Stand up, ski down: Sugarloaf’s Reggae Weekend celebrates 25 years

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Reggae Weekend at Sugarloaf. Courtesy photoSun is shining, the weather is sweet, yeah
Make you wanna move your dancing feet now.

Want you to know, y’all, can you understand?”

(Sun is Shining, by Bob Marley)

Understand this: Whether you want to stand up or ski down, what you want to know about is Reggae Weekend, Sugarloaf/USA’s annual “What happens at the ‘Loaf, stays at the ‘Loaf” spring bash (April 11-14, 2013).

The reward for making it through the northwestern Maine resort’s often-brutal winters is April, when the days are long, the sun is warm and the snow is abundant. It’s when you can dance down Misery Whip, boogie through the bumps on Bubble Cuffer or, on a particularly fine day, perform sun salutations before shimmying down the Snowfields.

Get down

Reggae Weekend at Sugarloaf2, coutesy photoThe trouble with April, from a resort’s point of view, is that here it has the best conditions of the year, but few skiers enjoying them. In 1988, then-marketing director Chip Carey solved that conundrum by creating this annual rite of spring, a weekend of concerts (this year headlined by John Brown’s Body), nonstop parties and spring hoo-hah.

Sure, other resorts have spring, cabin-fever-relievers, but few have achieved the notoriety of Reggae Fest. Since its creation, it’s become the East’s signature spring shindig, attracting as many as 12,000 revelers over the course of the weekend. Yes, there is something a bit ironic about a sea of white folks getting down to music intended to lift black islanders from oppression, but hey, mon, it works.

Don’t let the numbers scare you. Many of the partiers are city folk here for the music and good times, not for the skiing. Most of these don’t give a damn that April is the season’s rainbow. The festival isn’t only a late-season pot of gold for the resort’s coffers, but also for skiers. It is busy, yes; but most of the crowds hunker down around the Super Quad. The higher and farther out on the mountain you go, the fewer the people and, frankly, the better the conditions.

During the early afternoon, when the beer lines are longer than the lift lines, the serious skiers are still moving their feet on the mountain. In a good snow year, the Snowfields, Sugarloaf’s crowning glory, are open. Even in a bad snow year, the mountain’s trails are still white ribbons. Down below, the revelers dress for the occasion. Many are decked out in retro ‘70s spring-skiing garb, Hawaiian prints and tie die and accessorized with tacky plastic lays, Mardi Gras beads, and Jamaican toques. Even Amos the moose wears dreadlocks.

The fine print

Oh yeah, the small print: Despite the promise of spring, it’s not always sunshine and corn snow. It’s rained on Reggae, it’s snowed on Reggae, but usually the sun does shine on Reggae. And here’s a tidbit for skiers and riders: Rain at the base is often snow at Sugarloaf’s summit.

No matter what the weather, the bands play on, protected from whatever the weather by tents. The Beach, the tanning area in front of the base lodge, the surrounding decks and the slush pit in front of the stage are all packed for the free, afternoon outdoor concerts, and the beer flows as heavily as the streams of melting snow. In the evening, the action moves inside for ticketed events.

This spring marks the event’s 25th anniversary, and the ‘Loaf will make it even more memorable (although serious Reggae Fest fans rank the event by how little they remember). Let’s just hope the sun is shining, the weather is sweet, yeah.

Related post: You know it’s Reggae Weekend when…?