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Sunday River, located in the north eastern corner of the US New England area, in the state of Maine, is a remarkable resort with a significance unique to ski resorts worldwide. Opened by residents of the neighbouring town of Bethel in 1958 it was operated through the 1960s by a group of locals as a minor ski hill. In 1972 it was bought by the then owners of east coast giant Killington. The resort didn't expand greatly during the '70s but it did come under the management of Leslie B Otten who in 1980 bought the resort from his employers and decided to go it alone. At that time resorts were spending heavily on flashy facilities but Otten concentrated on building up his snow making, snow quality and a good trail system, ploughing back profits in to new facilities and then 'riding the real estate boom' of the mid 1980s. Since 1983 more than $136 million has been spent on Sunday River, largely self-financed spending, including dramatic expansion of terrain which is now served by 18 lifts (13 of them quads, an improvement on the 1 chair and four surface lifts Otten began with). Lodging now extends to 6000 beds on the mountain, almost all of them slopeside. There are many reasons for Sunday River's success and it is no doubt a combination of all. Some like the laid back feeling of Maine, untainted still by the 'big city suburbs' feel that infects and for some detracts from many of New England's other famous resorts in Vermont and New Hampshire - it's possible to ski and stay at Sunday River without having the fact that you're in one of the world's top ski areas constantly rammed down your throat. Of more practical importance there is the Perfect Turn learning technique which the resort has franchised out and many other resorts have just ripped off with something similar. Then of course there's the snow-making, the world's largest high-pressure system which is being eternally improved and expanded and is currently capable of converting 9000 gallons of water a minute in to snow. If any further evidence is needed that Sunday River is doing something right somewhere, there is the fact that it is the 'home resort' and the starting point of the American Skiing Company, controlled by Mr B J Fair. Having built up Sunday River and purchased two or three other major New England resorts, Otten launched a new company in 1997 and bought up his former bosses to take over Killington and control of half a dozen other resorts. At its height around 2000 his empire extended west to take in Steamboat in Colorado, Heavenly in California and a small resort by the 2002 Olympic town of Park City in Utah. However by 2007 a financial downturn that had seen Otten's departure several years earlier, the company was back down to three resorts.

Friendly, lively, award winning and rapidly expanding ski area in the far North East of the United States. Excellent trail layout and well integrated, efficient lift system (winner of ski area design award in 1993). Innovative 'Perfect turn' tuition initiated here, now franchised to other resorts, as is the world class snow-making management softwear. Number one snowmaking resort in the US, coverting 34% more water to snow per minute than any other resort. Flagship of the American Skiing Company, established in 1996 and now one of the world's leading multiple ski-resort owners.

Mountain

Sunday River's ski area has now extended to cover eight inter-connected mountains, with over 125 trails and gladed ski runs stretching for 5km (3 miles) from east to west. If that's not impressive enough for an east coast resort, the fact that there are more than 7,000 acres of undeveloped terrain adjacent to Sunday River makes it even more remarkable. The lift and trail design is exceptionally well thought out to make moving around the mountain easy, fast and fun. Each of the resort's mountains offers a distinct skiing or riding experience covering virtually all the diverse possibility of winter sports. Beginners have one of the best learning areas anywhere at South Ridge, served by one surface lift and three chairs, including a high speed quad. All skiers and riders make their first turns on Sundance. Intermediates have a huge choice of trails to enjoy with few ski resorts anywhere able to offer the uplift speed and fast cruising descents to enable you to ski so much and so varied terrain in so little time. For steeps and bumps most skiers head for White Cap where the White Heat run has one of the most demanding mogul trails in the east, with pitches up to 70 percent. Shock Wave is also steep while Obsession is a long cruising black diamond. The Hardball and Chutzpah gladed runs are regarded as some of the toughest in the East. Extreme terrain is to be found on Spruce Peak, where Spruce Cliffs is a challenging double black that begins with a steep cliff and flattens out in to a tight gladed area. For those who find themselves in over their head 'Bail Out' offers a return route to Risky Business, one of the many popular long intermediate cruises, before you reach the cliffs. The newest areas are Oz and Jordan Bowl, the former boasting wide open slopes and glades with powder bowl skiing similar to those of Colorado and Utah. Jordan Bowl is the site of the resort's new second base area and its new Grand Hotel: there are great views from the top of the Presidential and Mahoosuc Ranges. Whatever level of skiing you're at you'll benefit from a Perfect Turn course, the ski school tuition scheme invented at Sunday River and now exported to dozens of resorts. The idea is that lessons leave the ski school meeting place regularly, usually once an hour, and you just grab a lesson at whatever time suits you. First of all you match yourself against a video display of ten different skier levels, book your class and you're away. Usually group sizes are small and you end up with a more or less private lesson. If you get on with the people you ski with you can arrange to meet them again next day; if you don't, then book a different time, it's wonderfully simple, flexible and good news for skiers. Cross-country skiers will find some of the most extensive trails in Western Maine about 1.5km (1mile) from the base of the lifts at the Sunday River Inn and Cross Country center.

Families

With the addition of the Day Care Centre in the new Jordan Grand Hotel, Sunday River now has three such establishments. The other two are in the Grand Summit Hotel and at a purpose designed centre in the South Ridge Centre - able to cater for kids aged 6 weeks to 6 years of age. Facilities on the snow remain excellent with the Perfect Kid scheme starting for children aged from 3. Always cheering to see the classes, kids have a balloon stuck to their hats and helmets to identify ability level and help keep them visible - red for first timers, yellow for 'getting better' and 'Green' is good for pretty well anything. The scheme starts with Tiny Turns for aged 3 - 4, who get an hour of private coaching with rental and lift access if the child is ready. Mogul Munchkins is for children aged 4 to 6 whilst 7 to 12 year olds can sign up for Mogul Meisters and don't have to wear balloons on their heads. They can take to snowboarding if preferred from age 7. An unusual side to the program is that 'floating teachers' or 'shuttle coaches' are employed who move between classes running simultaneously to help with any special needs for any of the kids at any time. Teens love all the facilities around White Cap base.

Eating Out

There's a choice of dining in the area that's adequate for most tastes. At the top of the pile, Legends Restaurant in the Summit Hotel is one of the best choices, or on the Bethel Road the traditional New England fayre at the Sudbury Inn. Big choice, good prices and big meals are to be had at the Moose's Tail Brew Pub - voted in the top 10 for ski resort bars in the US by North American ski magazine readers. Rosetto's Italian family restaurant and the Bumps Pub at the Nite Cap are both friendly, popular and lively.

Apres

Traditionally Sunday River has lost points with reviewers who look for a compact resort centre that's buzzing from dusk till dawn every night through the winter. Sunday River is rarely buzzing at night - not as a whole at least, but there are plenty of party spots if you know where to go and recent initiatives have made the place a lot livelier after dark. These include the Nite Cap, the resorts entertainment centre at the White Cap base. Gradually expanded over recent years the White Cap base now includes a popular tubing park which opened to rave reviews for the 97-98 season and is 420m (1400 foot) long, winding through the trees before a unique sweeping right hand turn with a huge bank creating a wild, exciting ride. The Nite Cap is also home to a lively restaurant and pub and there's an ice rink and the Broadwalk Arcade - an entertainment centre for teens with video games and music. Apart from these organised activities there are a dozen other restaurants in the area and the option of driving over to Bethel, a few miles away, for more choices and a recently built multiplex cinema complex. There is also an excellent micro brewery located at the turning from the resort road to the Bethel road.

Boarding

One of the first resorts in the East to welcome 'boarders, Sunday River integrates rather than segregates 'boarders and snowboarding terrain and 'boarders have access to all areas. There are eight playgrounds located throughout the trail system, rather than one big separate park. The resort's steep White Cap mountain is a mecca for 'boarders and The Park on the Startlight run contains multiple ramp jumps, table tops and spines. Sunday River is a good place for 'boarding at night, with the 110m (400 foot) half pipe floodlit and served by an innovative surface lift especially designed for 'boarders use. The resort believes that the combination of its snowmaking power and hi-tec Pipe Dragon grooming equipment gives it the most consistently good half pipe right through the season. The resort has unusually good facilities for new boarders with two more playgrounds at the snow sports learning area at South Ridge. Here the Mini-pipe and Who-Ville are available for aspiring freestylers, with all the tuition support you could hope for. Off the slopes Sunday River is ultra 'boarder-friendly and the facilities around White Cap are absolutely spot on for 'boarders. Big parties develop around theme weeks, weekends and/or competition events such as the Gotta Rock Snow Fest weeks or Mardi Gras weekend. Full rentals and retails are of course also available at the 'Ride On' shop in the South Ridge Centre. New for the 2001/02 season is a superpipe which is 400 feet long and has 16 foot walls.

// HIGHLIGHTS //
Vertical drop
715.6m
Ski area
77
Resort height
243.7m
Airport
Portland
Train station
Bethel
beginner
25%
intermediate
35%
expert
40%