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By Heather Burke
| February 14, 2017
Ralph Waldo Emerson was not a skier, therefore his adage “Life is a journey, not a destination” need not apply to your road trip to Sunday River. As a skier, I always just want to get to The River already. But for the journeymen, here are a few Maine landmarks and refreshing stops on the way to Bethel to keep your carload happy, or at least not hostile.Trucking up I-95 into Maine, Exit 63 in the humble town of Gray is the start of your 60-mile slog up Route 26, through international sounding locales of Poland, Paris, and Norway.
In Gray, if you’re hankering for a Maine shopping experience, try Marden’s. This unpredictable outlet offers “bah’gains” on everything from tarps to designer shoes and snacks to discontinued sporting goods, all under the slogan “I shoulda bought it when I saw it at Mah’den’s.” You never know what you’ll score.
The modern supermarket in Gray is Hannaford. Stop in for ski condo provisions and hit the Maine liquor store all in one stop, and all on Rt. 26.After passing through picturesque Poland Spring, you’ll arrive in Oxford. Here, you can roll the dice at Oxford Casino or roll into the New Balance Factory Store if anyone needs new kicks. Smedberg’s Crystal Spring Farm is a smorgasbord of Maine’s signature maple products, home-baked beans, and farm-fresh produce and meats. Try saving Smedberg’s for the ride back to bring home live Maine lobsters, spelled “Lobester” on their humorous homespun sign.
Next up the road: Paris, where there aren’t the quaint French sidewalk cafes you might imagine, but soon after you can stop at beautiful Snow Falls Gorge for a free frozen photo. Same goes for Deer Meadows Elk Farm in West Paris. The Mallard Mart up next has pizza and inexpensive gas at their pumps.
A short drive away is Woodstock, followed by Greenwood, which is dotted with lakes and ponds—and a perfect view of Mt. Abram’s ski slopes to the left. The Hub Market, Bakery, and Café (and Kayak Rental according to the sign) has grab-and-go (or cozy sit-and-stay) healthy, hipster breakfast fare. Just up 26 a bit is Maine Line Products, where you can shop for native-made crafts in a kitschy store.
Cresting the hill before Bethel is Tucker’s Dog House if you need boarding for man’s best friend during your ski trip.
Bethel Village just off Route 26 is an historic 1796 village that ranks as a top ski town—and proclaims itself “Maine’s most beautiful mountain town.” Main Street has old-fashioned hardware and grocery stores. Dicocoa’s is the place for coffee and made-from-scratch goodies. Plus, Elements Art Gallery and Revival Boutique are great for browsing. With kids in tow, Nabos, Toyz & Trendz, and Little Bits consignment are across from local favorites like Suds Pub and Cho Sun.
On 26 in Bethel, Farmers Market & Taps is a specialty stop for Maine craft beer, organic wine, and local-sourced food, all run by Felicia Dumont, sister of Sunday River’s famous freeskier Simon Dumont.
If you’re like me, your goal is to get to the mountain for après ski, even before you ski. There’s no stopping until you reach the Matterhorn Ski Bar for hard-earned drinks at this animated alpine pub, with a side of wood-fired pizzas and the word from locals on the latest ski conditions, of course.
As you approach Sunday River, fetch last-minute gear at Bob & Terry’s, Great American Ski Renting Co., or the Ski Depot. For ski tuning, the Wintersteiger at Sunday River Sports in the South Ridge Lodge can restore your boards to tip-top shape.
When you see the big wood-carved bear waving his paws in the air at Sunday River’s Welcome Center at South Ridge, you know you’ve arrived.
The Good Food Store on Route 2, just five minutes from the mountain, is a fun Maine market with the Smokin’ Good BBQ trailer outside for delicious, sticky fare to enjoy on your way back.
For those that run on Dunkin, you’ll pass no less than seven Dunkin Donuts between Sunday River and Gray on Route 26, plus a dozen gas stations if you feel like hitting the jackpot.
For the road less traveled, take Route 35 to 118 through Norway. It’s a far prettier drive passing the iconic World Traveler sign in Lynchville. Norway has a quaint Main Street with local craft shops, Rough and Tumble leather goods purveyors, and Vine and Fiber selling wine and wool. Café Nomad and Norway Brewing Co. offer casual libations and bites to break up your drive before you return to Route 26 in Paris and eventually I-95, the Maine Turnpike.
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Which New England state has had the most snow this winter?
A record-setting February for snowfall and a chilly, snowy March is positioning Maine for a spring skiing bonanza.