Even with the ever-changing mood of late winter in Maine (cold winds and blowing snow one day, 70 degrees and sunny the next), spring typically finds its way to southern Maine and the coast in March.
Whatever snow there might have been melts away. The small glaciers of ice recede.
Should it snow again before all is said and done (it’s Maine, after all, and that possibility remains until June), we understand it’s a passing last gasp that’ll be nothing more than a memory by midmorning. It certainly won’t be sufficient enough for cross-country skiing.
In greater Portland, we’re coming to terms with the truth: winter is over.
That reality pleases many people. But some of us find it hard to let winter go. We’re not ready to rest our Nordic skis just yet, leaning them up against the basement wall next to the boxes of holiday decorations. They deserve another hurrah – and so do we.
Hoping and wishing for snow in these parts isn’t going to cut it. The solution? Go where there’s snow (generally, to the north and west). Seek it out like a bloodhound.
Maybe you’ll get lucky and discover winter lingering on the trails in Monson or Fort Kent. For cross-country skiers who’d love one last trek on the snow, it’s worth a try. Besides, skiing in short sleeves is awesome.
Here are a few cross-country trails systems to scout (there are many others, too).
Rangeley Lakes Trail Center
In full season, Rangeley Lakes Trail Center, 524 Saddleback Mountain Road, Dallas Plantation, offers 50 kilometers of trails for cross-country skiing (or biking, running, and walking in warmer weather). In the spring, the groomed terrain decreases, but as of last week, there were still 26K of groomed terrain for both skate and classic. There’s an up-to-date trail report on the website, and spring skiing here is a delight.
Last spring we skied from the yurt to Saddleback Lake in T-shirts and enjoyed a picnic lunch by the water’s edge. The staff will provide a proper heads up on which trails are skiing well and give you recommendations based on the conditions.
Day passes cost $22 for a full day, $16 for a half day (12:30-4 p.m.), and there are discounts for seniors, college students, and the military. Rentals are also available.
The yurt is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends (check ahead on trail conditions and hours, as these can change as spring settles in).
For more info go to rangeleylakestrailscenter.org.
Friends of a Fierce Chase
This volunteer-run ski area at 246 Elliotsville Road in Monson features a perfect blend of gentle hills and tree-lined trails. There are just under 10 miles of trails in this network, which is regularly groomed when conditions allow.
Trail use is by donation ($10 recommended) and there’s a donation box at the trailhead. There are no rentals here, so BYO skis.
It’s a super-pretty and low-key spot, which I learned about thanks to the Maine Cross-Country Skiing Facebook group. I finally made it there a couple of weeks back on a cold-and-sunny day and was not disappointed. I met several friendly skiers who shared their favorite trails with me, and for long stretches, I also skied in splendid solitude.
The Friends of a Fierce Chase Cross Country Ski Trails Facebook page has up-to-date information on conditions and grooming.
Fort Kent Outdoor Center
The trails at Fort Kent Outdoor Center, 33 Paradis Circle, Fort Kent, have witnessed their fair share of world-class athletes, but it’s an outstanding place to cross-country ski for us recreational skiers, too.
The network features trails perfect for beginners to advanced skiers, and the conditions here err toward spectacular. There are several access points, but wherever you begin, expect wide winding trails groomed for skate and tracked for classic. There’s an up-to-date trail report on the website, where you can also find pointers on the best trails for your skill level.
A day pass costs $15 for adults, $10 for youth, and kids 6 and under are free. Purchase a day pass from the rental shop on the lower level of the lodge from noon-3 p.m. on weekends and holidays. You can also put your daily pass fee in the donation box at the welcome kiosk in the main parking lot or purchase one on the Fort Kent Outdoor Center website. Rentals are available at the lodge when it’s open.
For more info go to www.fortkentoc.org.
Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.