Sugarloaf Mountain is for many Maine’s best ski destination.
But once the snow melts, the focus on the mountain shifts further down the valley to an ever-changing network of trails.
Eighty miles of single-track bike trails run through the shadow of the 4,000-foot summit. But, for the most part, the mountain has remained calm as the area has become a prime destination for something other than skiing – mountain biking.
“Sugarloaf has been a silent onlooker for years,” Lionel Hering said of the ski resort named after Maine’s third tallest mountain.
Sugarloaf will host some of the world’s fastest mountain bikers in an Enduro World Series race in 2022.
The race is equivalent to a World Cup race. But the word “enduro” is synonymous with not having a clear path to follow. “Enduro is like powder skiing,” said Adam Craig. “The backcountry mountain biking experience.”
“It’s purely semantic,” Craig said of the World Series vs.World Cup.
Craig would know. He ran both.
Mainer, 39, grew up in Exeter taking ‘store walks’ in the Bangor area and shopping on weekends as a high school student at Dexter Regional High School. Craig made the National Junior Cross Country Mountain Bike Team his last two years of high school and competed in his first World Cup in 1999, the same year he graduated.
After graduating, Craig moved from Maine to Colorado to train at the US Olympic Training Center. He has traveled all over the world, including competing in World Cup events in Scotland, Germany and Spain.
At 27, he represented the United States at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.
And, he raced four seasons with the Enduro World Series before retiring from professional racing.
“I was tired of traveling and being in great shape,” he said.
He lives in the Carrabassett Valley and drives a 1995 Honda Del Sol with 200,000 miles, a car more suited to big cities in Maine than climbing dirt roads to Sugarloaf Mountain.
“It’s a big, steep, rocky mountain. It’s safe, ”said Craig.
Combine big hits, steep terrains and lots of boulders and you’ll grab the attention of the world’s best enduro riders.
“I try to give them some steep, bumpy tracks to ride on these bikes,” Craig said as he and Brenna Herridge built a track that will be part of the EWS course.
Enduro racing is not your typical “cross-country” mountain bike race. Long-distance runners would never think of getting off their bikes. They go up as they go down.
Enduro is not a “downhill” race either. These guys (and these girls) would never think of going up the hill; only chairlift rides or in the back of vans to the top for them.
Enduro is a bit of both disciplines.
Enduro races are broken down into several timed segments. Runners will ride, take an elevator, or even walk to the top of the segment. They let it rip on the timed descent, which adds to the timed duration of the next segment. How they move between the bottom and the top is up to them, but often involves throwing their bike over one shoulder and walking to the top of the next segment.
“The enduro spirit incorporates a bit of cycling,” said Craig.
During the Sugarloaf EWS race – scheduled for August 20 and 21, 2022 – runners will use the SuperQuad chairlift to bring them and their bikes high up the mountain for the first stage. The rest of the details are pending as Craig and Herridge continue to build more trails.
Runners will only have two days to complete the course and a race on their bike to get a glimpse of the course. These rules are in place to keep the playing field level, Craig said. No hometown advantage, according to Craig.
The best enduro teams in the world will arrive throughout the week leading up to the race. The teams will travel to Maine from Burke, Vermont, location of the eighth EWS race of the 2022 season. There are 10 races on the 2022 schedule, with competitions in Austria, New Zealand, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Greater -Brittany, Canada, Vermont and Maine.
“I never thought Sugarloaf could have offered a race like this,” said Leah Herridge, 16. “It’s a huge surprise.”
“I don’t know how Brenna pulled that bunny out of a hat,” Hering said of Leah’s mother, Brenna. “It’s huge,” Hering said.
Brenna Herridge is the Sales Manager for Sugarloaf. It also helps build tracks for the race.
“She’s a hell of a rider, too,” Rob MacMichael said of Herridge as he looked after his clients at Rolling Fatties in Kingfield.
MacMichael and his wife, Polly, started Rolling Fatties as a food truck. They made and sold fatty burritos at events such as mountain bike races across Maine.
The business has grown into a Mexican themed restaurant and bar with the help of a constant flow of skiers during the winter and an increasing number of mountain bikers during the summer.
“The increase in bicycle traffic has been significant since 2014,” said Rob MacMichael.
“Previously, it was only on weekends, when you met people on the tracks (by bike). Now you go up there any day of the week and you will see cars at the trailhead, ”he said.
Kingfield attracts a lot of ski traffic to Sugar Loaf Mountain. MacMichael said summers were once very slow for business.
This is no longer the case.
“We didn’t know how the summers were going to go. Summers are here with winter now, ”he said.
“The summers have been tough,” said Hering, owner of Happy Tunes, a ski tuning company. “But for the past 10 years we’ve been mountain biking and it’s getting bigger every year.”
“I’m meeting more and more people here who are buying condos, not to ski but to mountain bike,” Hering said. “The city has made a big investment and I know how privileged we are to have these trails.
“Around here, all the other trucks have a mountain bike hanging over the door,” said Peter Lee.
When Lee was a child in Connecticut, his father bought 100 acres in Kingfield. “It was known to my sisters as the woodland in Maine,” Lee said.
Untouched for 50 years, these 100 acres are now home to the Freeman Ridge Bike Park, a 4 year old business that attracts riders from the very beginner to expert level.
“You can’t imagine who’s coming to ride here,” Lee said. “They are children. It’s mothers. It’s everyone.
Freeman Ridge offers 5 miles of machine-built “flow trails”, which are quite different from the style of trails built for EWS racing. “But nevertheless, they are all the same. It’s all mountain biking, ”is how Craig describes any style of mountain biking trail.
“It’s a passionate project,” Lee’s son Spencer Lee said of Freeman Ridge. “It’s a lot of work, but it gives the runners another option.
“Sometimes you can go for the fried fish. Other times you can order the steak, ”said Peter Lee of the variety of horseback riding options in the valley.
Spencer Lee was instrumental in making Carrabassett Valley the mountain biking destination it is.
In addition to building the trails at Freeman Ridge, this is his sixth season working with the Town Trail Crew, the builders of the city’s 80 miles of trails over the past 10 years.
“Between when the snow melts and when the snow falls is when we are working,” said Spencer Lee.
While the Enduro World Series race will not take place on tracks built by the Town Trail Crew, riders will be all over the track network the week before the race, as the best in the world only get one downhill on the course before the time of the race.
“It’s going to be cool to see this level of runners on the trails that I’ve helped build,” said the younger Lee.
“It’s a huge deal,” Lee added of the EWS arriving at Sugarloaf. “Bringing him over to Maine is really cool.”
Craig said 400 to 500 people will be in town for the event.
It pays homage to everyone who was involved in trail creation before being hired by Sugarloaf Ski Resort to help bring gravity mountain biking to the mountain. “I am very grateful for what the New England Mountain Bike Association and the Town Trail Crew are doing,” said Craig.
“In an ideal world, all of these trails will be connected one day,” said Spencer Lee.
What about the World Cup level course built at the top of the mountain?
“It will be the icing on the cake,” said Craig.
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