It snows in Maine. That means it’s sometimes difficult to get around in the winter. Knee-deep drifts make a leisurely winter walk more effort that it’s worth, and the fear of cracking your coccyx on account of a slippery sidewalk prevents some folks from leaving the house altogether. You’re certainly welcome to submit to self-inflicted house arrest until the spring thaw begins, or you can take to pushing a salt spreader wherever you go, like some personal safety baby carriage. But the best of your living-with-winter options: Get out there. Get it in. Own the snow. That’s a whole lot easier to do with a pair of skis or snowshoes on your feet.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are both easy to learn and they can make the difference between a happy winter and a homicidal one. And there are countless trails around the state that are regularly groomed and accessible for free or a small fee (read: these are budget-friendly winter sports).
If either sport is new to you, there are several area ski centers that offer rentals and lessons, like Carter’s XC Ski Center in Oxford, Harris Farm XC Ski Center in Dayton, and Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. In Freeport, L.L. Bean offers Outdoor Discovery Schools for both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The $20 classes include equipment rental, instruction and an hour or so out there doing your thing and doing your best not to fall down. They’re also an ideal way to test out a sport before committing yourself (which we all know can be scary, both emotionally and financially). But more likely than not, you’re going to fall in love with the sport and wonder why you wasted so many winters indoors, bored out of your gourd.
And best of all, you’ll learn “the turtle” — an awkward-looking method of getting back up after you fall down in a pair of cross country skis. And I assure you, you will fall down. But just think, in no time at all you’ll be cross-country skiing to the grocery story during a snowstorm, just because you can.
If you don’t have your own snowshoes or skis, there are lots of places to get them, but two cheap options are the Portland Trails rental program ($10-20 per weekend from 305 Commercial Street). If you want to buy used equipment (ski packages are $25-40 and snowshoes are $25-45) you can do that at Portland Gear Hub (70 Forest Avenue).
Liberal Cup Biathlon
You don’t need to own skis or a gun for the novice rounds of this race. In fact, you don’t even have to know how to ski or how to shoot a gun for this biathlon.
WHEN: Races start at 9 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016 (snow conditions forced organizers to push back the biathlon to February this year).
WHERE: Hidden Valley Nature Center, Jefferson
HOW MUCH: $30, pre-registration required (no day-of registration this year)
MORE INFO: hvnc.org/biathlon-2/
Great Maine Outdoor Weekend
A weekend of activities around the state, from snowshowing under the full moon or at the state park, cross-country skiing excursions, snowshoe festival, snowshoe hike with cookout, outdoor film screenings and more.
WHEN: Feb. 12-14, 2016
WHERE: Various locations around the state
HOW MUCH: Many activities free
MORE INFO: greatmaineoutdoorweekend.org
As of the time of this post, there were few details available about this event. It’s going to be a 20K 40K and 60K marathon by Maine Huts and Trails, according to Sugarloaf’s website.
WHEN: March 13, 2016
WHERE: Various locations
HOW MUCH: TBA
MORE INFO: sugarloaf.com
10th Mountain Ski Club, 33 Paradis Circle Road, Fort Kent. 834-6203; 10thmtskiclub.org
Trails: 25 kilometers of trails
Amenities: Lodge with sauna, kitchen & fireplace; waxing building, equipment rentals
About: 10th Mountain hosts local, national and international biathlon and cross-country competition, as well as community development programs. The facility features three kilometers of which are lit for night skiing. Trails are available for all abilities from beginners to the best skiers in the world. All trails are professionally groomed daily. Loops on the trails range from 0.7 kilometers to more than 6.5 kilometers and all loops are inter-joined with the opportunity to ski the entire circuit continuously. Snowshoeing is permitted on all trails, however skiers have the right-of-way at all times. The center also has a 30-target shooting range with 30 lanes of targets, including night lighting on 10 of the targets.
Bethel Nordic Ski Center, 21 Broad St., Bethel. 824-6276; caribourecreation.com
Trails: 30 km of trails groomed for both skate and classic skiing; 8 km of snowshoe trails
Amenities: Rentals, lessons and children’s programs
Cost: $20 full day, $16 after 1 p.m., $13 students and seniors, free for 6 and under
About: The Center features classic and skate tracks that wind though forests and fields, past stone walls and old mill dams under the shadow of the Mahoosuc Mountains. There is a complete lineup of ski and snowshoe equipment rentals and group and individual lessons are offered. Trail passes can be purchased on a daily basis ($20) of for the full season.
Birches Ski Touring Center, 281 Birches Road, Rockwood. 800-825-9453
Trails: 40 miles of marked, groomed trails
Amenities: Rentals, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice fishing, sauna and hot tub for overnight guests
About: The Birches is on a privately owned, 11,000-acre nature preserve in the heart of Maine’s Great North Woods and features more than 40 miles of marked, groomed cross-country skiing trails. The trails range in difficulty level from novice to high intermediate. Skis, boots and poles are available for rental. Guided ski excursions are available and private lessons can be booked.
Black Mountain, 39 Glover Road, Rumford. 364-8977; skiblackmountain.org
Trails: 17 kilometers of trails, groomed for both skating and classic techniques. Open Friday to Sunday only.
Amenities: Rentals, Last Run Lounge, food court, tubing, downhill skiing
Cost: $15 person; open Friday to Sunday only
About: For more than 30 years Black Mountain has been acknowledged as one of the finest Nordic skiing facilities for recreation and competition in North America. Snowmaking is available on four kilometers of the trails. Trails are groomed whenever possible for both skating and classic techniques and snowshoeing is allowed on the trails as well. Skis, boots and poles are available for rental. Full day, half day and season passes are available with discounted junior and senior rates available. Anyone ages 5 and under or 75 and older ski for free.
Carter’s Farm XC, 786 Intervale Road, Bethel. 824-3880; cartersxcski.com
Trails: 55 kilometers
Amenities: Backcountry skiing, rentals, lodging
Cost: $14, $10 for students and seniors, $14 for dog pass (call before bringing dogs), free for under 6
About: Carter’s Farm features 55 kilometers of cross-country ski trails for all levels of skiers from beginner to expert with tremendous views of Sunday River Resort across the valley, and the Mahoosuc and Presidential ranges. Activities available include skating and classic cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. Daily trail fees include discounted rates for students and seniors. Season passes can be used at both the Carter’s Farm Cross-Country Ski Center in Bethel and at the Carter’s facility in Oxford. Equipment rentals are available on a daily basis and can also be included when purchasing a season pass.
Carter’s Farm XC, 420 Main St., Oxford. 539-4848; cartersxcski.com
Trails: 30 kilometers of trails
Amenities: Rentals, equipment serving center, sauna for overnight guests
Cost: $14, $10 for students and seniors, $14 for dog pass (call before bringing dogs), free for under 6
About: Carter’s Farm in Oxford has one of the best beginner to intermediate trails in New England and also offers cross-country lessons. Daily trail fees include discounted rates for students and seniors. In addition to daily rates, season passes are also available for individuals, couples and families. The equipment center at Carter’s also has one of the largest cross country ski inventories in the state and offers expert service.
Five Fields Farm, 720 South Bridgton Road, Route 107, Bridgton. 647-2425; fivefieldsski.com
Trails: 17 trails that cover a distance of 27 kilometers
Amenities: Warming hut, equipment rentals
Cost: $12 adult full day, $10 after 2 p.m.; $10 for juniors, $8 after 2 p.m. Honors WinterKids program.
About: Five Fields Farm’s trails are groomed for both classical and skate skiing. Snowshoeing is also offered. Skis, poles, boots and snowshoes are available for rental at the facility, which also features a rustic warming hut. The trail system starts on the back lawn of the facility and loops around apple orchards, connects with the logging roads and links with lands owned by abutters, including the Loon Echo Land Trust on Bald Pate Mountain. More adventurous skiers have the opportunity to make the 20-minute back country trek to the horizon of the mountain.
Harris Farm XC Ski Center, 280 Buzzell Road, Dayton. 499-2678; harrisfarm.com/skiing.html
Trails: 40 kilometers of trails
Amenities: Equipment rentals, lessons, warming hut with food
Cost: Weekends $15 adults, $10 ages 7-18, free for 6 and under; midweek $12, $8 ages 7-18, free for 6 and under
About: Harris Farm’s trails stretch across the open fields and sheltered forests of the 1,000-acre dairy and vegetable farm. The trails range from gentle beginner loops to rolling terrain for more advanced skiers. The cross-country trails are groomed with wide skating lanes and are track set. Daily trail fees include discounts for students from age 7 to 18 and children 6 and under ski free. Discounts are also available for full-time college students and senior citizens. Equipment rentals are available on site at Harris Farm and lessons are available by appointment. Harris Farm features a warming hut that includes a common room with wood stove, retail and rental shop, restrooms and a kitchen serving homemade soups, chili and baked goodies.
Lost Valley, 200 Lost Valley Road, Auburn. 784-1561; lostvalleyski.com
Trails: More than 12 kilometers of trails groomed for both skate and classic cross-country skiing
Amenities: Equipment rentals, snack bar, equipment repair service, downhill skiing
About: Lost Valley’s trails are groomed for both skate and classic styles of skiing and daily passes are $10. Snowshoeing is not allowed on the cross-country skiing trails. During the ski season the lodge at Lost Valley is a family-oriented environment that includes a snack bar. Rental equipment is available. In addition to cross-country skiing Lost Valley also features downhill skiing and a ski and snowboard terrain park. Paintball is also offered at Lost Valley from April to November.
Maine Wilderness Lodges, 15 Moosehead Lake Road, Greenville. 695-3085; outdoors.org/lodging/mainelodges
Trails: A network of groomed (but no track-set) cross-country ski trails with a total of 70 miles of hiking trails and ski routes.
Amenities: Lodge-to-lodge skiing, home-cooked meals and wood-fired sauna for overnight guests
About: The Maine Wilderness Lodges are located in the heart of the Moosehead Lake region in Greenville and feature an extensive 70-mile network of groomed cross-country ski trails set amid more than 66,000 acres of conservation and recreation land.Guests are free to explore these trails on their own or they can participate in one of the guided ski tourss. Trails, lodges and programs are open to the public. Snowshoeing and dog sledding with local guides is also offered.
Nordic Heritage Center, Route 167, Presque Isle. 762-6972; nordicheritagecenter.org
Trails: More than 20 kilometers of cross-country ski trails
Amenities: Rental equipment, night skiing, terrain park
About: The Nordic Heritage Center is a community recreation area and a world-class venue for cross-country skiing, biathlon and mountain biking. Each trail system has something for everyone, whether you are a novice recreational participant or an experienced competitive athlete. There are 2.5 kilometers of trails which are lit for night skiing from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. daily. The trails at the Nordic Heritage Center are free of charge to guests. Rental equipment is available for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Northern Timber Cruisers Trail systems, Route 11 and Baxter State Park Road, Millinocket. www.northerntimbercruisers.com/cross-country-skiing.htm
Trails: About 20 miles of wilderness trails
Amenities: within 3 miles of Millinocket
About: Groomed tracks for traditional style skiing connecting to back country trails through the wilderness. Some trails are protected on windy days while others are open and scenic. Dogs are not permitted on trails.
Pineland Farms, 15 Farm View Drive, New Gloucester. 688-6599; pinelandfarms.org
Trails: 25 kilometers of trails
Amenities: Two warming huts, equipment rentals, lessons
Cost: $13, $9 after 1 p.m.; $9 for youth and seniors, $6 after 1 p.m. for youth and seniors, free for 6 and under
About: Pineland Farms in New Gloucester has more than 5,000 acres of beautiful woodlands and fields which are open to the public for various outdoor activities. There are two warming huts available for skiers. Conditions permitting, ski trails are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Day passes are available with discounts for seniors and youth. Children age 6 and under ski for free. Pineland Farms also offers season passes for individuals and families.
Rangeley Lakes Trails Center,
524 Saddleback Mountain Road, Rangeley. 864-4309; xcskirangeley.com
Trails: 55 kilometers of trails
Amenities: Rental equipment, waxing benches, snacks and drinks in the lodge/yurt
About: The center features 55 kilometers of trails that are groomed with a skate lane and classic tracks. Day passes are available; those under age 7 ski free. A 706-square-foot yurt from the Pacific Yurt Company is currently serving as the ski lodge. Ski rentals, wax, waxing benches and clothing items are available in the lodge in addition to hot chocolate, coffee, soda, bagels, cookies and other snacks.
Smiling Hill Farm, 781 County Road, Westbrook. 775-4818; smilinghill.com/xcski.html
Trails: 25 kilometers of trails
Amenities: Equipment rental, warming hut
Cost: $12, $8 for ages 7-17; $8 after 1 p.m., $6 for ages 7-17 after 1 p.m., free for 6 and under
About: During the winter months Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook operates an extensive cross country skiing operation with 25 kilometers of machine-groomed trails. There is a fully equipped rental shop which also includes snowshoes.The trails are open on weekends and during school vacations from 9 a.m. to dusk. A skiing day pass is $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 12 and under. After 1 pm it’s $8 adult, $6 youth. Rental packages cost $14 for adults, $10 youth- ski skates for $16 adult, $10 youth.
Spruce Mountain, Ski Slope Road, Jay. 897-4090; sprucemountain.org
Trails: 5 kilometers of trails
Amenities: Downhill skiing and snowshoeing
Cost: $7, $6 students
About: Spruce Mountain features more than five kilometers of cross-country skiing trails. Both daily passes and season passes are offered for cross-country skiing at Spruce Mountain. There are no ski rentals at Spruce Mountain. You may rent equipment nearby at Ski Depot.
Sugarloaf Outdoor Center, 3001 Touring Center Road, Carrabassett Valley. 237-6830; sugarloaf.com/outdoorcenter
Trails: 90 kilometers of groomed trails
Amenities: Ice skating, equipment rentals, lodge
Cost: $21, $16 after 12:30 p.m.; $13 for ages 6-12 and seniors, $11 after 12:30 p.m. for ages 6-12 and seniors, free for under 6
About: The Center offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on 90 kilometers of groomed trails. Trails are maintained for both classic and skate skiing. In addition to their regular Nordic pricing, every Sugarloaf lift ticket also grants skiers full access to Nordic trails for the day as well as free equipment rentals from the Outdoor Center. The Outdoor Center Lodge features spectacular mountain views, and homemade soups, sandwiches and pastries are available at the Bull Moose Bakery. The Lodge also features a full retail store with the latest in Nordic equipment and apparel.
Titcomb Mountain XC Trails, 180 Ski Slope Road, West Farmington. 778-9031; titcombmountain.com
Trails: 18 Nordic trails with a total distance of 17 km groomed for classic and skate style skiing.
Amenities: Equipment rentals, lodge with cafeteria, youth programs
Cost: $10 ages 6-69, free for ages 6 and under and over 70
About: Titcomb Mountain features a total of 18 trails for cross-country skiing that stretch over 17 kilometers through fields and woodlands. The trails are for all levels and are groomed for both classic and skate skiing. Both full and half-day tickets are available and season passes are also offered. Titcomb Mountain has a centrally located lodge that offers a large stone fireplace and a cafeteria offering home cooked items. Equipment rentals are available on site at the Northern Lights Rental Shop.