I stood on my skis on the fringe of the white expanse and admired the intricate, wind-sculpted snow. Peering over this virgin canvas on Second Roach Pond in Maine, I may think about that I used to be a pioneer leaving first tracks. However the scent of wooden smoke belied the truth that creature comforts have been shut by.
Behind me, a sleek timber-framed construction was perched simply uphill from the pond’s edge. This was Medawisla, a state-of-the artwork, off-the-grid ecolodge in north central Maine, close to the city of Greenville.
I had come to Maine with my spouse and one other couple to spend 5 days and 4 nights cross-country snowboarding by means of the 100 Mile Wilderness, a area that’s dwelling to the ultimate stretch of the two,184-mile-long Appalachian Path. Simply twenty years in the past, this ski journey would have been inconceivable: A lot of this “wilderness” was owned by timber firms and scarred by industrial logging.
In a outstanding flip of occasions, snowboarding and mountain climbing have largely changed logging in a newly protected swath of Maine. Within the early 2000s, 6 million acres of forest — greater than 1 / 4 of Maine’s land — was put up on the market by timber firms. The way forward for the most important forest ecosystem east of the Mississippi River was in jeopardy. In 2003, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) launched the Maine Woods Initiative, which works with native communities to advertise outside recreation, conservation, sustainable forestry and carbon sequestration (gross sales of carbon credit are funding extra land purchases).
They conserved 75,000 acres north and east of Greenville, developed 130 miles of recreation trails and purchased three historic sporting camps: Medawisla, Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback. That is a part of a broader conservation effort that now covers 750,000 acres extending from Greenville to Baxter State Park, which is dwelling to Katahdin, Maine’s highest peak.
This shift within the Maine Woods from forest exploitation to recreation has yielded a direct byproduct: probably the greatest lodge-to-lodge ski routes in america. The route showcases each the previous and way forward for Maine, from clear-cuts seen on distant hillsides to the intense inexperienced of recent development, a reassuring signal of nature’s resilience.
“We took industrial timber land and constructed the most important cross-country ski path community in New England,” stated Steve Tatko, the director of Maine Conservation and Land Administration for the AMC.
Medawisla Wilderness Lodge is the grandest of the AMC Maine lodges. The unique searching lodge was in-built 1953 and closed in 2012. In 2017, following a $6 million funding, a brand new ADA-compliant advanced opened that features a solar-powered most important lodge, 9 cabins and two bunkhouses. The lodge is a showcase for Maine craftsmanship, that includes tables and chairs handmade from curly maple, and figures of loons on the deck that have been carved by an area chain noticed artist. Outdoors the eating room home windows are expansive views of Second Roach Pond. These staying at Medawisla, the Wabanaki phrase for loon, can discover a 35-mile community of groomed cross-country ski trails.
Inside Medawisla’s most important constructing I discovered different friends sitting in stuffed chairs round a four-sided stone-and-glass hearth. At a family-style dinner of roasted tarragon rooster, minestrone and string beans with slivered almonds, I sat subsequent to a lady from Maine who stated that she was a seasoned sailor. She casually talked about her cameo in “The Excellent Storm,” the best-selling e book by Sebastian Junger. I barely keep in mind lifting my fork to eat as I listened spellbound to her harrowing story of survival at sea after her sailboat sank through the epic 1991 nor’easter.
Our journey occurred shortly earlier than the beginning of the pandemic. This winter on the lodges, masks are advisable indoors (the place all workers are masked), and breakfast and dinner can both be eaten household fashion on the most important eating rooms or taken again to your cabin.
This journey brimmed with responsible pleasures. The primary was touring in a wild panorama by day and staying in heat lodges every evening consuming scrumptious meals ready for us. One other was rolling out of our cabin onto a groomed path and having our luggage transported to our subsequent vacation spot by snowmobile ($20 per bag). That meant we may journey quick and lightweight on cross-country skis by means of this grand panorama carrying solely a small day pack with meals, garments and further gear.
From Medawisla, we skied up the broad, groomed Lodge-to-Lodge Path to a scenic excessive level. We stopped to absorb the sweeping 360-degree views of the imposing snow-covered tabletop summit of Huge Spencer Mountain (3,215 toes) that crowns this panorama.
After a short snack we started an extended, wind-in-the-face descent. I skied behind my good friend John, an airline pilot, who prolonged his arms as if flying, banking round broad turns as we glided to the valley flooring. A small signal directed us to a slender path that snaked by means of the woods till it abruptly emerged onto the intense white expanse of First West Department Pond and our subsequent lodge. We have been greeted by a smiling Eric Stirling, the fifth technology of his household to run West Branch Pond Camps, which was constructed as a sporting camp in 1881 and owned and managed by his household since 1914.
That is the one privately owned camp on the lodge journey, and it supplied a welcome contact of native tradition and lore. We stayed in rustic, century-old log cabins beside the frozen pond. A gaggle of highschool college students from Massachusetts frolicked on the pond and sledded by means of the camp, yelping in delight. Their math instructor instructed me that this winter journey, a 17-year custom, was a a lot beloved respite from the pains and stresses of highschool.
I joined Mr. Stirling, a bearded, congenial man, as he cooked our dinner on a wooden range within the eating cabin. Stuffed trophy heads adorned the partitions. He pointed exterior to Whitecap Mountain (3,654 toes), which overlooks the camp, and famous that the Appalachian Path crosses its summit. He gave voice to what I felt as I relaxed from the day’s snowboarding. “My hope,” he instructed me, “is that skiers take away from right here a way of one thing that’s been unchanged by means of the generations.”
Round midnight, I bundled up in a puffy down jacket and ventured out onto the pond to expertise one thing that has by no means modified out right here: darkness. In Might 2021, the Maine Woods area was designated the first International Dark Sky Park in New England by the Worldwide Darkish-Sky Affiliation, which combats mild air pollution and acknowledges locations the place evening time views are protected. I peered up at a blue-and-black expanse that was studded with what appeared like 1,000,000 stars.
Dawn was accompanied by a stiff 20-degree breeze. We continued our journey 6.5 miles alongside the meandering snow-covered Nice River to Little Lyford Lodge, which was initially in-built 1874. Our path crisscrossed myriad animal tracks, together with these of moose, mink and otter.
“Moose outnumber folks 3 to 1 right here,” stated Courtney Turcotte, who oversees the entire lodges for the Maine Woods Initiative. We loved dinner at Little Lyford Lodge beneath a two-story stone hearth that was adorned with outdated trapper’s snowshoes.
Our closing vacation spot was Gorman Chairback Lodge. We wove our approach by means of tall conifers that shuddered beneath a heavy mantle of snow. A quick squall whited out the path. Our dwelling for the evening was a hand-hewed octagonal log cabin on the shore of Lengthy Pond. Lore has it that the cabin was constructed by a one-armed Civil Warfare veteran and his son. The darkish woody inside was lined with outdated books, a romantic retreat within the woods.
On our final morning, I used to be as soon as once more perched on the fringe of a frozen expanse. An excellent heat solar made the snow sparkle on Lengthy Pond. With out hesitating, I pushed ahead and glided onward into the Maine Woods.
For those who go
Greenville, Maine, is the leaping off level for journeys to the AMC Maine Lodges. Lodging and shuttle reservations may be made with the Appalachian Mountain Club (603-466-2727). The closest airports are in Bangor (90 minutes) and Portland (3 hours).
The place to ski and keep
Skiers and snowshoers can expertise Maine’s wilderness lodges in a wide range of methods. Trails are effectively marked so guides will not be wanted, although AMC runs a number of guided group journeys (they refill shortly). Medawisla and the privately owned West Department Pond Camps are accessible by automobile (all-wheel drive advisable). Every has miles of ski trails you could discover whereas returning to the identical place. That is the best choice for newbie skiers. Another choice is to ski lodge-to-lodge between Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback. Each lodges are solely accessible by skis or snowshoes and share the identical winter parking zone, so no shuttle is required. Every of those lodges additionally has its personal path community. All of the lodges have wood-fired saunas.
The final word journey is a lodge-to-lodge ski traverse to all 4 wilderness lodges. This 32-mile ski requires not less than 4 nights. You ski on groomed trails between lodges and you should do a automobile shuttle ($60, organized if you e book your lodging) in order that your automobile is ready at your closing vacation spot. The lodges vary from $140 to $425 per couple per evening, together with all meals, relying on sort of lodging. Canine are additionally welcome in some cabins; for those who ski with them, the hut keepers suggest dog booties to guard their toes on icy trails.
The snowboarding follows groomed ski trails, so light-weight waxable or waxless cross-country skis are finest. If situations are icy, some skiers might desire a light-weight metal-edged ski. Deliver a cushty day pack for meals, snacks, further garments, and first-aid and restore gear. You should buy or hire skis and different gear at Northwoods Outfitters in Greenville; e book leases upfront for busy weekends. Complimentary snowshoes can be found to make use of on the lodges.