1-minute bike: Sugarloaf Outdoor Center in Carrabassett Valley

Difficulty: Easy to challenging, depending on the trails you choose. Sugarloaf Outdoor Center is home to a variety of double-track and single-track mountain bike trails that vary in difficulty. On the center’s trail map, each trail is a certain color that is based on its difficulty. The “easiest” trails are green; the “more difficult” trails are blue; and the “most difficult” trails are black.

sugarloafoutdoor0714-9How to get there: The Sugarloaf Outdoor Center is located on Route 27 in Carrabassett Valley, about 1 mile south of the Access Road to Sugarloaf resort. From the intersection of routes 142, 16 and 27 in Kingfield, drive approximately 14.3 miles north on Route 27 and the outdoor center will be on your left, marked with a large sign.Travel down the gravel drive to the large parking area by the lodge.

A view from the lodge at the center.

A view from the lodge at the center.

Information: The Sugarloaf Outdoor Center has long been known as a premiere spot for nordic skiing and snowshoeing, featuring a vast network of groomed trails in the winter, as well as an NHL-sized ice rink. But each spring, when the snow melts away, this trail network has recently been attracting another type of athlete — mountain bicyclists.

The construction of mountain bike trails at the outdoor center began about four years ago and continues today as a joint effort by the town, the Carrabassett Region New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA) and Maine Huts & Trails.

sugarloafoutdoor0714-6“[Bike trails] are being built as we speak,” said Robert [Bob] Ash, owner of Carrabassett Valley Bike. “It’s pretty amazing — the growth I’ve seen in the past three summers.”

From July 4 through Labor Day, Carrabassett Valley Bike sets up shop in the outdoor center’s ski lodge to offer mountain bike rentals and repair, as well as information on the growing network of bike trails.

sugarloafoutdoor0714-2“I’m here seven days a week, so I’m pretty much the trail ambassador,” said Ash, who estimates that there are currently about 60 miles of trails open to hikers and bikers at the outdoor center. “I get people pointed in the right direction.”

Trail maps are available in the bike shop, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also available in the shop are Pure Pops, all-natural popsicles made in Portland — the perfect $3 snack after a bike ride in the sun.

sugarloafoutdoor0714-7Use of the trails is free, but if visitors want to support the trail building effort, donations can be dropped off in a jar in the bike shop.

“There are trails for all abilities,” Ash said. “There’s everything from the Narrow Gauge Trail, which is similar to the carriage roads on M.D.I., to technical single track for expert riders only — and everything in between.”

Rental bikes at the center.

Rental bikes at the center.

The center is now the hub for several mountain biking events, including the Carrabassett Backcountry Cycle Challenge, 50-kilometer and 100-kilometer races scheduled for Saturday, July 19, with a children’s race and family rides scheduled for Sunday, June 20.

For information about Carrabassett Valley Bike, call Ash at 671-3560 or email him at rrash54@outlook.com. You can also “like” Carrabassett Valley Bike on Facebook for updates and event information. To learn about the Carrabassett Region NEMBA, visit carrabassett.nemba.org.

sugarloafoutdoor0714-3Personal note: I’m new to mountain biking. In fact, I don’t even own a bike of any kind. So when I was invited to check out some of the new mountain biking trails being developed in Carrabassett Valley, I had to borrow my mother’s bike, which could be considered a hybrid bike I suppose. Before driving west, I went biking on some local trails with my boyfriend Derek, who has mountain biked for several years.

When we visited Sugarloaf Outdoor Center on July 11, we were lucky to meet Sarah Pine, an experienced cyclist who helped build some of the bike trails at the center. Pine is the hut operations manager for Maine Huts & Trails as well as a member of Carrabassett Region NEMBA.

sugarloafoutdoor0714-4Stopping from time to time to allow us to catch up, Pine led us on a route along double-track and single-track mountain biking trails rated green and blue (for beginner and intermediate cyclists). We tackled Pine referred to as “The Seven Deadly Sins,” seven short single-track trails which led us to the warming hut, used in the winter by skiers and snowshoers. From there, we took a trail called “Jabba the Hut,” a well-constructed single-track trail that leads through low vegetation (lots of berry bushes) over which we caught glimpses of nearby mountains when our eyes weren’t focused on the ground to navigate the many rocks.

where071414-3To end our tour of the trail network, we biked down an easy wide trail to a single-track trail that travels along the edge of a bog. There we moved to the side of the trail to let a group of five young men through. Clearly we weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the spectacular weather.

For me, the single-track trails were challenging, especially those rated blue (we didn’t even attempt the black trails). I was knocked off balance several times, and

Tired and happy for the blueberry lemonade Pure Pop.

Tired and happy for the blueberry lemonade Pure Pop.

sometimes I couldn’t make it up the steep, short hills because I lost momentum by hitting a rock or root. But I could see myself improving, and I was thrilled every time I made a sharp turn or maneuvered around a jumble of rocks. It’s definitely a full body workout.

Back at the lodge and bike shop, we sat on a bench on the deck and cooled down with Pure Pops, flavors Blueberry Lemonade and Very Berry. I recommend them.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.