CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine — Just about the time you’ve mastered the basics of Segway riding — “Driver’s Ed” in the vernacular of your tour guide, Meghan Price — and just after you decide that you’re among the coolest people cruising around Sugarloaf on a breezy weekday, that same teacher, guide, cheerleader and duster-offer tells you the painful truth.
“They look super dorky,” Price says, gesturing at your helmet, politely failing to mention the fact that you might look like a big, round mall cop. “They’re not cool. They’re just super, super fun. You have to put away your pride and just go with it.”
Since June, when the resort began offering off-road Segway rides, that’s exactly what Sugarloaf visitors have been doing. Cool or not, the fleet of eight two-wheeled Segways has been busy all summer.
People ride them. People crash them. People buzz back and forth, following Price up ski trails, over access roads and through villages filled with condominiums. Resort staffers have been known to stop by the Sugarloaf Outpost Adventure Center, just to take test rides.
For $10, visitors can try a 10-minute tour. Twenty bucks gets them a 20-minute Segway ride. And for $59, they get the full off-road experience. The Segway tours will be offered until mid-October, and will likely become a regular feature next year, according to Sugarloaf communications manager Ethan Austin.
Price, a bubbly, enthusiastic woman who teaches snowboarding during the winter, said most people can learn to ride a Segway. If you’re able to stand for 90 minutes, and would consider taking a beginner-level aerobics class, you’re probably qualified, as long as you’re 14 years old or older and you weigh more than 100 pounds.
Then, all you’ve got to do is grab a helmet, head outside, and let Price tell you what to do. More importantly — although you won’t likely realize it until you’re on your back in a ditch — she’ll tell you what not to do.
This isn’t your average mall cop Segway ride, you see. This is a bit grittier. Hillier. And — trust me — sometimes, more painful.
Hop on, take a ride
The Segway, Price will tell you, is a fine, intuitive machine.
“The Segway makes happy and sad noises. Turn it on: Happy noise,” she says, demonstrating. “It makes growling sounds if it doesn’t like what you’re doing while you’re riding on it.”
A quick first-person aside: I’m not entirely sure that my Segway growled at me right before it threw me into the dirt and ran me over. I suspect it might have. I also suspect it may have laughed, after the dust had settled. But Price didn’t tell us anything about Segways laughing.
Lean forward on a Segway, and you go forward. Push gently — emphasis on gently — on the steering yoke and you’ll wheel gracefully through a corner.
Push less gently, and you may spin wildly, toss yourself off the Segway, and run yourself over. Again, I may have some experience with this decidedly ungraceful maneuver, which Price didn’t teach us in Driver’s Ed.
“To make it move slower or stop quicker, you have your hands on the handlebars and you extend your arms through your shoulders — you pull your shoulders back to make your arms get long,” Price says. “And you stick your bahooky out.”
“We’ve finally come to terms with ‘Bahooky,’ [which] is a nonoffensive term for rear end, in all cultures,” Price says, almost earnestly.
As you may have guessed by now, Price is one of the reasons the Segway tours have gone so well — even if you fall, which you might. Even if you run yourself over, which I did.
The Segways have been set to a top speed of 12 mph. On a trail, that feels fast. Heck, on pavement it feels fast. And the machines are even equipped with speedometers.
“We ask that you do not look at it,” Price quickly says, after pointing out the feature.
The message: Pay attention. Expect the unexpected. And plan for some unexpected … adventures.
“Think of it as a mountain bike or a dirt bike,” Price said. “As you get better at it, you still have to have the sense that it’s like a dirt bike or a mountain bike. So let yourself have some fun. Don’t do anything dumb, but…”
But, sometimes, things happen.
Like leaning too far into a gravel incline. And hitting a rock. And bouncing off the Segway, and landing in front of your machine’s churning, knobby tires.
And getting scuffed up a little bit.
“You were headed up the steeper hill, you were leaning forward, and you hit a little bump, and you bumped yourself right off,” Price said, critiquing the wipeout, which was more frightening than dangerous. “The Segway knew that you weren’t on it, so it stopped going quite as forward.”
“Quite” as forward. But that doesn’t mean that the machine didn’t try to scrape some flesh off my calf.
“I have to admit, I’ve never really seen anybody fall like that,” Price said, still upbeat and smiling, as if the fall gained me entry into an exclusive club. “That was a good one. You got out of the way quite quickly.”
Price said the minor crash wasn’t all that uncommon, however. Tours can be designed to fit riders of different skill — and thrill — levels.
“You really do need to come with the mindset that you may take a tumble, and you may get a little bit dirty,” Price said.
That off-road experience may be one factor that has drawn so many people to Sugarloaf for the adventure. Some are first-timers at the resort. Others are Segway lovers, who track resorts that have the machines on the Segway website and plan vacations accordingly. And others have seen Segways on TV and have always wanted to try one.
“We’re getting people who are booking who have never been here before, and who will never come in the winter,” Price said. “We were astonished that it is mostly people who have never done this before. They come from three, four hours away, go Segwaying, and go home.”
Perhaps a bit dirtier. Perhaps a bit bruised.
But surely with a story to tell.