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Climbing Sugarloaf mountain in Maine

Alicia - maybe your input would be especially helpful being from Maine - any others who have info on this would be helpful too.


I recently saw a video of a Russian man training for Everest. This was an old video, and he has since successfully climbed Everest. The mountains in his area of Russia were particularly dangerous for a certain part of the year due to avalanches, and he want to avoid that danger while still getting training.


So what he did was he climbed up ski resort mountains because they are tended to and skiers made conditions less dangerous and ideal for snow slope slogs.


I want to do the same on Sugarloaf mountain, which is in Maine - mostly just for strength and cardio training beyond my typical gym schedule. Where would I even begin with this? Should I try going up the side of the ski slope to avoid skiers? I'm obviously not going to go right up the middle. Should I try to climb under the lifts if they are high enough?

Thanks in advance

This is an interesting and somewhat controversial topic, because you get into the issue of recreating on ski trails without a ski pass. There are ski resorts and ski patrols that clamp down on uphill travel for a variety of reasons.

Read this:

Personally, I have skinned up and skied down Saddleback several times. My husband has done it many more times and hopefully will chime in here.

I've done it before the mountain opened for the season, before the lifts opened for the day, and a few times during the day (mainly to get up to the T-bar with a toddler kid on my back or for conditioning).

I'll note that I had a season's pass at the time, so I felt a little more legitimate on that front. Plus I went very early in the day if possible, stayed off to the side, went on mellow, less traveled trails, and not when it was busy in the least. My aim would be to do it and meet practically no one.

I've seen a few snowshoers doing the same, and at Saddleback we've seen some management people doing it. But, there are definitely people who will frown on it due to safety and liability concerns (and some of these people may be in charge).

It's totally doable, but you'll have to be sensitive to when and where you do it and any local policies. If you decide to skin or snowshoe up a ski slope don't post hole, do it early in the morning, but not in the dark, watch out for groomers, stay off to the side and well out of the way.

Of course, if you're not interested in the whole skiing down factor, you can hike the trails that get you to the top of those mountains too and avoid all of those issues.

That's my recommendation if you're thinking about snowshoeing/hiking. Do it on the hiking trails and you'll have a better experience overall, without worrying about all the stuff I mentioned above.

I think Alicia covered it pretty well. I've skinned both Saddleback and Sugarloaf and haven't had a problem, but I've always had a pass or ticket when I've done so. In any case, it's probably worth calling ahead to find out what the policy is.

For the last several years, Saddleback has had a very permissive skin/hike policy. (I've also seen hikers who came up the AT in deep snow using the ski trails as an escape route of sorts.) Sugarloaf ski patrol is a bit more prickly -- especially if you venture above open lifts or onto closed terrain.

If you're just in it for conditioning and you're not going to ski back down, I'd probably avoid the ski areas and stick to the hiking trails. There's really no better workout than breaking trail up the side of a mountain. And, for the most part, the hiking trails in the state tend to avoid avalanche terrain anyway.

If you do utilize resort slopes before hours, do not sneak on, else you risk finding yourself below a slope being stabilized with explosives...


If you do utilize resort slopes before hours, do not sneak on, else you risk finding yourself below a slope being stabilized with explosives...


Or after hours. And pay attention to the closed areas - some are closed during the day for avalanche control as well. I have been at Alta when the Ballroom (a big open bowl) was closed most of the day with avy control going on after a significant snowstorm.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt Sugarloaf or any other eastern ski resort has any slopes that require stabilizing with explosives (unless maybe Whiteface has opened up and taken responsibility for it's off-piste slides? I doubt it...)

Big Red is right. As far as I know, no eastern ski areas do avalanche control with explosives (if at all). They just don't have terrain that requires it.

That said, I've heard of at least two instances of eastern, in-bounds avalanches. Both were early-season, on closed trails.



It would be for conditioning, but also just to get used to a wide, open, snow slope slog. Big mountain climbing consists of mostly snow slopes and ice, with a little rock, rather than stepping through and around trees and roots. I wanted to simulate a decent pitch snow slope without being on a big mountain because I can't afford a trip out west right now.

If this plan will be too difficult, since you and Alicia are from Maine, as am I, do you have any suggestions in Maine or NH for such a snow slope?

How about Mount Washington? There's plenty of big-mountain terrain and conditions over there. The standard Lion's Head winter route gives you a couple thousand vertical above treeline, and the below-treeline section (on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail) is wide and usually well-packed. On the west side, the cog railway line offers 3,500' to the summit at a consistent pitch, and it's pretty wide open. While I wouldn't recommend it, the auto road definitely qualifies as a "slog".

All those routes follow fairly safe ridges, although there is some exposure to avalanche terrain on Lion's Head and the cog. During the winter, the Forest Service provides daily avalanche reports for Mt. Washington. See (Previously -- The forecast area has historically been limited to just Tuckerman Ravine. I'm hoping that the name change is going to be accompanied by more comprehensive/regional approach to their reports this winter.)

This is a decent overview of the major winter routes:

A number of guide services that operate on Mt. Washington in the winter, doing everything from guided hikes via Lion's Head to avalanche courses and ice climbing in Huntington Ravine.

thanks Dave. I already have plans to do Washington on Feb 6th for the summit for someone program. I hope the conditions will be good.

Perfect. Have fun!

Lifts at Sugarloaf open at 8:30.  Start up before then.  Sincce most slopes are groomed, you can just bareboot up most days.  Go up trails Tote Road to the west of center or Buckboard Trail to the King Pine area to the east over and up the Gondola line.  

Another alternative would be to hike up in the evening or hike up the AT during the day and spend the night inside the building at the top of the mountain.  You might even find some wood for the wood burning stove up there. If lifts are servicing the top that day, you will find ski patrollers in that building.

During lift hours you probably cannot get away with more than one run.  

I do know that people are not allowed to walk up to the upper hallfpie area without a lift ticket.

For a total wilderness adventure try skinning up the near-by Burnt Mountain that Sugarloaf has a plan to develop within the next few years by opening more of the woods, leaving the summit open, but liftless.

There is a trail up Burnt

Sugarloaf also sponsors a moonlight race up to the Bullwinkle restauant, a mid-mountain point and back, but not often.

For great cardio training, you might want to consider "skate skiing".  Sugarloaf has miles of groomed cross country trails for use of that sport.

There are several hiking routes up Bigelow mountain across the valley(ie Route 27) from Sugarloaf.

These photos were taken from hiking trails along the Bigelow Mt. range



thanks Rambler, that is some great advice.



So my friend and I are looking to make this sugarloaf climb happen Dec 18th. We will buy lift tickets if we have to, but we will try to get away without buying


I've never been there before, could you give me lots of details about where I would park, where I would find the trails that would be best to go up, and whether that trail goes all the way to the summit or if it branches into others?


We will be getting there early before the lifts open.



Parking will be obvious. There are several large lots just below the base area.

As Rambler mentioned, Tote Road is a good bet. Any route you choose will meet with other trails, so study (and carry) a copy of the Sugarloaf trail map. (It's on the Sugarloaf web site. You should also be able to grab a copy from the outside ticket windows on the lower level of the base lodge.)

Oh, and keep out of the way of the groomers and snowmakers. Have a plan B (and C and D) if they're grooming and/or blowing snow on the trails you want to hike.

Hey Dave, I think you're cute.


(to those wondering...the above is a joke referring to another thread comment)

Ha ha! That made me laugh, gonzan.

iClimb, the Sugarloaf trail map is here:

If you don't have it already, I recommend you get the AMC's Maine Mountain Guide with topo maps for hiking trails (no groomers to worry about).

I'm glad!


Alicia I'm glad you mention the main mountain guide. I have the 9th edition and it mentions nothing, nor shows a single trail with marked names, for sugarloaf.


The description simply says on the south side you can take the AT up, and on the north side you can take up various ski trails or an old maintenance road.


I guess the only AMC guide I'm used to, and the only maps I'm used to, are the ones for the White mountains. These maps and that guide are VERY detailed. THe maps even show names of trails and distances to certain junctions. 


The maine mountain guide seems to be lacking all of that for the Rangley region...


any other suggestions for maps that will give me more info?

Thanks, G. That seems to be going around lately.

well, ya' know, I just call 'em like I see 'em!


The AT used to go over the summit of Sugarloaf, but it now passes in the woods below it.  There is a spur trail that climbs uphill to the summit, and there is a small spring along it which might be under snow in winter.  Hiking along the AT, there are no views of a ski resort which is why the trail by-passes the summit.

A nice long hike is to go past Sugarloaf, over Spaulding by or spend the night in the Spaulding shelter and then hike over to Mt. Abraham(1.7) off the AT.  The hike over there is almost level and most of it is on an exposed rocky ridge with an exposed summit.  It would give you a good taste of winter hiking.

A good winter snowshoe would be from the top of Sugarloaf over toward the Crockers.  The woods is quite open all the way down to the river, then follow the river back to the Golf Course.  Or, backcountry ski it.  With enough snow, one can ski right down the middle of the river!

There is a lot of wilderness between Sugarloaf and Rangeley Mt. which is why the army used to train in winter there.  Maybe they still do.

BTW  I am the same guy that responded to your post at the Sugarloaf forum.

thanks rambler!


I'm considering following the advice of the Maine Mountain Guide, and using the maintenance road behind the parking area on Sugarloaf. It's longer than the ski trails because it winds along for a ways, and ends up being about 4 miles one way. But there would be no ski patrol, and no skiers to run into me. It goes all the way to the summit.


If we decide against this, I'm just going to do another summit of Pierce in the Whites and try to traverse to Eisenhower and maybe Monroe.

November 28, 2020
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