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 pack and often icy surfaces.
Based on my experience, Rangeley Lakes Trails Center located on the north slope of the Saddleback Mountain Range usually has colder weather and receives more reliable snowfall. That has been generally true again this winter. However, they also had some rain and warm temperatures. I’d been watching their trail reports for an opportunity for a final ski before winter ended.
In mid-March, the Rangeley area received several inches of new snow. Emails were quickly exchanged between my wife, Nancy, and me and our retired friends, Diane and John Stokinger. Within a couple of hours, we’d cleared our calendars and made motel reservations for two days of skiing and snowshoeing on the Rangeley Lakes Trails; proof that elderly folks can respond with alacrity when sufficiently motivated.
Rangeley Lakes Trails Center is operated by Rangeley Lakes Cross Country Ski Club, a non-profit organization. There are over 55 kilometers of trails available for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and fat tire biking. According to their website, they average 200 inches of snowfall annually!
Not surprisingly, it was snowing when we arrived at the Rangeley Trails distinctive yurt and parking area on Saddleback Mountain Road in Rangeley. The heated yurt is a focal point for activity where passes are purchased and hot soup and snacks served.
The expansive trail system provides a multitude of skiing choices. The trail map suggested several loop options that varied from less than 5 kilometers to almost 15. The four of us decided to ski the straightforward Tote Road Trail to a major junction that connects with more difficult distant routes before selecting our ultimate itinerary.
Although trails had been groomed, a layer of fresh snow covered surfaces. Classic tracks were packed by previous skiers, so we enjoyed an efficient kick and glide traveling in a conifer forest decorated with a colorful accumulation of clinging snow to the intended junction where there was a kiosk with a large map. After carefully studying the options, my companions chose a middle distance loop that included a scenic View Trail. I decided on perimeter trails that ended with my favorite, Larry Hall Trail.
After an easy ski northwesterly on Lower Pipeline Trail, I ascended steadily northeast on Hoffman’s Run to Lower Pump House Road on the northernmost extreme of the trail network. I continued on rolling terrain to prominent Junction Rock where Bridge Trail and Upper Pump House Road also converge.
A pair of passing skiers departed south next to a succession of substantial boulders on Bridge Trail as I began climbing gradually on Upper Pump House. The trail steepened when entering an open area in an extensive stand of hardwoods with filtered views of Saddleback Mountain on my left and Saddleback Lake in the west. The sweeping vistas continued when I joined Nat’s Alley on the lower shoulder of Saddleback.
Following a gradual descent on Nat’s Alley, I crossed Upper Pipeline Trail and joined Larry Hall Trail. Tumbling down narrow twisting Larry Hall to the yurt was a thoroughly exhilarating endeavor. My companions had yet to return, so I embarked west on 2-mile Geneva Loop. The entertaining course was a series of long descents and easy climbs again ending at the yurt. This time, all of the seniors not acting their ages were present and accounted for. Everyone reported a most excellent day on the trails.
Light snow had fallen in the night so there was a coating of new powder on the trails to start day two. My fellow retirees elected to explore snowshoe paths instead of skiing.
Intent on skiing, I completed Geneva Loop and proceeded east on Tote Road. Recently groomed surfaces dictated the remainder of my course selection. At Tote Road junction, I turned right and scaled Upper Pipeline for about a mile to Nat’s Alley. From that point, I reversed the prior day’s route to the yurt arriving simultaneously with the snowshoers.
Rangeley Lakes Trails Center was a great place to end our winter skiing and snowshoeing. If fates allow, we’ll return next year.
A Rangeley Trails ski trip while searching for an elusive bobcat is the theme of a chapter in my latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine.”