48 Hours in Bethel: Winter
Among the mountains of western Maine, the Bethel area offers plenty of travel-worthy dining and year-round outdoor recreation, including Sunday River, the most popular resort in the state.
We leave work early so we can hit up our friend’s retrofitted Mobil station restaurant, Standard Gastropub, in downtown Bridgton on our way to Bethel. A wall of coolers full of hundreds of canned beers creates an alluring aluminum rainbow—it may be the largest can selection in the state of Maine. The food game is just as impressive, and we devour a pail of malt vinegar-dusted fries before hitting the road.
The approach to the Jordan Hotel is dramatic, with vertical views of the surrounding peaks. Our trucks climb the mountainside, and the hotel emerges halfway up the eighth peak of Sunday River. It is located slopeside—part of the mountain itself and resembling an ice castle. There
is a crew of us, like you should have when you go for a ski weekend: two Jessicas, Derek, Seth, Kristin, and Mali. As we enter the hotel foyer, our faces are met with the heat and welcoming smell only a fireplace can produce. Skis are checked, bags stowed, and we venture off to explore this massive hotel.
We join other guests for s’mores and Maine Manhattans at a special gathering hosted by the staff. After mingling, we take our drinks right onto the mountain shuttle that brings us to South Ridge, where Camp restaurant and Trail’s End Restaurant and Tavern are open for the evening. At Trail’s End, we catch a few songs by Brad Hooper, a talented, soulful solo artist from the area. After a few more appetizers and beverages, we jump on the shuttle back to bed.
Sunday River Brewing Company won Best Breakfast in Sunday River’s 2017 Best of Bethel Awards, so we head there first thing. Upon entering we find a bakery case that is chockablock with gigantic, shimmering house-made doughnuts. A line of people in pajamas forms for takeout.
We sit in the lodge-style dining room at a picnic table and order what seems like everything on the menu. We haven’t tried all of the other breakfasts in town, but you just can’t argue with these doughnuts.
Our crew is fueled up and primed for an excursion. The day is silver and quite chilly, so some shop hopping is in order. As in any solid Maine town, the downtown is lined with welcoming storefronts and colorful signs. We weave in and out, buying things here, sipping coffees there, and browsing the local offerings. We chat with shop owners who recommend each other’s businesses. The Community Sports section in the Philbrook Place is a favorite, with its collection of secondhand and vintage sporting gear and apparel. If you are like us, you appreciate the craftsmanship and unique styles of older things. And if you need some retro swag for that ’80s mountain party, this is the place to hit up. Here we also learn of a local ski-making company, YOPP Clandestine Skis—two cousins who handcraft wooden skis in Bethel.
We cap our shopping with a sit-down at Farmer’s Market and Taps, now called Harvest Bar Eatery and Alehouse, our choice for afternoon nourishment of hot soup and freshly squeezed juice. We chat with a rosy- cheeked couple next to us who has just finished a dog-sledding excursion—they have certainly braved the cold better than we. Afterward we pop in at the Suds Pub and Shipyard Brewhaus to get in on the après-ski action.
On the way back to the hotel we can’t avoid stopping at Smokin’ Good BBQ for a rack of their famous ribs. We take two for the road. If you want to look like a pro, get a side of coleslaw
with the pulled pork and go to the Good Food Store and Catering Company next door for a package of buns. You’ll impress everyone with your savvy picnicking skills.
For dinner, we head to Sliders Restaurant, which is on the slope-side end of the hotel and feels like a lodge on its own, with a high post-and-beam ceiling and a wall of windows to watch skiers “sliding” by. After a smorgasbord of shared apps, we roll out of there, full but not tired. As we reach the end of a hallway in the hotel, we find a ping-pong table. The group is full of some pretty fierce competitors, so we start a tournament. Other people walking by join in the fun, and soon enough we have started our own Saturday night sporting event.
A big breakfast at the Jordan Hotel buffet gets us going early so we can finally hit the slopes. We pack the trucks and check out so we can ski until we drop.
We are lucky—the snow is like sugar. Groomers have been hard at work, and we are thankful
for the care they took. We start ripping runs, all together, looping around the mountain. We stop
at Harding Lee Smith’s The Mountain Room, which is an oasis halfway up the mountain at Peak Lodge. Smith is here, and he fills us in on the patio expansion project due to start in the spring. Next we find some leisure trails where we try freestyle tricks and some steeper trails that we challenge ourselves on. The sun comes out, and we carve the day away in glittery mountain bliss.
On the way out of town we hit one of our favorite spots, the Local Hub, located right on Route 26, for a cup of hot coffee and a treat for the road. The cafe makes some of the best sandwiches around with its made- from-scratch bread. It also has a rotating group of local artists on display.
And in a flash we’re back in Portland. It took less than two hours to reach the Bethel area, and was well worth the short trek. See you when the snow falls again!