Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cross Country Skiing in Maine

Winter started out nicely in December for snow sports in the middle of Maine.  Plenty of snow fell and the temperatures stayed cool making for great conditions.  Then as the new year rolled in the weather changed.  The temperatures remained quite cold.  However, when a storm system made its presence, the are warmed up and we received ice or rain, lots of it.  The temperature would drop and freeze the remaining snow into a solid mass of ice hampering most winter activities.  January, which can normally be quite snowy in the middle of Maine, has seen only about 6 inches of snow so far while there has been more than three inches of rain.

After a weather imposed rest from most winter activity, I was eager to hit the snow.  I decided to go to the AMC's 100 Mile Wilderness cross country ski trails last Saturday.  Conditions were still questionable, however, their website claimed they were fixing the icy trails after a couple of inches of new snow fell earlier in the week.  Saturday sounded a little more favorable since Sunday was forecasted to have windchills approaching -30.

I headed to the AMC trails outside Greenville, Maine Saturday morning and decided to ski a loop around the Gorham Chairback Lodge.  The AMC's trail system is built around backcountry lodges for overnight stays.  Guests are welcome to visit the lodges however without an overnight stay.  When I ski the trails here I usually stop at the lodges to take a short break and perhaps refill my water.

My route started at the parking area on the Katahdin Iron Works Road (KI).  I followed the KI, which is a multi-use snowmobile and ski trail in this area, for a couple of miles before heading down the Deadwater  and Gorham Lodge Trails to the lodge.  Once off the KI, the trail stays on dedicated ski trails that see relatively little ski traffic while passing on old logging roads and narrower trails through the forest.  Along the Deadwater Trail there is a Yurt that can be used overnight complete with a bunk, woodstove, and gas stove.  There also appears to be more yurts planned for the future as they already have the platforms in place.  Views  of the Barren-Chairback Range and Long Pond are the highlights along the way.


View of Barren Mountain near Yurt

Long Pond in the distance (photo from last month)

Trail near Gorham Chairback Lodge (last month)

After a short break at the lodge I continued along the Long Pond Trail.  This trail rolls through the woods above Long Pond until reaching the pond's outlet.  From the outlet, nice views across the pond take in parts of the White Cap Range.  The trail from the outlet is more uphill than downhill but never steep.  It becomes the Trout Brook Trail after passing the pond outlet before reaching the KI again.  The last mile retraces the KI to the parking lot.

Looking over Long Pond toward Indian and Gulf Hagas Mountains

This route is about 15 miles long. Despite the AMC's efforts to groom, the trail conditions were still somewhat icy, making for a more tiring trip than normal when I ski here.  A couple of sections that were freshly groomed skied nicely but the ungroomed sections were very hard and particularly challenging on long climbs.  I skied this route in late December in much better conditions.  I am glad I chose to ski this loop however because it is more forgiving in icy conditions than the trails leading to the Little Lyford Pond Lodge which traverses hillier terrain. 

For a map of click this link

If interested, you can look back to my posts from last January and February. I have several other blog posts on the cross country skiing at the AMC trails.

That night two inches of powdery snow fell.  On Sunday morning I decided to cross country ski again with the better conditions.  The temperature was 4F at 10AM when I left my house and the wind was quite strong, but I couldn't turn down the fresh snow.

This time I skied a local loop that is just a couple of miles from my house.  This route follows local snowmobile trails that see little traffic.  This route covers about 15-16 miles.  Much of the route travels through the woods with a couple of sections through open fields and offers a nice mix of flat and hilly terrain.  When the conditions are right, this is one of my favorite cross country ski trips. Usually for good conditions, it has to be skied within a few days of a fresh snow or it can get quite icy.

I start my route at Sebec Lake and followed a snowmobile trail called the Dundee Trail into town in Dover Foxcroft before heading back to the lake on another snowmobile trail called the Grey Valley Trail.  While the trails are generally rolling in nature, there are a couple of steep technical descents on narrow sections of trail that are quite challenging.  Depending on conditions this loop takes between 3-4 hours to ski.
Skiing into a tight grove of trees

Long section of flat and easy skiing

With fresh snow, the trail conditions were excellent compared to my outing at the AMC trails the previous day.  The biggest challenge however was the windchill.  The high for the day reached about 7F, which isn't too bad while cross country skiing.  The problem was the gusty wind.  Much of the trail travels in the woods and offers some shelter from the wind.  However when in the open fields, the wind was treacherous and approaching windchills of -30.  Luckily the trail never stayed in the fields too long.
Skiing along an open field

Despite travelling on snowmobile trails, this route is relatively quiet. Most snowmobilers in Maine stick to the main routes.  This loop follows "local" trails.  Even though it was a Sunday after a fresh snow, I only saw three pairs of snowmobiles, and they were all courteous, each rider giving me a wave.  If skied midweek, it isn't uncommon to have it to yourself the entire loop.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Skiing Black Mountain of Maine

Winter is in now full swing in Maine.  I have hit the trails a handful of times already to cross country ski.  The J Man suggested we go downhill skiing this weekend.  A great place to start the ski season in Maine is Black Mountain.

Black Mountain Ski Resort in Rumford, Maine is a somewhat obscure ski area.  Outside of Maine it is relatively unknown.  As far as ski areas in New England go, it is not a big resort.  There are only 35 trails and glades and two chairlifts.  It does have nearly 1400 foot of vertical drop however, making it the fourth highest lift served vertical in Maine.  Perhaps the greatest draw to skiing Black is its price.  Lift tickets are an amazingly low $15 all day, every day.  This has to be one of the best skiing values anywhere.

Riding up the summit chairlift 

There is a solid mix of green, blue, and black runs at Black Mountain.  Most of the black runs don't ski too difficult.  Kennebago is one of the more challenging trails.  It is a relatively short trail without too steep of a pitch but probably the most narrow trail at Black Mountain.  Webb and The Dead are probably the steepest trails.  The double diamond  Dead is the more challenging of the two with a steep pitch and no grooming making for a fun but relatively short natural trail.  Sticky runs under the lift for a short distance and has no grooming and provides a nice change of pace from the groomed runs.  Most of the other black trails would probably be rated blue at a bigger mountain.  To see the trail map click on the link

Looking up The Dead.  It's hard to see but it has a good pitch and fairly deep powder.

I only skied two glades.  The unmapped Allagash glade has a shallow pitch with wide tree spacing making it a good choice to skiers new to skiing the trees.  Swift glade is a longer glade with tighter tree spacing and a pitch that gets steeper the longer you ski it.  Some of the other glades that I didn't ski looked fairly tight and steep.

Skiing in Swift Glade

Most of the mountain has solid intermediate terrain.  Allagash winds a mile down the ski area boundary  from the summit to base.  It's a nice cruising run to warm up or wind down the day.  All of the trails accessible from the summit chair are rated blue or black.  The main summit triple chair travels from base to summit so every run offers a solid vertical run of nearly 1400 feet over a nice mix of intermediate terrain.

Looking down Piscataquis

Like I said, Black Mountain isn't on too many people's radar.  If it wasn't for the $15 lift ticket, I would have overlooked myself.  The past two winters I have skied Black.  With regular ticket prices at the bigger Maine resorts of Sunday River and Sugarloaf running over $80, it's refreshing to find a value like Black Mountain.  Sure the bigger resorts have much more terrain, but for its price, Black Mountain is a steal in an increasingly expensive sport.  If you are a Maine skier and haven't skied Black yet,  I highly recommend it.  You will get a decent day of skiing at a great price.

View getting off the summit chairlift

Value isn't the only reason to ski Black Mountain.  Despite the cheap prices, the place never gets crowded.  I've skied there the past two seasons, both times on a Sunday and there has never been more than a couple chair wait to ride the lift.  The terrain is expanding too.  They are continually cutting more glades and even starting to cut new trails.  The new trails were not open yet.  They appear to be opening soon as they had signage in place and the access to the new terrain roped.  The trail map also shows the future expansion.

Black Mountain was nearly lost.  This past summer the mountain lost funding and ceased operation.  Due to interest of the ski community close to the mountain, fund raising campaigns saved the mountain.  This is one last reason to ski Black.  It would be a shame to lose this ski area for good.  For more on Black Mountain see its website at