Sunday River Resort isn’t just about the ski slopes. There’s golf, fishing, hiking and so much more.By Rob Duca | Photography by Aaron Leclerc
I’m cruising down Moonstruck, taking the hairpin corner and feeling like I’m Jean-Claude Killy. The snow is soft and groomed, and the mountain feels like it’s mine alone. As I point my skis down the mountain, I’m not thinking about tightly mowed fairways or slick greens. But here’s the thing about the Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine: It’s not just about winter.
Certainly, skiing is still king, which is why in preparation for this story it was important that I visited in winter, as well as summer. The resort is one of the largest in New England, with a vertical drop of nearly 2,500 feet and 135 trails across eight interconnected mountain peaks. If you can’t find a trail to match your ability, perhaps you should take up cross-country skiing.
During my visit, I stayed at the Jordan Hotel, which is located next to the ski trails of Jordan Bowl and offers sweeping views of Sunday River’s western peaks and across the valley toward the Mahoosuc Range. All that was required to begin a day of skiing was to step outside the hotel and into my skis, and head down the slope. Afterward, an outdoor heated pool with two hot tubs beckoned, as did the most amazing Bloody Mary I’ve ever tasted. Apparently, there is stiff competition in the area over which establishment makes the best bloody. The concoction at the hotel bar is hard to top; it includes a slice of bacon, peppers, an olive, cheese, lemon and pepperoni. Decadent and delicious.
But there are plenty of reasons to visit after the snow melts. You can take a scenic lift ride up to the North Peak or zipline from 300 feet in the air through the trees and over a ravine at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. There are also twin ziplines, where you can race side-by-side on a 750-foot-long line.
With mountain biking, bungee trampolines, kayaking, whitewater rafting, fishing, horseback riding, boating, hiking, nature walks and even a climbing wall, you won’t lack for exercise. Of course, Sunday River also boasts a championship-caliber golf course. Located just two miles from the resort’s main entrance, Sunday River Country Club is a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design and has been ranked by national magazines as the top course in Maine and one of the top 100 courses to play in the United States.
Overlooking Sunday River Valley and the Mahoosuc Range, it winds through the woods in a spectacular mountain setting, following the natural topography and taking full advantage of dramatic elevation changes. Play from the tips and you’ll face a monster of 7,130 yards, with eight par-4 holes more than 400 yards, two par 3s over 200 and a beefy 583-yard par 5. It is more manageable from the member tees at 6,558 yards, but there are still par-4 holes measuring 425, 414, 412 and 410.
And then there’s the 17th hole. The card says that it’s a par 4. Don’t believe it. It stretches to 474 yards, has six bunkers and an elevated green. Bunkers guard both sides of the fairway, and the front and left of the green. All I could think after walking off this green was, “Whew!”
There is also a creek that meanders through the course and guards the right side of the green on the eighth hole, and a number of forced carries over deep ravines. But the course isn’t only about brute strength. The sleepy, seemingly benign 316-yard 13th hole demands sound strategy and pinpoint accuracy.
After golf, it’s worth taking the 15-minute drive into the idyllic town of Bethel, which was first settled in 1774. The centerpiece in the town center is the historic Bethel Inn Resort, where a drink in the wood-paneled Millbrook Tavern & Grille is never a bad idea. Across the street is 22 Broad Street, a cozy Italian restaurant and martini bar with fireside dining in winter and outdoor seating on the porch during the summer. Located in an 1848 Greek Revival house, it features an eclectic collection of memorabilia brought by the owner from Manhattan, along with elegant imported Italian light fixtures.
For more casual dining, try the Jolly Drayman Restaurant and Pub, an English-style pub featuring live music and a menu that includes cottage pie, bangers and mash and fish and chips. If you choose to stay closer to the resort, the Sunday River Brewing Company is located on the access road and pours craft beers brewed on site, along with a selection of homemade donuts. That’s not to suggest one goes with the other.
What clearly goes with Sunday River is spring, summer and fall. Snow is a great reason to visit, but it’s just one of many.