My alarm goes off as the sun starts to rise over the slopes of Sugarloaf Mountain. Light floods the valley, revealing our surroundings. Having arrived after dark the night before, this was the EWS crew’s first glimpse of new race venue Sugarloaf, Maine.
Sugarloaf, in Maine, will host the second of two back-to-back EWS rounds in the USA next year.
Located two hours north of the famous town of Portland and three hours northeast of round five venue Burke, Sugarloaf Mountain is already a well-established ski resort. However, once the home of the famous Widowmaker Challenge downhill race, these slopes also have their roots deep in the early days of mountain biking.
As well as being a well-known ski resort, Sugarloaf also has a deep-rooted history in mountain biking.
Eager to get out on our bikes, we head for a pre-ride breakfast with our local guides Adam Craig and Josh Tauses, who are both heavily involved in bringing the EWS to their hometown.
“Mountain biking has existed here for some time” Josh explains. “When the sport was first discovered, there were definitely people in western Maine who were getting into it,” he continues.
Josh Tauses, Carrabassett Valley Trail Manager, gave us a lowdown of the area’s riding history.
The resort in which we find ourselves dates back to the 1950s, with the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Club developing the area’s first ski trails and lifts during that time. The mountain biking boom didn’t hit Sugarloaf until a whole forty years later: “In the late 90s, we really just rode what was there,” Tauses tells us. “There was a pretty good network of ATV and dirtbike trails around and we rode a lot of that. It was singletrack, rugged and at that point in time, pretty gnarly.”
Sugarloaf local Adam Craig is a legend of the sport and heavily involved in bringing the EWS to Carrabassett Valley.
In the early 2000s, specific mountain bike trails started to be built in the hills surrounding the mountain. During that time, Carrabassett Valley held a number of cross-country and marathon races and one local name kept topping result lists; Adam Craig. Craig went on to win 18 US National Championships and compete in the Olympic Games, dominate multiple cycling disciplines and become a legend of the sport in the process.
The former olympian was more than happy to guide us down some exciting race stages.
After we had devoured our blueberry pancakes (a regional delicacy), it was finally time to check out the trails on offer. Sugarloaf Mountain sits at just under 1300m tall, so we were delighted to hear that the climbing would be taken care of by a pickup truck.
The most memorable descent of the day saw us drop in from the very top of the mountain. Led by Adam, we charged down a rough alpine-like ridge from the summit before hanging a hard right and diving down into a snow-covered ski glade. Carnage ensued as we tried our best to stay rubber side down on the unpredictable mixture of grippy snow and not-so-grippy ice.
The descent from the top of the mountain will stay in our memories for a long time! The flat out alpine terrain at the summit is totally different from the loamy lower woods.
We couldn’t resist a little play on the snowy pistes…
The next section of trail was just as enjoyable, darting in and out of the treeline as we plummeted down towards the valley floor. The techy rock we rode higher up the mountain was quickly replaced by perfect loam as the trail snaked its way through the blanket of leaves that covered the forest floor.
Further down the mountain, the trail turns from rocky to loamy - a perfect combination.
Bursting out of the tree cover and back onto open piste, the Sugarloaf resort came into view. A few flat-out grassy sections later, we were back at the hotel. “The diversity really took me by surprise,” said Ruaridh Cunningham, EWS Sports Coordinator. “The contrast between the rocky alpine terrain up high and the loamy lower woods is sure to provide some amazing racing.” Tauses grins and tells us that a lot of work has been done to bring new life to the original trails on the mountain: “We’re trying to reconnect to the culture that was here in the 90s - one of the stages we just rode uses sections of the legendary Widowmaker downhill track.”
The fusion of classic race tracks and fresh-cut sections makes for some amazing stages.
With the variety of terrain on offer here, making a prediction for the outcome of the race in August is tricky - to do well here, a rider must be confident in all conditions. Due to the raw nature of these trails, careful line choice and creativity will be key. The homeland pressure will be on for American riders, so we can expect to see them start with a bang come August. However, there are some big names from just across the Canadian border that will also be looking to shake things up - Rocky Mountain Race Face’s Melamed, Andreane Lanthier Nadeau and Gauvin are all likely to be dangerous here.
Moose Pond - the perfect spot for a post-ride chill.
After a big day of lapping some amazing trails, a relaxed afternoon was on the cards. Adam recommended we check out a local lake, the appropriately named Moose Pond. Located right next to the Sugarloaf Outdoor Centre, this beautiful lake is definitely a must-visit spot.
The Rack, Sugarloaf’s popular apres-ski bar.
That evening, we had dinner and a few beers at The Rack, Sugarloaf’s famous apres-ski bar. Located in a forested area just outside of the resort, The Rack is as popular with locals as it is with visitors. We can only imagine the energy this place will have when locals, fans and racers descend on it at the end of Sugarloaf’s first-ever EWS race weekend…
With the amazing trails, terrain and riding on offer, EWS Sugarloaf is not to be missed. If you want to be the first to know about how to enter next August’s race (or any of the 2022 rounds) be sure to hit the link below to subscribe to the EWS Newsletter now!