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Not backcountry, not front-country, it’s sidecountry

Sugarloaf’s new development speaks to a new movement in skiing and riding


CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine – Last summer, when Sugarloaf unveiled its new development plans for a massive terrain expansion onto Burnt Mountain, one of the first questions officials were asked was “where are the lifts?’


For years, skiers and snowboarders have been confined in their adventures by the chairlift. A core community of backcountry riders have broken this mold over the years, but for the vast majority, skiing and snowboarding has been limited to lift-accessed areas only. Recently, however, more and more skiers have been exploring beyond the realm of lift-served terrain, utilizing advances in ski and binding technology to combine resort convenience with backcountry adventure.


This on-piste/off-piste hybrid has come to be know as “sidecountry,” and it is at the heart of Sugarloaf’s massive new 655 acre expansion.


“Sidecountry” or “slackcountry” is generally defined as backcountry terrain that is accessible via a ski resort’s lift system. Skiers and riders avoid hours of hiking or skinning by utilizing a chairlift, and then hike a shorter distance to bigger, unmanaged terrain outside of the resort boundary. This allows skiers to experience the thrill and solitude provided by backcountry skiing, without the requisite pre-dawn start time and exhausting multi-hour hike.


Skiers and riders have been dabbling with sidecountry skiing in increasing numbers during recent years, and evidence of this is easily visible in any ski or snowboard shop. Manufacturers have begun churning out new skis, boots, bindings, and snowboards, specifically designed for the sidecountry enthusiasts. Binding manufacturers are offering more and more models designed for alpine-touring, with a releasable heel that allows the user to skin uphill and then ski down with heel firmly in place. Ski boots are being designed with climbing modes, skis are made from lighter materials, poles are collapsible, and many snowboard manufacturers and now offering split boards.


Even the ski and snowboard movie industry has begun to capitalize on this new movement. In one of last year’s most celebrated new releases, snowboard superstar Jeremy Jones produce an entire film last year featuring exclusively terrain that was accessed with no motorized assistance.


Sugarloaf’s Burnt Mountain expansion represents the next step in the backcountry/sidecountry progression. Skiers and riders will access the new terrain by using the resort’s existing lift system, before traversing far across into the wild glades of Burnt Mountain. The development is one of the first in the East to incorporate such a vast swath of backcountry terrain into its boundary.


While traditional sidecountry requires leaving the resort boundary and the safety net it provides, the new Burnt Mountain terrain at Sugarloaf will be inbounds, and will be patrolled by the resort’s ski patrol department. The terrain will also be gladed and maintained by Sugarloaf staff, which will turn otherwise un-skiable terrain into some of the East’s finest glades, and maximize the skiable terrain on the new peak.


Skiers and riders who may have been attracted by the adventure of the backcountry, but weren’t quite ready to tackle the vast wilderness by themselves will find an option in Burnt Mountain that lies perfectly in the middle: sidecountry.


For more discussion on sidecountry terrain, visit the Sugarloaf 2020 blog at http://sugarloaf2020.tumblr.com.