An Insider's Guide to the Best Backcountry Skiing at Sunday River

There's no better place to be at Sunday River than its glades on a powder day.
There's no better place to be at Sunday River than its glades on a powder day. Courtesy of Sunday River
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True backcountry experiences are not a huge part of Sunday River’s repertoire, but its  boundary-to-boundary policy, which allows skiers to venture into any area within the resort’s marked ski area, opens access to an additional 1,000-plus acres of glades. Adventurous skiers can find tight lines and hidden powder stashes by taking a chance and following a confident-looking set of tracks heading into the woods.

For those not into taking chances, you can find ample soft stuff in the trees on the sides of trails with snowmaking (marked with a snowflake on Sunday River’s trail map). Try the underappreciated glades off North Peak, which don’t attract too many skiers as they’re surrounded by beginner-level trails. Locals love it up on the plethora of black and double-black tree runs found at Oz and the Jordan Bowl, including the large gladed area of Blind Ambition, and the glades off White Cap, which range from eminently skiable to intensely steep. If there’s enough cover, head to the riverbed on the west side of Oz. The challenging Chutzpah glades off White Cap were cleaned up in 2013 and subsequently quadrupled in size, and the Last Tango glades, accessed off Barker Mountain, are a good test for advanced intermediates (warning: it gets tighter the lower you get, but you can always bail out skier’s right onto the aptly named Right Stuff).

Glorious powder!
Glorious powder! Sunday River

Thrill-seeking youths test their mettle on the North Peak’s T72 and 3D, the resort’s respectable terrain park, designed by local phenom and X-Games regular Simon Dumont. In 2008, Dumont landed Sunday River in the center of the skiing world’s consciousness with a world record 35-foot quarterpipe air. He continues to bring attention to the mountain with his annual Dumont Cup , which brings in top-level huckers and jibbers for the biggest freeskiing competition in the East.

For those interested in keeping their skis on the ground and moving at a more pedestrian pace, Bethel offers more than 60 miles of cross country skiing at four different ski centers. Flatlanders should head for the Bethel Nordic Ski Center at the Bethel Inn, a full service cross country ski center, with just about 22 miles of groomed trails starting outside of the resort’s front door. A favorite for families is the five-kilometer ski to the Artists’ Covered Bridge, built in 1872 and on Maine’s list of nine historic bridges in the state.

Carter’s Cross Country Ski Center has more than 34 miles of trails at its Intervale Road location plus another 40 kilometers of trails in nearby Oxford. It has a lodge, two off-the-grid cabins, equipment rentals, and lessons. There are even special fat bike trails.  If you’re up for a challenge, head up the Farwell Mountain Overlook Trail, which rewards with an expansive and beautiful vista after a tough climb.

Nothing like a few good powder turns in the trees.
Nothing like a few good powder turns in the trees. Sunday River

A 30-minute drive from Sunday River, the Great Glen Trails in Pinkham Notch, NH, provides about 25 miles of classic and skate-groomed trails, as well as snowshoeing and snow tubing. Their Mount Washington Snow Coach (a glorified snowcat) is a one-of-a-kind adventure that takes passengers into one of the harshest winter climates in the lower 48 (reservations recommended).

If you happen to work your way through all of the cross country ski trails in the Bethel area and you’re looking for a new challenge, check out the trails in Grafton Notch State Park (10 minutes north of Bethel) or the network of local snowmobile trails.

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