Finding quality Nordic skiing opportunities in the Maine foothills and along the coastal plain this winter has been a challenge. A succession of mixed precipitation storms resulted in minimal snow accumulation and often icy surfaces.
In my experience, the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center on the northern slope of the Saddleback Mountain Range generally has colder weather and receives more reliable snowfall. This was generally true again this winter. However, they also had rain and warm temperatures. I had looked at their trail reports for a final ski opportunity before the winter was out.
In mid-March, the Rangeley area received several inches of fresh snowfall. Emails were quickly exchanged between my wife, Nancy, and me and our retired friends, Diane and John Stokinger. Within hours we had cleared our calendars and made motel reservations for two days of skiing and snowshoeing on the Rangeley Lakes trails; proof that older people can react with alacrity when sufficiently motivated.
The Rangeley Lakes Trails Center is operated by the non-profit Rangeley Lakes Cross Country Ski Club. There are over 55 kilometers of trails available for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and fat biking. According to their website, an average of 200 inches of snow falls per year!
Unsurprisingly, it was snowing when we arrived at the distinctive Rangeley Trails yurt and parking lot on Saddleback Mountain Road in Rangeley. The heated yurt is a focal point for the activity where passes are purchased and hot soup and snacks are served.
The extensive network of trails offers a wealth of skiing choices. The trail map suggested several loop options ranging from less than 5 miles to almost 15 miles. The four of us decided to ski the simple Tote Road trail to a major junction that connects more challenging remote routes before selecting our ultimate route.
Although the trails were groomed, a layer of fresh snow covered the surfaces. The classic runs were packed with previous skiers, so we enjoyed efficient kicking and gliding as we traveled through an evergreen forest decorated with a colorful accumulation of clinging snow to the planned junction where found a kiosk with a large map. After carefully considering the options, my companions chose a mid-distance loop that included a scenic trail. I chose perimeter trails that ended with my favorite, Larry Hall Trail.
After an easy ski northwest on Lower Pipeline Trail, I climbed steadily northeast on Hoffman’s Run to Lower Pump House Road at the far northern end of the trail system. I continued over hilly terrain to Junction Rock, where Bridge Trail and Upper Pump House Road also converge.
Two passing skiers headed south next to a succession of large boulders on Bridge Trail as I began to gradually climb Upper Pump House. The trail steepened as it entered an open area in a large hardwood stand with a filtered view of Saddleback Mountain to my left and Saddleback Lake to the west. The scenic views continued as I reached Nat’s Alley on Saddleback’s lower shoulder.
After a gradual descent down Nat’s Alley, I crossed Upper Pipeline Trail and joined Larry Hall Trail. Tumbling down the narrow twist from Larry Hall to the yurt was quite an exhilarating undertaking. My mates hadn’t returned yet so I embarked west on the 2 mile Geneva loop. The fun course was a series of long descents and easy climbs ending again at the yurt. This time, all the seniors not acting according to their age were present and counted. Everyone reported a great day on the trails.
Light snow had fallen overnight so there was a fresh layer of powder on the trails to start the second day. My retired colleagues chose to explore the snowshoe trails instead of skiing.
Intending to ski, I completed the Geneva loop and headed east on Tote Road. Newly groomed surfaces dictated the rest of my course selection. At the Tote Road junction, I turned right and climbed Upper Pipeline for about a mile to Nat’s Alley. From that moment, I reversed the itinerary of the day before to the yurt, arriving at the same time as the snowshoers.
The Rangeley Lakes Trails Center was a great place to end our winter of skiing and snowshoeing. If fate permits, we will be back next year.
A ski trip to Rangeley Trails in search of an elusive bobcat is the subject of a chapter in my latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: Maine’s Fifty Greatest Outdoor Adventures.”