February 23rd, 2021
From Tractors to Tracks: XC Skiing at Maine Farms
For many folks, being outdoors is more of a lifestyle than simply a hobby. There is something sacred about embracing the elements, despite the season. Fortunately, in Maine, there’s always something to do outside. As the summer dew starts to solidify to fall frosts, people need to start thinking about the best ways to keep warm during winter. Staying active is one of the best ways to do that, especially via cross-country (XC) skiing, which is an excellent cardiovascular exercise.
Also referred to as “Nordic skiing,” cross-country skiing offers Mainers and visitors an opportunity for a more casual experience than downhill skiing, depending on where they live in the state. Downhill skiing, or “Alpine skiing,” can entail long drives and lodging expenses, making it more of an excursion than an afternoon activity. And not everyone lives next to a ski mountain; however, the chances are higher that a XC trail system is much closer. As agriculture yields to a wintery wonderland, several Maine farms welcome people on their properties to enjoy the fields, trails, and even a warm beverage or a meal.
Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, well known for its quality milk, offers XC skiers of all levels 25 kilometers of trails. According to their website, the system consists of “steep drops at ‘Holstein Hill,’ gently rolling fields, and old winding logging roads.”
Opened in 1720, Smiling Hill farm began welcoming XC skiers in the 1990s, and when conditions are favorable, the skiing is lovely. After a snowfall of four inches or more, the farm grooms its trails into two tracks to allow for optimal classical XC skiing, when one’s skis move back and forth driving forward from the hips. There is also “skate skiing” when the skiers move their feet as if ice-skating or rollerblading, utilizing the ungroomed portion of the trail. They offer equipment rentals and have partnered with Winter Kids to allow parents to use the app to get discounts for their kiddos. Their Ice Cream Barn is open year-round from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and their lunch café is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. serving up sandwiches and hot chocolate. Just what you need to top off a good day of skiing.
Pineland Farms in New Gloucester offers an extensive trail system with equipment rentals and private ski lessons for varying levels. Their superb café and market serve as a great place to warm up, dry off, eat, and then stock up on fresh meat, cheese, and produce.
Maine Outdoor Wellness Center in Turner is a non-profit organization partnered with Nezinscot Farm that offers XC skiing on an extensive trail network across 300 acres. They offer a few basic rental options and operate on a donation basis, but check the website for more details. The non-profit honors Roy Varney, the family’s son, who died in a farming accident in 2019. Varney was a two-time state champion in XC skiing at Leavitt High School.
At one time XC skiing was much more prolific than today, partly due to warmer temperatures. Preston Noon, Operations Manager from the New England Nordic Skiing Association, (NENSA) said, “XC Skiing is difficult for farmers to sustain over multiple years of light snow. Even Pineland, with some of the best trails around, still has trouble with snow. Portland Nordic, a volunteer skiing organization, is working on getting snowmaking at their location at Riverside.” According to Noon, there once were more than 200 Nordic ski centers in New England. Today, it’s almost 10 percent of that.
Smiling Hill Farm also has had a similar experience. “As a kid, I remember having boatloads of snow!” said Hilary Knight, Smiling Hill’s Barnyard Manager. “Now, we get rain. We had many recent winters where we didn’t open for more than a few days at a time. Mother Nature is not always on our side, unfortunately.”
These challenges make it all the more important to get out and hit the trails after a heavy snowfall. XC skiing is such a great way to keep yourself active and witness the pristine beauty of winter.
Story by J.G. Breerwood, teacher of English and Creative Writing at Lewiston High School. His first novel, Sinking Dixie, was published in 2020. He welcomed his daughter Elsie to the family in June.