Winter is in full swing and the conditions are perfect for great cross-country skiing, so it’s high time for winter enthusiasts to grab their skis and head to a Nordic center for a fun day outside.
“Maine has an amazing variety of Nordic skiing opportunities,” said Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association. “We’re on the cutting edge of the ski industry.”
There are the world-class Nordic facilities of the Maine Winter Sports Center at the 10th Mountain Center in Fort Kent, the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle and Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford.
The alpine ski towns of Carrabassett Valley, Bethel and Rangeley also are home to five classic cross-country ski centers.
Or raise the back-country overnight comfort level with hearty family-style meals, hot showers and soft beds on the Maine Huts & Trails system and at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Wilderness Lodges.
Maine has a long tradition of Nordic skiing, dating back to the 1870s, when the first skiers emigrated from Scandinavia to New Sweden in Aroostook County. Skiing started as a way of getting from point A to point B and developed into a way of life in the region.
“The real growth of Nordic skiing was fueled by outdoor retailers like L.L. Bean in the 1970s and ’80s,” Sweetser said. “They put a lot of cross-country ski equipment on the market which put a lot of skiers out there, many skiing in their backyards and the local woods.”
Times have changed and you can now pursue the sport on many hundreds of kilometers of groomed tracks and lanes around the state. And never mind that cross-country skiing is a fun recreational activity, it is also incredibly healthy.
“The fitness kick has given a real boost to cross-country skiing in Maine,” Sweetser said. “It can be more fun than going to the gym.”
Nordic centers usually have a welcoming place to gather, be it a shed or barn with hay bales for sitting and a wood stove or a big lodge with comfy couches and a crackling fireplace. Refreshments like hot soup or chili, fresh bread and cocoa are often available. Additionally, most centers offer equipment rental and oftentimes, ski lessons.
It’s the social component that makes the sport so much fun, noted Sweetser. Together with family and friends you can go out and ski some loops, and meet and chat with other skiers on the trails. Then ski back to the base for a break to warm up and enjoy some food and drink before heading outside again for more.
Snowshoeing is another enjoyable and healthy way to enjoy the winter outdoors. It’s easy to do, too — just strap them on and start walking. Nine of Maine’s Nordic centers offer groomed snowshoe trails, rentals and maps to follow for your own self-guided adventure through the snowy quiet of the forests and fields.
You’ll pay a fee to use the trails at Maine’s Nordic centers, but think of it as helping to retain open spaces and the sustainability of farms.
“These private operators love their property and are trying to find ways to keep it,” said Sweetser. “Skiing really helps support the local economy.”
MORE INFO on Maine’s Nordic Centers: Ski Maine Association.