In an attempt to be the resident go-try-that-and-tell-us-what-you-think person on Team Snow, I’m always down for a new adventure, be it relaxing spa treatments, extra spicy Bloody Mary’s, or a thrilling traipse through the trees on a powder day. So, when asked if I’d hop on a paddle board in the snowmaking pond and loose arrows in the archery range for an afternoon, you can imagine my poorly hidden excitement as I bounded out of the office toward the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools’ base in the Grand Summit Hotel.
The L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools at Sunday River operates as a satellite program and is unique to Western Maine, meaning it is the only one located outside of an L.L.Bean retail store. This program specializes in archery, kayaking, and stand up paddle boarding, and offers Discovery Courses for beginners in all three disciplines, and kayaking tours for those more familiar folks. Seeing that I’d only been on a paddle board once before, and that I hadn’t shot an arrow since I was ten, it seemed best to let the excellent instructors from L.L.Bean show me the ropes by enrolling in Discovery Courses.
First up was paddle boarding with Chris and Aaron. I can only assume that the light rain and cloud cover had kept other people from signing up for the 1:00PM class, so I was lucky to have a 2:1 instructor to student ratio. After fitting me with a personal flotation device (PFD) in a lovely bright orange shade, and handing me a towel, we grabbed the shuttle over to Sunday River’s scenic snowmaking pond—the trusty water source we use to fuel our snowguns during ski season. Aaron and Chris picked out an 11-foot 6-inch paddle board for me, and described the nomenclature of the board before showing me different ways to get on and how to change stances and strokes.
After getting on my feet with shaky legs and knocking knees, it seemed like no time at all that I felt comfortable and stable on the board. Aaron and Chris adjusted my stance and strokes accordingly, noticing when I was turning too much to the left or locking my knees, but we mostly just chatted. We traveled around the pond at my pace, which quickened as the lesson went on, and we even found a beaver. The 80-minute class seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, we were paddling into shore to head back to the hotel.
I then met Nate and John back in the Discovery Schools center for my archery course. There were four other guests waiting eagerly to test their luck with a bow and arrow. We were given a lesson in range safety, instructed on how to wear proper equipment, and were told the best techniques for successful shooting. The range is located on the Moonstruck trail, which is essentially the backyard of the Grand Summit Hotel.
Positioning us on the line just 10 feet from the targets, we were each given five arrows and a recurve bow, along with safety glasses and arm and finger guards. “We’ll watch and critique for the first couple of rounds, but after that, if you want us to leave you to your own devices, just give us a heads up,” Nate said. John gave the range commands, and we each let the first arrow fly. I was surprised to see that mine hit the little paper target and eagerly loosed the rest of them, channeling my inner Katniss Everdeen, Theon Greyjoy, and Legolas Greenleaf. (As an aside, there are too many literary archers to choose from, and they all make it seem much easier than it actually is). I managed to get one arrow pretty close to the bull’s-eye, and counted that as a major success for the day.
So, here are my final conclusions: Paddle boarding and archery are certainly great substitutes for outdoor fun when the snow is gone, and the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools program is a great way to give them a try. My instructors were awesome and attentive to my needs as a student, and the 80-minute courses are all one needs to get the basics down. I will certainly be trying one of the three-hour kayaking tours later this summer.
The L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools program at Sunday River runs from June 20 through August 25, with scheduled courses on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.