Six months ago, while biking the Penobscot River Trails in Grindstone, I met another rider at a trail hut who extolled the benefits of skiing there in winter. They were such a great ride, so I was excited about the prospect of returning to ski.
Starting in early January, I began watching postings about the trails on Facebook. Like much of Maine, snow accumulation was minimal. Belated snowfall allowed them to start grooming. When they confirmed all trails were groomed and tracked, I planned for a two-day ski trip.
About a 2 1/2-hour drive from Topsham, a one-day excursion is feasible but two days doubles the fun. Our retired friends, John and Diane Stokinger, enthusiastically agreed to join my wife, Nancy, and me on the outing.
The weather was cold and cloudy when the four of us met at the large Penobscot River Trails parking lot. Clearly others had gotten the memo because it was about two-thirds full. When stepping from of my car, I asked a fellow passing by if he’d skied. His response, “Yes, it’s fantastic!”
A Pisten Bully Snow Groomer with a tiller — real state-of-the-art equipment — is used to groom the trails. The visitor center, where all users must register, is exceptional. The large facility includes a warming room, wood stove and heated restrooms. Classic skiing is permitted on all trails while skate skiing and snowshoeing is limited to specific trails. Since we would be classic skiing, time and energy would be our only limitations.
We were equipped with our own gear. However, the Penobscot River Trails website indicates skis, poles, boots and snowshoes can be rented for a donation. A friendly woman staffing the registration counter helpfully answered our many questions and provided advice on trails and difficulty levels.
We elected to ski together on Silver Maple Trail for about 3 kilometers to a junction for Riverside Trail and Tote Road. From there, we’d determine our remaining itinerary.
“Fantastic” was an accurate description of trail conditions. Well-groomed tracks facilitated an efficient kick and glide and the wider corduroy surface was ideal for climbing or holding a snowplow during descents.
At Riverside Trail and Tote Road junction, we separated. I wanted to ski Riverside Trail, a hilly course that twists and turns along the East Branch of the Penobscot River. The rest of the group preferred a more gradual ascent on Tote Road. We agreed to meet at Pines and Ridges Warming Hut.
I found the scenic Riverside Trail a delight. Well-groomed and double-tracked except for steeper sections, it was a rollicking succession of easy climbs and fun descents. After about 3 kilometers, a spur trail on the right led me up an abrupt hill to the warming hut.
My companions had yet to arrive at the luxurious structure. Upon entering, I was greeted by a personable skate skier who had built a warm fire in the woodstove. Shortly after, the three other seniors not acting their ages joined me. We enjoyed a leisurely respite while discussing our subsequent plans. They decided to work their way back to the visitor center while I chose to continue on Riverside Trail.
After an exhilarating descent from the hut, I proceeded north on the rolling Riverside Trail to a junction 9.35 kilometers from the visitor center signed Link 3. To avoid skiing in the dark, I decided to return.
The 1-kilometer link to Tote Road was ungroomed but skiers had broken trail. Following an easy climb on the connector route, I experienced a stimulating predominantly downhill 8-kilometer cruise on Tote Road and Silver Maple Trail. Double-poling on a fast track is one of my favorite things.
Frigid temperatures greeted us on day two, so we delayed our start. My counterparts decided to snowshoe Logan Loop Trail. Skiing to the distant Long Meadow Warming Hut at the northern terminus of the trail system, and subsequently completing a loop by following the entire Riverside Trail back, was my goal.
A 2 p.m. deadline for our departure was an impediment. I ascended Tote Road to Link 3 before recognizing there was insufficient time to realize my objective. Instead, I returned via Link 2 and savored another pleasurable ski on lower Riverside Trail.
We thoroughly enjoyed our two-day excursion on the Penobscot River Trails. Completion of the extended loop trip will be an essential part of my inevitable return.