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The Winter Season Concludes: A Love Letter to Maine


Dear Maine,

Hey everybody from Bethel to Bangor and from Brunswick to Bar Harbor. It’s “Wrong Way Jay,” your sports writer buddy who visited Saddleback earlier this season with his barbarian friends Twang and Clang. You remember them, I’m sure…

Contrary to reports, Clang and Twang are not some dingbat villain’s henchmen on Batman. They are, instead, my two…enthusiastic…pals who nearly left western Maine looking like the ruins of Pompeii after Vesuvius. Despite their madcap misadventures, you folks not only were nice enough not to run us out of town with a 660-volt cattle prod, you invited me back with a smile. In turn, I promised to come back last season and write some more stories about how awesome Maine skiing and snowboarding is.

Well, I broke my promise. Through no fault of my own, I just couldn’t make it the 9.5 hours back to Saddleback this winter. Nor could I return to either the equally iconic Sunday River or get to Sugarloaf for a first time. Please allow that the double life of a lawyer/journalist is a frenetic pace that continually runs from “Dull Roar” to “New Years Eve Crazy” without a break.

“Now Jay, the reward for good work is more work. Welcome to high octane law practice,” they reply, and the pile of work (and indifference to our plight) grows larger. Meanwhile golf season and skiing season overlap twice a year, and I started covering the Masters Tournament as I took my final turns here in the northeast, shredding in the morning, writing in the evenings.

Being a legal eagle and research for my writing assignments had to take precedence over barnstorming on my Indy Pass, though the Indy pass is invaluable in the northeast and was of great assistance. But I owe you – Maine – more than just a passing apology. Every time I visit, Maine exceeds my expectations by an order of magnitude. Sunday River completely saved last season for me, and Saddleback was a major, indeed monumental highlight of this season. And Sugarloaf is on the hot list for next year, along with a return to Saddleback and Sunday. So, I’m dedicating my year-end review story to you, Maine.


Let’s start with Clang and Twang. They’re both well, thank you, and in good form. Clang just celebrated his birthday last week and no pizzas were killed nor any hotel employees waterlogged. (Again, McKenna, 1,000 apologies for Clang’s cannonball.)

We took Clang out for steaks and, humble as ever, I actually had to convince him, “It’s your birthday. Go ahead…order the ‘Grande Royale Center Cut Filet.’” (He was looking at the top round. Buffalo Bills fan or no, I couldn’t let that happen. Not on his birthday.)

Twang, however, had a nasty dose of déjà vu. You’ll recall he got his handle – Twang – when his James Bond wallet with spring-release credit cards went “twang” and spilled everything all over downtown Boston. Twang spent the weekend fielding calls like this from his bank:

“Uh, Mr. Twang? This is Officer Squane of the Seacoast Federal Credit Union Fraud Prevention Center. We have a report from Brightsky Cannabis Dispensary that a man identifying himself as a Mr. ‘Dragon’ is trying to purchase a ‘4-gram baller jar of Mango Zkittles Live Sugar.’ Did you authorize this?”

To my horror, he is still using that wallet. I’ll pause for a minute so you can clean the coffee you just spit up on your laptop. Like you, I can’t believe he’s risking chambering that bullet again. I don’t know; Maybe he wants to meet Mr. Dragon.

But it wasn’t the wallet that screwed him for our trip to Magic Mountain in Vermont, it was the rental car company. Same result though:  me calling him mid-way to the mountain, and him telling me about his latest travel tragi-comedy and bemoaning his ludicrous misfortune.

“Are you on your way?” I asked.

“No! I haven’t left yet!” he stormed, even more angrily than last time. “I got to the rental place, paid them, and walked out to my car, but when I got there, it was a rolling drug dispensary! Scales and baggies in the glove compartment, weed crumbs and half-smoked roaches everywhere, even the freaking center console, and it stank of kind bud.”

“Oh, was it Mango Zkittles flavor?” I asked, finding the joke irresistible. After all, I thought, he can just load his gear into another car. But I was soon to have my puckish smile wiped off my face.

“YOU’RE NOT HELPING!” he shrieked. And then he dropped the hammer:  there were no more cars available until sundown. Twang, sadly, missed Magic.

Clang did make it, as did Hannah Banana. You haven’t met her yet, but you will, especially if you have…wait for it…Indy Pass. You guys are gonna love Hannah Banana; she is sunlight personified. She is also present of our local ski group, the G.E. Ski Club.

Anyway, Magic was its usual stellar self. Resurrected from the “No Longer Exists” list by Geoff Hathaway, a cadre of friends, and loyal Magic fans, the mountain is growing and flourishing, one of the greatest recovery stories in our sport. Located in the same southern Vermont region as Bromley, Stratton, and Mount Snow, Magic tops them all for gnarly terrain. Divided into an east side for greens and blues, a west side for blacks, and a central upper-mountain region of some of the wildest extreme terrain in the east, Magic was spoken of in holy whispers by the intelligentsia. Now on Indy Pass, word has spread of Magic’s vibe, headwalls, and killer glades.


“Magic Mountain is the quintessential Indy [Pass] resort with a vibe that screams independent AF and a tagline that keeps its] promise:  Where the soul of skiing still exists,” beamed an ebullient Doug Fish, founder of Indy Pass and now a chief officer of the new umbrella now running Indy. “Keeping with their alternative ethos, Magic’s terrain is rough and tumble enough for any off-piste shredders and provides a nice variety of steeps and cruisers to satisfy everyone,” Fish concluded, and he’s dead solid perfect on that point.

Magic is not to be missed, and Saddlebackers in particular will welcome the chance to visit twice for free on their Indy Pass. Highlights for Your Author included the iconic double black glade run Twilight Zone, the ridiculously narrow, steep, and thrilling Broomstick, and Witch, a quintessential New England narrow, steep, winding, bumped-out sidewinder of a double black. But there’s something for everyone at Magic, and the vibe is enthralling.

The first half of the season ended with a trip to New Hampshire to ski some low-hanging fruit:  Pats Peak and Gunstock Mountain. There may not have been much gnar, but low-hanging fruits can taste just as sweet as those from the top of the tree.

Pats Peak’s story of homespun beginnings, family perseverance, and community spirit should warm the heart of every winter enthusiast of any age. Born from the dreams and sweat of the Paternuede family, Pats Peak has become a beloved New Hampshire icon. It’s commitment to youngsters of any ilk, from toddlers to racing teens is gold standard, and if any idiom shines through most brightly from this “Little Ski Area That Could” (and does!) it’s a devotion to kids.

Pats may feature only a 770-foot vertical drop and have just 28 trails, but those mere 28 run a complete gamut from pushover greens to two of the nastiest double black diamonds in the entire state. Indeed, if New Hampshire resorts have one shortcoming, it’s a lack of true, cry-for-your-mommy, crap-your-pants, hold-on-for-the-ride-of[your-life double black diamond runs. Even the King of truly unconquerable New Hampshire on piste runs, mighty Avalanche at ancient and venerable Cannon Mountain, isn’t as much of an adrenaline rush as, for example, Jay Peak’s Face Chutes or Sugarbush’s Castlerock area. (And don’t mention DJ’s Tramline, because it’s only open once every thousand years or so…)

However, tiny Pats has Hurricane and Vortex, their own Scylla and Charybdis.

(As an aside, I just sent poor Clang to the Google Machine to look up “Scylla and Charybdis.”)

Hurricane and Vortex are nothing you’ve never seen before, but they are all you would or should expect from true double blacks. Vortex is narrow as a golf club, steep as a cliff wall, and more bumped out than a teenager with an acne explosion. Name a New Hampshire resort with a similar lift line run – there’s one:  DJ’s Tramline.

By contrast, Hurricane looks wide, but its terrain features not one but two enormous double fall lines as steep as its next-door neighbor Vortex:  one fall line sends you right into the trees, and the other fall line sends you into the chairlift towers. Always covered in asymmetric moguls Hurricane, like Vortex, can stand proudly shoulder to shoulder with the toughest runs in the state. It’s on the Indy Pass, and it’s easy to get to from all directions.


Gunstock was a pleasant surprise as well, more for its ergonomics than any semblance of gnar. Easy to get to, easy to move around, reasonable price, nothing too murderous for an on piste run, at Gunstock you can bring everyone from total Jerries to professional athletes and have a superfun and chill day.

Gunstock’s 1,340-foot vertical drop is formidable, especially with myriad trails cunningly cut into difficult double fall lines and strange cambers. Over 1/3 of Gunstock’s 49 trails are single or double black diamond. But that being said, the trail map is generous with its black and blue designation and experienced skiers and boarders will shred the pants of the place. To illustrate, consider the dilemma of one Max Verna, lead guitar player and vocalist for the rock band Ominous Seapods. Verna, and old client of mine and still a friend, turned to me before a concert not long ago and when asked about a potential ski trip replied, “So, Jaybar, are you ready to eat my dust?”

Excuse you??!!

I grin knowingly and puckishly because when he posts pictures of himself skiing with his four daughters, it’s at smiley, cheery pushovers like Gore and Mount Snow. Meanwhile, I’m posting pictures of Jay Peak and Cannon. I called his bluff and challenged him to meet me at…wait for itMagic. Runs 1, 2 and 3 will be Broomstick, Twilight Zone, and Witch. If he can handle it, he can stay.

If not, I’m gonna roast his Jerry ass. “Eat my dust?” I don’t think so.

Better still, this season Gunstock has improved their extensive night skiing footprint by adding a state-of-the-art lighting system. Visibility is terrific all across the resort, and the number of night skiers increased significantly.

[Author’s Note – We will have full stories on not only Pats and Gunstock, but also Middlebury Snowbowl, discussed below, in the near future.]

The next stop was another joyful discovery and a sort of homecoming. A two-foot dumping stopped at midnight one late February evening, and I arrived the next morning at Middlebury Snowbowl in time for powder day.

A tiny place with great terrain can offer up as glorious a day as any mega-resort, and as the training ground for a college team that has won many national championships in winter sports as Middlebury has, you know there will be some gnar. Nothing to overpower you, but just enough twists, turns, narrows, steeps, and chicanes to keep you thrilled run after run. If it’s good enough for collegiate All-Americans and NCAA champs, it’s good enough for the rest of us.

This day was especially magnificent – two feet of pow, no lines, good food at reasonable prices, and skiing history from the formative years of the sport all around me burning brightly like metaphoric neon city lights. Moreover, while I am a Trinity College graduate, my cousin Jamie and his lovely and brilliant daughter Jean are both Middlebury alums, another NESCAC school. Middlebury will always be in a Flemma’s heart, and so, buoyed by the elation of powder day and a return to a familiar and beloved location, I couldn’t contain my excitement and took two minutes to Tweet and Facebook, “Two feet of pow and no lines at Middlebury!”

And before you could say “ethosphere” a mob formed, a group I’m lovingly calling the “Middlebury Mafia,” and they were not happy with my info dump. Replies included:



And my favorite of all…


With a new chair being installed over the summer, the mountain will increase uphill capacity tremendously, and with the bona fides of being on the Indy Pass as a “partner report” a lot more people will be visiting. The Middlebury Mafia should be quite busy. In the meantime, can I be in the Middlebury Mafia? I understand omerta, and as a lawyer, a journalist, and an Italian, you get triple the silence.


The season closed with trips to first Jay Peak and then later Waterville Valley. Both Clang and Twang were Jay Peak veterans, joining for the first day of a two-day trip to the Northeast Kingdom.

“As the undisputed King of the Indy East coalition, Jay Peak brings it in every category,” praised Doug Fish. “From steeps and groomers to trees and glades, and throw in a massive base village with more beds than any Vermont resort and you have the makings of a incredible ski vacation.”

Fish nails it. Maine denizens will be especially delighted because I jokingly refer to it as “Saddleback West” or sometimes dub Saddleback “Jay Peak East.” Strong similarities exist between the two:  the difficulty in the terrain, the formidable and forbidding summit trail systems, the strongest, most extensive, and wildest glade systems in the East, and ferocious freezing, blustery weather. The “Roaring 40s” as the latitude is known in sailor’s terms, and the locales live up to it. And they are both true, top-to-bottom, final examinations of the expert skier and imperatives for any well-travelled winter enthusiast.

Fish also had warm thoughts of Saddleback as well, knowing full well its value to the pass both geographically and as a precious, previously hidden jewel with many gorgeous facets and a brilliant shine, a rare and wondrous treasure.

“After years of closure, Saddleback has come roaring back huge infrastructure upgrades, including a new lodge and TWO [emphasis in original] detachable quads,” Fish beamed. “The snow in this far north outpost is reliable and fluffy and the terrain is glorious for anyone who appreciates gladed trees and secret stashes. Be well and stay stoked, guys!” he concluded energetically. Indeed, Saddleback, Jay, and Waterville were indeed, the steak dinners of the season. Fish gave the winter sports world a gift with his signing them to Indy.

Our Day 1 visit to Jay saw vicious weather, but not unbearable temps. The summit Face Chutes were closed, but it was a good warm up for the following day when the Face Chutes were open, primed, and ready.

Too bad I wasn’t. For those who perhaps lament that I make everyone laugh at Clang and Twang’s antics, but wonder if I can take it like I dish it out, I submit this article for your consideration – the time the Face Chutes turned me into a chicken on skis sniveling for Mommy. I make several good jokes at my own expense, and ask for the benevolent intercession of none other than Jimmy Chin for guidance.

He might be a little busy, so don’t rush me to hit him up for a reply.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what nickname I have to endure from Clang and Twang, and the rest of my crew, it’s “Wrong Way Jay,” and that’s not just because of my crap-tastic golf game. It’s because of my congested bloodhound’s sense of direction. Mr. Magoo never got himself into as much madcap mayhem as I do. Highlights include:

—getting lost trying to get to the mountain. Driving from Boston and headed for Waterville Valley, Twang and I took a wrong turn and ended up in Seacoast. “Jay, don’t you have the GPS on??!!” “Twang, I thought you had your GPS on!!”

—getting us lost on the mountain. “This way to the chairlift guys!” and I led us right into a cul-de-sac and parking lot where the Jay Peak condos were, Clang’s laughter ringing my ears, “Wrong Way Jay!! Wrong Way Jay!!”;

—getting us lost driving to find the restaurant; and

—getting us lost in the bowels of a building where the restaurant was. In a scene eerily similar to the movie Spinal Tap, where the band gets lost trying to find the stage, Clang and I not only got lost, but like the band in the movie, we got directions from some guy, went through a door that said “authorized personnel only,” and ended up back where we started. We found the restaurant eventually…after several detours.


Truth be told, driving is a bugaboo for everyone in my menagerie. The four of us – Clang, Twang, Hannah, and I – should form a rock band called “The Oh Shit Handles.” Twang screams like Eric Cartman when I drive; he even goes so far as to look at me on the seventh hole of a golf course after hitting his tee shot into the woods, and shout “This is your fault. You drive so badly getting here, I can’t play golf a full hour and a half later!” But he should talk. He scares me sometimes with his aggressiveness, and Clang does the same with his having three distracting screens going at once.

He drives an Uber like that.

Because of them, I’ve instituted the Rule of Three:  If you make someone grab the OS Handle three times, they get to take over and drive.

It doesn’t work with Hannah though, she drives a stick, and the rest of us can’t. So, you have to hold on tight. Hannah likes to play tour guide while driving. She’ll say things like, “If you look sharply left you’ll see a lovely painted barn,” and “And if you look sharply right you’ll see the edge of Lake Whatevertheheck peeking through the trees.”

Meanwhile, I’m like, “And if you look straight ahead of you, you’ll see WE’RE ABOUT TO HIT THAT CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!”

Wow, that was close…

Finally, I have to throw a bone to my beloved Waterville Valley; the mountain and the resort exceed expectations every single time. What’s not to like about Waterville? It’s historic – the Kennedys are the mountain’s DNA. It’s romantic – a gorgeous, seamless blend of rustic and modern that feels timeless, and glittering at all times. And it’s a tough mountain, but not overpowering – you and the whole family can shred the entire trail map.

This year I was especially grateful, as it washed away the exhaustion of handling not one, not two, but three of the biggest appellate cases of my career:  one in Washington, D.C., one in Albany, and one in Rochester. Thank you, Waterville, you once again were an elixir, a panacea, solace amidst the traffic of the world.


Still the season highlight was Saddleback – which had the largest increase of any Indy Pass year-over-year in the history of the pass. Better still, the mighty mountain’s summit double blacks stand as one of my two as-yet unconquerable challenges.

The other is the Face Chutes, but we aren’t going to get into that right now.

Here’s the beautiful thing about you, Maine:  I’m twelve resorts into this long series on “Which is better? New Hampshire or Vermont?” But if Maine were included in the equation, right now Sunday River would rank first, and Saddleback would be tied with Jay Peak for second just a few hundredths of a point behind. Your state’s skiing and boarding have really got a lot of moxie!

Great. Now I want some Moxie…the soda, I mean.

As an aside, I see it so rarely it’s like “Oh, cool! Moxie!” And then half a bottle in, you’re saying to yourself, “Why did I buy four of these?” Moxie needs to thank Donny Pelletier. for terrific branding. Maybe I’ll just save a bottle for my next run down Silver Doctor or White Heat. And shoot me if you have to, but Donnie cracks me up.

I love you already, Maine, and I barely know you. It broke my heart not to see you for some more shredding, but I do have a surprise. Bobby Jones, Jr., the golf course architect is not just a colleague but a friend. We play golf together, we discuss course design together, we even write poetry together.

Bobby designed both the Sugarloaf and Sunday River golf courses and when he heard my magazine was sending me there on assignment, he jumped at the chance to be both interviewed for the articles and come on my iHeartRadio show as a guest to talk about the courses. So I’ll see all you good folks soon…like this weekend. Friday through Sunday. Hit me up and let’s play golf or have dinner at Furbish’s in Rangeley. Maybe have a hang in the jacuzzi at the Rangeley Inn, (cannonballs sold separately).

Sadly, this will be a solo mission. Twang is still butthurt from my sticking it in him four consecutive rounds in a row, the worst of which being a 6&5 drubbing I hung on him at his home course. I hate to break his heart, but new clubs were not the answer. Poor Twang – his golf game resembles a famous show tune, and apologies to Zero Mostel and the cast of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum:

Something confusing, something amusing,

Something for everyone,

A comedy tonight!

Something frenetic, something pathetic,

Something for everyone,

A comedy tonight!

Nothing that’s long, nothing that’s straight,

Birdies and pars will just have to wait,

Won’t take some lessons, curses the Heavens,

Too bad his shots don’t turn out riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight,

Tragedy tomorrow,

Comedy tonight!

Something appalling, something that’s galling,

Something for everyone,

A comedy tonight!

Something compulsive, something repulsive,

Something for everyone,

A comedy tonight!

Nothing but shanks, nothing but hooks,

Balls in the woods, rocks, deserts, and brooks!

Managing badness,

Mayhem and madness,

Swears that he’ll sell his clubs toniiiiiiiiiiight


Tragedy tomorrow,

Comedy, comedy, comedy, comedy, comedyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy


That’s better than Clang though – he doesn’t even play golf. Plus, nine hours trapped in a car listening to his vile taste in music carries a Surgeon General’s warning. The guy is 42 and he listens to Harry Stiles, Beyonce, Imagine Dragons, John Mellancamp, and Billy Joel as his top five – top five!!

That’s the playlist of a pre-teen cooing over Tiger Beat heartthrobs. No Dave Matthews Band, Clang?

Meanwhile, he pooh-poohed the following albums with a milquetoast “meh” – Exile on Main Street, Quadrophenia, Who’s Next, Stop Making Sense, Alive She Cried, Truckin’ Up to Buffalo, and, Dark Side of the Moon, and The Wall. And he particularly hates Foo Fighters, even going so far as to ask – at my birthday party in my own house where ski club was gathered to rage to a killer Foo Fighters concert video – he asked, “Jay, what is this garbage?!”

He’s not going to their Fenway Park concert with me.

I fared slightly better with U2 Live at Red Rocks (the killer video helped), The Police’s Synchronicity, and the Beatles Number One Hits album. Clang says he “thinks” he’s ready to “try” Prince.

Oh, and he despises Phish, partly because his sheltered existence didn’t allow jam bands to penetrate his bubble before now, and partly because his blind loyalty to Billy Joel makes him dislike Phish because they get to play MSG for New Years while Joel doesn’t. Thank you, Saddleback, for cranking Phish’s Lemon Donut performance from the Baker’s Dozen in the base lodge when we visited. Scoreboard, Clang! And get ready for a steady diet of pop punk next time I’m driving. Let’s see how he likes American Hi-Fi, Bowling for Soup, and New Found Glory. He’ll be screaming for ear muffs.

So, Maine, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Well except that I’ll be corresponding this winter from Argentina, Colorado, and Idaho as we’ll as visiting you and the rest of the northeast. Meanwhile, golf season keeps me occupied, and the golf enthusiasts among you should enjoy my PGA Championship coverage  and the Los Angeles U.S. Open here.  Links to the iHeartRadio show are here. Four days covering the Anderson memorial International  Fourball at Winged Foot are here.

So, I’ll see you in a few days, my friends. I’m sorry this story is so long, I didn’t have time to write a short one. But if I did, it might have read, “Dear Maine, it was great for me too. Love, Jay.”