The trails at Fort Kent Outdoor Center have witnessed their fair share of world-class athletes. The center has hosted IBU World Cup Biathlons, in addition to other national and international nordic and biathlon events, making quite a name for itself as top notch facility with outstanding conditions.
But we average and sometimes-slogging cross-country skiers can have a pretty splendid time there, too.
I finally made the trip to Fort Kent a couple of weekends ago, in part to visit my good friend Nichole, who lives in Fort Kent and who I hadn’t seen in real life in too long. But I also really wanted to check out the trails at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center (aka “10th Mountain,” as Nichole and everyone else in Fort Kent refers to it). I’d been hearing such good things for so long, and I wanted to ski for myself.
There was nary a soul there when I arrived, save for a speedy skate skier who I spotted tearing off into the woods as I walked up to have a look around. The lodge wasn’t open, it being a Friday morning, and I suspect lots of folks were at work (again, it being a Friday morning). It was also particularly freezing out. And windy. Snow was whipping around my car as I put on my ski boots and my exposed hands stung with cold as I gathered my gear.
But once I got on the trail and got moving? Wow.
There are 25 kilometers of ski trails here (3 km are lit for night skiing) ranging from beginner to advanced terrain, with enough incline along the way to make sure you stay warm and enough downhill to keep it fun. And among the trees, the wind is barely noticeable.
The trails are well marked, with loads of signs and maps at many of the trail intersections. Between the tall trees piled with snow, the exquisitely groomed tracks, and the I’ve-got-the-place-to-myself quiet, skiing here is perfection.
These amazing trails are supported though membership fees and day-use fees. You can buy a day pass at the lodge when it’s open (12-4 p.m. on Saturdays and most Sundays during the season) or stick your cash into one of the donation bins at the trailhead. Fees are $14 for adults and $10 for youth for skiing and $6 adults and $3 youth for snowshoeing. More info on rates. Rentals are also available when the ski shop is open.
The Fort Kent Outdoor Center trails abut the Lonesome Pines alpine ski area (aka, “the ski tow,” as my friend Nichole and everyone else in Fort Kent says). Wanting to explore the trails from a different angle, I parked in the Lonesome Pines lot and picked up the Green Bean trail from there.
It’s worth noting, these trails run adjacent to a downhill ski area, so they are steep. I did quite a bit of duck-walking, but it was manageable. And the trails on this side are certainly just as good-looking.
Also neat, if you keep skiing up, up, up, you’ll eventually come out to where the ski tow lets downhill skiers off. There’s quite a nice view from up there. (I’m told you can take the ski tow up on cross-country skis and then ski down, too.)
I also learned that you should expend all your energy to get up there, because the only way to get back to Lonesome Pines (on cross-country skis, anyway) is to loop back around and follow the trail system all the way back to the Green Bean trails you started on. By the time I got to the summit, I was pressed for time and hoped for a quicker return trip, but no such luck. Thanks to fellow XC skier Sharon, who kindly gave me a ride back to my car.
My bad time-management aside, I had such a grand time on these trails.
And, of course, I can’t neglect to mention a couple of spots for post-ski beers and refueling.
First Mile Brewing Co.
28 Market St., Fort Kent. | www.facebook.com/firstmilebrewing
Still pretty darn new, First Mile Brewing Co. opened up last fall and I’m glad for that. They have a range of beers, like the Lonesome Trail pale ale and River Driver Red – First Mile’s take on an Irish red ale. I really loved Something Witty and my friend Nichole can’t stop raving about the oatmeal stout. Just go to there, order a flight, and see what moves you.
258 W Main St., Fort Kent | www.walkerspub.com | www.facebook.com/walkersgastropub
Open at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Walker’s Pub is a solid choice for burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and more. And beer, of course. Owners Steve and Joy are lovely.
Now, some more details on the skiing:
Fort Kent Outdoor Center
33 Paradis Loop, Fort Kent (just a couple miles from downtown Fort Kent)
Daily trail fees: $14 for adults and $10 for youth for skiing and $6 adults and $3 youth for snowshoeing. More info on rates
Ski shop is open for rentals and trail passes 12-4 p.m. on Saturdays and most Sundays during the season) or stick your cash into one of the donation bins at the trailhead.
Check out the trail maps and various trailhead options.