Saturday 17th Feb
I met the happy Fallibroome crowd in Dublin, where our flights connected for onward travel to Boston. We cleared all USA formalities in Ireland, thanks to Aer Lingus’s new arrangements which were very fast and efficient. We also thought the American immigration staff seconded to work here had taken on a bit of the local friendliness – smiles all round for a change! From plane to plane with 53 people, it took just 50 minutes, and when we arrived in Boston, it was straight out to the coach with no need for form-filling or queues.
From Boston we had a few hours’ drive into the northern mountains of Sunday River in New England, with just enough time for a boxed evening meal at our accommodation, the Snow Cap Youth Lodge, before check in and bed.
Sunday 18th Feb
We shouldn’t have been surprised at waking up to a winter wonderland, but having arrived the previous evening in the dark it was a lovely scene to behold. There are some 12 million acres of uninhabited forest in Maine (students impressed) and the state is perhaps best known in Britain for being home to Cabot Cove of “Murder She Wrote” fame (students less impressed).
After a hearty breakfast – which some managed American style with bacon, egg, pancakes and maple syrup all on the one plate – we took a 2 minute transfer up to the base lodge at South Ridge. Here the helpful staff kitted everyone out with skis, helmets, poles and lift passes and we met our guides. Some students and staff were experienced skiers and able to go straight for the black runs, but many were starting from scratch on the nursery slopes. By lunchtime though it was apparent that everyone was making great strides.
A meal of lasagne, garlic bread and salad was very welcome on return. We wished happy birthday to Elle, with a local speciality called a “whoopee pie”, then most of us lounged around on the sofas to ease tired legs. The Snow Cap Lodge has lots of space just to chill, plus DVD players, table football, table tennis and more.
Monday 19th Feb
Another picture-postcard sunny day heading off to the slopes. As confidence rose, there were a few bumps and bruises, but the base is well equipped to deal with any eventualities and the undaunted Fallibroome casualties were back on the slopes in no time. We all love the politeness of the New Englanders that we met and the fact that there is almost no crime in these parts – such a contrast to stories you hear from the big cities of the USA.
Back at the lodge it was another birthday, this time for Lucas, who celebrated with cookies which are apparently made by the family of local man, author Steven King. The evening was rounded off with a lively treasure hunt.
Tuesday 20th Feb
Today was a little foggy making progress a slower on the slopes, but giving time to spot some of the local wildlife. Some of the girls saw moose – these bizarre-looking animals are very common in Maine. Others say they saw a black bear, although I think there was some serious leg-pulling going on, since the guides say they are shy creatures that never approach the ski areas.
Tonight’s meal was Mexican style fajitas followed by cupcakes, then a general knowledge quiz from the teachers.
Wednesday 21st February
One of the hottest February days on record meant we were out on the slopes in 20°c heat. We saw locals skiing in shorts and even kilts! Thanks to the sunshine, the final hour of the day involved occasional water skiing, but fortunately the temperature dropped again in the evening and the snow-making machines got to work, so normal service resumed on Thursday.
Tonight we had a choice of typical American dishes – stew and biscuits (which are actually scones) or chilli and corn bread (which is more like sweet cake). Strange but good, though most ended up having the accompaniments for dessert instead, much to the amusement of the chef.
Thursday 22nd February
Our final day skiing and a last chance to hone the skills learnt over the week. Sad goodbyes to the fantastic ski guides who gave out certificates to all. After dinner we came back to base to try snow tubing. Great fun and no real skill required (fortunately for me). Afterwards we warmed up around the fire pit, then travelled back to the lodge for a final awards ceremony.
Friday 23rd February
Sadly time to pack up and leave Sunday River, but off to spend a night in Boston. On the drive south, we got to see the lovely New England countryside in daylight, dotted with timber-clad houses, pretty white churches and distinctive covered bridges.
Once in Boston, we met guides who gave us an introduction to the city’s history via its “Freedom Trail” then followed up with some shopping around Quincy Market, before enjoying a meal at the Hard Rock Cafe. We then crossed over the Charles River to check in at the rather plush Royal Sonesta Hotel.
Saturday 24th Feb
After breakfast overlooking the city we headed up to Fenway Park, which is America’s oldest major league baseball stadium. After a fascinating guided tour, our final stop was in the Cambridge area for a wander around Harvard University buildings. Incredible to think that this university was founded in 1636 – just 16 years after the arrival of the Mayflower settlers. There were lots of quirky shops and cafes for lunch and last minute souvenirs, then it was back to Logan Airport to head home with new friends, new skills and an unexpected suntan.