Seniors Not Acting Their Age
This has been a difficult winter for cross country skiing in Maine foothills and the coastal plain. A succession of mixed precipitation storms has resulted in minimal snow pack and often icy surfaces.
Two of my favorite commercial ski areas, Harris Farm in Dayton and Pineland in Pownal have only been open sporadically. Despite aggressive grooming when operating, snow conditions have often been mediocre. Crusty hard packed trails can be a boon for skilled skate skiers but ancient classic skiers like me fear for our lives when careening downhill in icy tracks or desperately trying to hold a snow plow on frozen precipitous turns. While climbing is more benign, ascending on slick surfaces can be extremely arduous and a lack of traction unforgiving on aging joints and muscles.
Still, cross country skiing is a beneficial sport for us old folks and easier on the anatomy than winter mountaineering. A preference for many of us is to combine both activities into our winter outdoor agenda. In search of quality snow, my friends and I have made several trips to Jackson Ski Touring located in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Valley. Although they’ve also suffered some rainstorms, Jackson has accumulated a deep snow base and regularly groomed their trails to an eminently satisfactory level.
Excellent skiing is not the only attraction at Jackson. With 150 kilometers of ski trails spanning 60 square miles of highlands, it offers several extended trips many find appealing. However, Jackson and other mountain ski areas have a significant disadvantage; they require long drives from coastal Maine. A few of us elderly pseudo weather geeks carefully analyze forecasts strategically planning visits to local ski areas when conditions appear optimum. February trips to Harris Farm and Mount Blue State Park immediately after snowstorms proved successful. Unfortunately, both trail systems worsened significantly soon after.
Recently, a group of us seniors took advantage of our semi-retired status for an impromptu two day ski trip to Rangeley Lakes Trails Center in Dallas Plantation following a snowstorm. Situated at the foot of majestic Saddleback Mountain, the center provides 55 kilometers of trails for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and fat tire biking.
When five of us arrived, our first observation was there was no shortage of snow in the Rangeley area. Snow banks were piled high resulting in attenuated streets and many road signs were submerged. Snowmobiles filled the motel parking lot and clogged gas stations – positive indicators for our ski plans.
The center is operated by Rangeley Lakes Cross Country Ski Club. The hub for activities is a sizeable yurt that functions as the ski lodge where passes are purchased and equipment rentals offered. Light lunches and snacks are sold and a changing room is available in the hospitable refuge. A medium-sized parking lot is adjacent to the yurt and a larger area located across the street.
Most of the trails had been groomed earlier in the day when we departed from the yurt on Tote Road. Snow conditions were exquisite. My longtime outdoor amigo Ken Gordon and I teamed up to explore an extensive array of trails, much of it on the network perimeter. As we glided along on a beautiful breezy sunny day, we were also in pursuit of a bobcat known to frequent the area.
Passing through a major trail intersection at Tote Road’s end, we climbed gradually on Bridge Trail to Junction Rock. Turning left on Lower Pump House Road, recent bobcat tracks were encountered. Alas, the elusive critter was nowhere to be seen. Continuing on, we joined Outer Limits Trail where I hoped to spot an asteroid. Ken’s skepticism prevailed. After traversing Lower Pipeline to Tote Road junction, we experienced an exacting one mile climb on Upper Pipeline followed by a rollicking descent to the yurt on Larry Hall Trail.
Day two offered another almost cloudless sky with near perfect snow. We added Sisu, View and Nat’s Alley Trails to our itinerary. Rated most difficult, Sisu was very manageable due to exceptional snow conditions and View lived up to its moniker with a phenomenal vista of Saddleback Range. More bobcat tracks and fresh scat were identified high on scenic Nat’s Alley Trail but the furtive feline remained concealed. My guess, he was secluded in nearby bushes enjoying a silent sarcastic guffaw at our expense.
My next ski adventure is a trip to the Chic Choc Mountains in eastern Quebec. Here’s betting I’ll have copious amounts of awesome snow to report on when I return.
The author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at email@example.com