to Portland, then I-295 to Augusta, then Route 27 north through Farmington to Carrabassett Valley and the resort. Or take I-95/Maine Turnpike to Auburn, then Route 4 to Farmington, then Route 27 north to Carrabassett Valley and the resort.


207-237-2000 or 800-943-5623;