At Sunday River, snow has been job number one since 1973 (No. 5 in Snow and Grooming), and that drives its popularity. The “mountain continues to do what it does best: Make the most reliable snow and groom it to perfection,” asserts one reader. But great conditions mean little without decent terrain. Good thing you get eight trail-connected peaks, each with its “own vibe,” and 15 lifts that “spread the skiers and riders, so you don’t feel crowded even on weekends” (No. 7 in Lifts). “When people say it’s crowded, that only means Jordan Bowl, Barker, and South Ridge have lines, and even they move pretty quick.” The Rivah’s balanced range of terrain makes it “excellent for families and challenging enough for experts” (No. 8 in Terrain). Beginners can ski—and in places, pole— end-to-end: from the summit of Jordan Bowl and across six mountains to the White Cap base. Experts and thrill-seekers find their happy places on double-black trails such as White Heat and Agony; “some of the best glades in the East” on Oz and Aurora; or really anywhere, thanks to the boundary-to-boundary skiing policy (No. 9 in Challenge).
That said, this “sprawling mountain reigns supreme in horizontal.” The resort’s sprawl, with numerous lodges and peaks, can be confusing; make sure everyone knows where to meet and how to get there. That’s especially true for lunch, as each of the three base lodges, the on-mountain Peak Lodge, and both hotels offer food service. The resort’s infrastructure needs updating and an overall sprucing up, and its long-range Sunday River 2030 plan calls for renovating “tired” lodges and upgrading and replacing older lifts. What Sunday River lacks in off-slope options (No. 15 in Down-Day Activities) can be found in “up-and-coming” Bethel, a “charming village” with “great new restaurants and new activities.” But for most skiers, none of that really matters—they return again and again for one reason: “In iffy conditions, we’ll go to Sunday River every time, because they know how to get the best out of what they’ve got.” — Hilary Nangle
2021 Reader Rank for Sunday River: No. 10 in the East
- WHAT’S NEW: RFID technology allows direct-to-lift access, gets guests on-hill faster, and reduces lines and interactions, all assets for COVID-19 operations.
- BREAKFAST: First Tracks includes 6:45 a.m. coffee, 7 a.m.-9 a.m. guided skiing, followed by a multi-course breakfast at the Mountain Room in the Peak Lodge; $99 + lift ticket.
- DOWN-DAY ACTIVITY: Plan ahead for a dogsledding day trip with Mahoosuc Guide Service’s Master Maine Guides and friendly huskies, including insulated winter parkas and boots plus a hearty campfire lunch.
Catch up on Resort Rankings: No. 11 in the East – Jay Peak, Vt.
Go further into the top 10: No. 9 in the East – Wachusett Mountain, Mass.
Sunday River’s 2020 SKI Magazine Reader Resort Survey Rank: 11th in the East
Sunday River built its enviable reputation on ski conditions, and it continues to win over skeptics with “the most reliable snowmaking and grooming anywhere in the East” (No. 6 in Grooming). Not only does the place make lots of snow, “they nurture it.” The River “skis like a Western resort and feels bigger than the stats would suggest.” That’s an understatement: The alpine terrain sprawls over eight lift-connected peaks, each etched with “beautiful, wide, fall-line trails.” To those, add tight glades, terrain parks, and “ungroomed double-blacks gnarly enough to make anybody think twice.”
And there’s always Kansas, the beginner trail easing across all the peaks—just be prepared to skate on its flats. With all this terrain, even on the busiest days you can find the Zen of Skiing: short lift lines and quiet trails. Two ski-in/ski-out hotels and a slew of mountainside condos make it easy to ski until you drop. The sleepy, Currier & Ives village of Bethel is the mountain’s counterpoint. “Sunday River is truly what you come to expect from a top-notch resort with small-town New England flavor.” — Hilary Nangle
- WHAT’S NEW: Three new conveyor lifts access the learning terrain and Locke Mountain’s competitive venues get a new T-bar.
- FAMILY EXPERIENCE: Grab the kiddos and watch a drive-in family movie screened on Saturday evenings at the Grand Summit Hotel’s outdoor heated pool.
- LOCAL TIP: Mix with the locals at Hoot Night, an open mic tradition at Sud’s Pub in Bethel since 1987.
SKI Magazine’s 2019 Review of Sunday River, Maine
At the Rivah, it’s always been about the snow. The resort excels at making it and grooming it, and has a knack for turning Mother Nature’s tantrums into heavenly conditions. But snow isn’t the only reason this northwestern Maine resort earns kudos—it also seduces skiers with the diversity of terrain.
Stand at the peak of Sunday River’s Jordan Bowl on a bluebird morning, and the world is your oyster. Think eight interconnected mountains laced with 135 trails and glades. The efficient lift system and trail network makes it possible even for beginners to ski from one end to the other, and for experienced skiers to accept the invitations from each peak along the way, whether that’s White Cap’s steep thrills, Spruce’s terrain parks, or the steep bumped and gladed natural playgrounds on Oz and Aurora. Ski-in/ski-out condos and hotels make it easy to stay where you play, but the nearby postcard village of Bethel expands the options. – Hilary Nangle
New in 2019
Sunday River is playing to its strengths: It’s increasing snow-making capacity by 15 percent and widening the Sundance and Ride Run trail intersection to improve beginner terrain
Come to Sunday River for the…
- GROOMING When Mother Nature is stingy, Sunday River’s snowmaking and grooming systems create skiable conditions.
- TERRAIN VARIETY Of the 135 trails, 30 percent are beginner, 36 percent intermediate, and 34 percent advanced/expert.
- CHARM The nearby town of Bethel serves up a quaint New England vibe with much on offer.