The Facebook page for the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center announces, “The best Nordic skiing this side of the Rockies.” That’s a fairly bold declaration, but it may be true this winter.
Beginning in early December, I started watching the weather and checking Nordic ski areas in search of decent snow. There hasn’t been much. After a hefty pre-Christmas snowstorm, Jackson Ski Touring in Jackson, New Hampshire, had quality skiing on their high elevation trails at Prospect Farm for a few days. Unable to recruit any companions, I gifted myself an early Christmas present and spent two days skiing at Jackson. Since then, their trail conditions have deteriorated as a result of warm rainy weather
A glimmer of hope has been Rangeley Lakes Trails Center, located at the foot of Saddleback Mountain. My experience has been that their trails tend to have more snow that arrives earlier and lasts longer than most other Nordic ski areas in Maine and New Hampshire. In my opinion, the reason is because the trail network is located at an elevation of about 2,000 feet on the north facing slope of the Saddleback Mountain Range. I don’t have any scientific evidence to support my conclusion so if readers disagree, that’s fine, as I’m often wrong.
Wildlife is abundant in the area. I’ve twice seen a Lynx and my latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” includes a chapter about pursuing an elusive bobcat while skiing there.
Although most ski areas have received primarily rain recently, Rangeley Lakes Trails Center has been the recipient of some white precipitation thanks to cooler temperatures. I began regularly visiting the center’s website to view its daily trail reports. Each perusal seemed to reflect incremental improvements. When the center reported a majority of its trails were open and groomed, I decided to gamble a two-hour drive from Topsham. I wasn’t disappointed.
When I arrived at the center on Saddleback Mountain Road in Rangeley on a breezy, partly sunny Saturday morning. The parking lot was about half full. The friendly, helpful attendant at the yurt where ski and snowshoe passes are sold reviewed a trail map with me and identified the trails that had been groomed for classic and skate skiing earlier that morning. With her assistance, I planned an itinerary that approximated 10 miles. Included was the 2-mile Geneva Loop, which begins adjacent to the yurt and had been groomed a couple of days prior.
A thin layer of freshly fallen snow was a little sticky on Geneva Loop, so I stopped to add Glide to my skis. I enjoyed excellent skiing for the remainder of the loop. A short section damaged by an earlier rainstorm was easily skirted.
Returning to the parking area, I began my trek on the more recently groomed trails starting at Tote Road. A classic skier, I found the freshly prepared surface facilitated an efficient kick and glide. The skiing conditions were superb for the balance of my outing. I met several returning skiers while progressing easterly on the straightforward Tote Road. Everyone I spoke with expressed praise for the exceptional quality of the trails.
At the end of Tote Road, I continued on Bridge Trail, which curls through a dense wooded area and then climbs to View Trail. As the name suggests, an open location on View Trail provides an excellent vantage point for observing Saddleback Mountain. Unfortunately, much of the mountain was enveloped in clouds. From the top of View Trail, I enjoyed a moderately steep twisting descent while snowplowing on a packed surface to Lower Pumphouse Road.
I met two skiers as I climbed easily on Lower Pumphouse to the beginning of Hoffman’s Run. Double poling the uncomplicated decline on Hoffman’s while completing a loop back to Lower Pumphouse near the View Trail junction was very exhilarating. I stopped at the junction for a snack and water. Exposed to harsh northwest winds, my body temperature quickly dropped. It’s cold on the north side of Saddleback Mountain!
The climb up View Trail provided an opportunity to generate some body heat. However, my hands never warmed during the return to the yurt. I resolved to wear heavy-duty mitts for my next ski at the center.
I expect to return soon as Rangeley Lakes Trails Center may have the best Nordic skiing this side of the Rockies this winter. Maybe I’ll spot a lynx or a bobcat.