Mount Blue State Park offers one of the finest Nordic skiing opportunities in western Maine.
Located in the mountainous region of Weld, the park has about 15 miles of trails groomed for classic skiing. Consisting of five loop trails of varying length and difficulty, there is something for almost every cross-country ski enthusiast.
My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” includes a chapter about skiing Mount Blue State Park and two additional Nordic ski trips.
I’ve been skiing at Mount Blue for more than 30 years. During that time, I’ve learned ski conditions can vary from superb to downright scary. Having experienced scary conditions several times, I carefully watch for the right combination of snow, consistency and weather. I always check with the park for a status report prior to making the almost two-hour drive from Topsham.
After a recent snowstorm, I researched the conditions prior to announcing a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society club ski trip at Mount Blue. The park received about a foot of powder and had groomed the trails the day after. But temperatures had risen and fallen in the interim. My concern was an icy ski surface. Based on the forecast for Weld, the temperatures were predicted to rise above freezing in the middle of the following day. I posted a club trip meeting in the park at 11 a.m., assuming the snow would begin to soften by then.
Two of the usual suspects, Ken Gordon and Eggman DeCoster, agreed to join me for the proposed skiing adventure. On a clear day, skiers are guaranteed some of the finest views in Maine when approaching Mount Blue State Park Headquarters, situated high on Center Hill Road in Weld. When entering the large parking area, visitors are greeted with a multifaceted outdoor complex that includes an ice skating rink and a warming hut. Snowshoe, snowmobile and Nordic ski trails begin there.
The sky was clear and the temperature was seasonably warm when we arrived. However, unanticipated gusty winds resulted in a subfreezing chill factor. An inspection of the trail indicated the surface was icy. I decided to use backcountry skis while my companions chose touring skis. The reason for my choice was twofold: backcountry skis provide more stability and control on an icy surface and the outing facilitated an excellent training opportunity for my upcoming Baxter State Park expedition. There are downsides to backcountry skis — they’re heavier and slower than touring skis.
From the parking area, we followed Central Trail on a fast, recently groomed surface. Our goal was to connect with Maple Trail, a 10-mile loop according to park literature.
After crossing Center Hill Road, we climbed steadily to the rim of a bumpy, precipitous pitch that is the steepest descent in the trail system. Eggman ran a mostly successful probe attempting to hold a snowplow in the attenuated path. His exciting escapade ended with a dramatic crash. Ken and I opted to take advantage of the much more forgiving deep powder next to the trail.
Shortly beyond, we arrived at the junction for the Maple and Birch Trail Loops. Proceeding left on Maple, we ascended steadily before progressing through a long, winding downhill sector in a dense hardwood forest to another Center Hill Road crossing.
A brief climb preceded another challenging descent. This one contained a couple of humps with the potential for some airtime. The scene of numerous mishaps in the past, we carefully negotiated down the gnarly slope without any upsets.
Gradual downhill skiing followed through a circuitous route in a mixed hardwood and conifer forest. Inattentive when approaching a narrow bridge, I took a dive. Fortunately, no cameras captured the blunder.
While climbing an elongated uphill grade, the snow began to soften. By the time we connected with a junction leading to Hedgehog Hill, two of us were collecting sticky snow on our skis. Adding glide wax alleviated the problem and slower snow moderated our speed going forward.
Forgoing a side trip to Hedgehog Hill, the best downhill skiing of the day ensued. Long stretches of exhilarating double poling continued to a bridge over Fran Brook.
Rolling hills in a mixed conifer and hardwood forest were encountered as we progressed back to the Maple/Birch Trail junction. After one final arduous climb, our eventful day ended with a pleasurable cruise back to park headquarters.