Sugarloaf is far into Maine, about 260 miles from the Boston area, but come here and you'll be skiing without all those beautiful people (i.e., New Yorkers) who infest tonier big mountain resorts like Killington and Stowe. That in itself is worth the trip.

Sugarloaf is far into Maine, about 260 miles from the Boston area, but come here and you'll be skiing without all those beautiful people (i.e., New Yorkers) who infest tonier big mountain resorts like Killington and Stowe. That in itself is worth the trip.

So is the fact Sugarloaf is the state's highest skiable peak and has choice snow conditions well into the month of April.

What you get here is a friendly, family destination with great skiing.

Rising from the Carrabassett Valley, the central Maine resort has trails and glades challenging enough for the best hotshots. Sugarloaf has the only lift-serviced, above-treeline skiing in the East. Ride the Timberline Quad lift for a 360-degree view from the top where you can see as far as Mount Washington in New Hampshire or across to Mount Katahdin, Maine's highest peak. Experts will cherish skiing the ungroomed Snowfields, although they're sometimes closed because of high winds.

Make no mistake, Sugarloaf is a big mountain. There's also plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain to please those just getting started skiing or looking to improve. Easier trails like Timberline give even beginners a chance to ski from the summit. And, unlike mega-resorts where the trails are spread out over several mountains, all 134 trails here lead to the lodge. It's perfect for families trying to reconnect while not necessarily skiing together.

To ski in New England is to be prepared for icy terrain, but the area's snow making (95 percent) and grooming is impressive. The payoff is that lift lines are short or non-existent. And the friendly atmosphere extends to the ``lifties'' who all seemed to have a friendly word when my family of six (four skiers and two snowboarders) visited for a long weekend.

A bit rusty? Take a 90-minute ``Learn to Turn'' clinic lesson, included with many ski-and-stay packages. Veteran instructors like Kevin Casey can teach you how to use your skis' edges to your best advantage. Casey's advice helped build my confidence about skiing on steeper and icier terrain. One exercise, which involved holding your poles in front of you and handing them from left to right and back during a turn, really helped me improve my turns.

Expert snowboarders play and ride in The Yard, opened just last year. At more than 400 feet wide and a half-mile long, it also has a SuperPipe with 21-foot-high walls for Olympic-style contests. Meanwhile, the Stomping Grounds has a MiniPipe and a series of smaller features, rails and jumps that are best for working on the fundamentals of freestyle park riding.

While the resort has traditional hotel rooms, you can also opt for a condo. We stayed in a three-bedroom condo out of the hubbub of the main lodge area. Just yards from the base of the Snubber lift, it was private and had easy trail access. And the condo came with a fireplace in a cozy living area and a well-equipped kitchen where we made some of our own easy meals, like spaghetti and chili.

But don't miss eating at one of the resort's restaurants. The Shipyard Brew Haus (207-237-6837; main courses from $9.95 to $20) has seating with comfy upholstered armchairs in the ``Living Room'' or at picnic tables near the bar. When we dined, folk musicians Uncle Al and Kenny were performing songs by Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel. Try the Sesame Seared Beef with Spicy Thai Orange Ginger or a burger sprinkled with Montreal seasoning, and accompany it with a beer brewed in Portland. Desserts, like Peanut Butter and Chocolate Ooey Goooey Cake, were as good as they sound and large enough to share.

In the main lodge in the Village Center, have lunch in the Narrow Gauge Cafe, which has hearty choices like pulled pork and chicken sandwiches and broccoli cheddar cheese soup.

The dress code at Sugarloaf is casual, but at The Rack, flannel shirts might be required. Located on the access road just as you enter the resort, it's a fun spot with some of the best pork ribs (207-237-2211; a half-rack is $14.95) I've tasted. If ribs aren't your thing, try one of several Angus beef burgers, chicken dishes or the standout nachos piled high with chili, cheese and veggies. After the lifts close late Sunday afternoon, the entertainment starts with The Steves, made up of a bunch of guys named Steve, who play until about 7:30. When was the last time you heard the '70s country anthem ``Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother''? Yep, it's that kind of rockin' place.

You can also get into the center of the action by taking the free shuttle to the Village Center where there's food and nightly music in the Widowmaker Lounge.

Find time during your stay to take a swim and a soak in the condo's neighborhood recreational center (for condo residents only). With a warm indoor pool, three hot tubs and a Swedish sauna, it was a relaxing retreat for the adults in our group after the drive from Boston and a great way for the kids to blow off steam.

As another water option open to everyone, the Sugarloaf Fitness Center in the Village Center has a large pool and indoor hot tubs (as well as up-to-date weight training equipment, saunas and, on the lower level, racquetball or wallyball for $15 an hour). But the real treat is to soak in one of the outdoor hot tubs at night and see the stars sparkling like diamonds in the black sky.

Slidin', glidin' and jumpin'

Tubing: Not a skier or rider? For $15, try slidin' downhill on a cushioned doughnut. With its own handle-tow lift, the Turbo Tubing Park has four 1,000-foot shoots off the lower mountain. It's open 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 4 to 6 and 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturdays.

Cross-Country: Trek through the woods on the cross-country trails at the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center. Trade in your same-day downhill lift ticket for a free Nordic trail pass and equipment any time before 3:30 p.m. Otherwise, Nordic passes cost $17 for adults, $10 for kids 6-12 and free if you're 5 or younger.

About a mile from the main resort area, the center has both classic Nordic and the newer ski-skating style equipment that takes a bit more skill. For novices, there's plenty of easy beginner trails that offer a great aerobic workout. With 105 km (about 63 miles) of groomed trail loops, the area also attracts advanced Nordic skiers. A hawk may fly across the trail as you ski through quiet woods.

Snowshoes and skates: Snap on snowshoes ($20 rental) and take one of the Nordic trail loops at a slower pace. If it's cold enough for hard ice, take a spin afterward on the new outdoor rink. Skate rentals are $7.

Antigravity: The Carrabassett Valley Antigravity Complex (207-237-5566) has nothing to do with NASA's space program but everything to do with family fun. The facility, near the access road to Sugarloaf, was developed by the town of Carrabassett Valley and Carrabassett Valley Academy, whose alumni includes Olympic skier Bode Miller (Class of 1996). Challenge yourself on the rock-climbing wall, jump on the two Olympic-size trampolines or run on the indoor track. There's a weight room, fitness classes and a skate park with a 10-foot-deep bowl as well. Although the hours are limited (be sure to call ahead to make reservations), most activities cost $5 for kids and $8 for adults.

If you go

Getting there: Sugarloaf is near Kingfield, Maine, about 4-1/2-hours from the Boston area.

Staying there: Ski & Stay packages, which include lodging and lifts but not downhill rentals, start at $99 a night per person.

Skiing there: If you're staying elsewhere, a full-day alpine lift ticket at Sugarloaf (Feb. 16-March 30) is $72 for adults 19+; $61 for ages 13-18; $49 for ages 6-12; and free for children 5 and younger. After March 30, lift ticket prices are reduced.

Summer Fun: Sugarloaf is a four-season resort. The resort's golf course has been ranked No. 1 for the past five years by Golf Digest magazine. In warmer weather, try fly-fishing, take a moose tour, hike or go mountain biking. The resort is just off the Appalachian Trail.

For more information, go to or call 800-THE-LOAF.