Saturday, January 4, 2014

New favorite ski area?

I've heard high praise of Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, ME for a couple years now. Saturday I decided it was time to check them out. Waterville Valley used to be my go-to place when Mike Seager ran the place. It wasn't too long of a drive, trail fees were reasonable, and the grooming was among the best in the business. But that all changed when new ownership took over Waterville Valley. Quality of grooming went down dramatically, while prices went up. I can't tell you how many times in the last two years I've been disappointed going there. So that had me searching for alternatives.

Of course, the temperature approached record lows all over Saturday morning. Most Nordic ski areas were reporting temps well down into the negative teens. That's not windchill. The good news was temps were supposed to warm dramatically later in the day, maybe into the positive teens. A heat wave! I waited to time my ski with the last three hours of daylight so I wouldn't freeze the teeth out of my mouth gasping for air and have snow with something that resembled glide.

There were a lot of people there. Maybe almost as many as Great Brook on a nice day. The trails cover 5000 acres though, so I hoped I wouldn't have to contend with traffic on the trails. I was surprised the trail pass was only $13. That helps make up for the steep tolls on I-95 heading up there...

Heading out, I was surprised to see most of the trails are one-way only and clearly marked. Signage is excellent, and there are maps at all major intersections. The trails are laid out in a textbook "stacked" trail system. This means loops are cascaded. You can do a main inner loop, or append loops that branch off from main loop and come back to main loop near point where you branched off. Then some of the branches have more branch loops that can be added. The direction is set up so that you can pretty much ski the whole trail system by taking all lefts. You just keep stacking loops on loops until you get back to where you started. Very easy to navigate, very easy to do as little or much as you want. This is how most trail systems should be laid out.

Oak Hill Trail, I think. Heavy ice still on trees from a week ago.

Skiing new terrain is no different than ridding new singletrack for the first time. There's that added element of discovery, the oh-shits, didn't expect reducing radius turn on that decent kind of stuff. Yeah, one of the descents, I think on Gloucester Hill Run, had an orange safety net around the bottom outside of the turn. Steep drop and big trees over the edge. Thought I was going into the net the first time down. That loop was so much fun I had to go around a second time.

The trails were not congested at all. When everybody is moving in the same direction, passing other users is greatly reduced. I liked the mix of big sky, open field skiing with steeply corrugated, woods skiing.

The grooming was the best I've skied in a long time. It was like what Waterville used to do. Perfect corduroy, well packed, nice and wide so you could haul-ass in all-out V2 anywhere you wanted without fear of catching a ski tip on the edge. All trails were single-tracked for classic skiing too, and there were probably twice as many classic skiers out as skaters.

The dry, cold air was raising havoc with my throat and teeth. I think I started slightly dehydrated and quickly went through my one water bottle. Hard to stay hydrated when indoor humidities drop to single-digits.  I had to grab a Gatorade from my car to keep me going for the last 40 minutes. Even now, six hours later, my teeth are still aching. Never had that happen before. Going all the way back to Fat Doug days, I still like to fill a 32oz cup with ice and then top it off with Mountain Dew. I crunch all of the ice before it melts. That does not bother my teeth. But breathing cold, dry air for better part of three hours today did.

I finished with 40km in 2.8hrs with 2500ft of climbing just as the sun was setting. The snow was very cold and squeaky and pretty slow in some areas, but probably my best ski of the season so far. Definitely have to go back. The trails and terrain at Pineland Farms are very similar to my favorite trail to ski in Michigan, the VASA trail near Traverse City. The trails at these places just flow...

1 comment:

middle.professor said...

John Morton knows how to design trails. Pineland is the flowiest system I know. It's my home field, so I feel lucky. Other NE trails that I've visited have a legacy system of network trails that simply need a re-boot. There is no obvious route. The 4 way intersections at 90 degree angles are a joke. And downhills have to been skied with care because you never know who or what is coming up. Just because there's a an old logging road or RR bed doesn't mean it will make a good ski trail.

Another John Morton Trail in the neighborhood is called Libby Hill, which is behind Grey Middle School. Its not worth the trip alone because its only about 6-7K but its super fun in great snow (and a little scary when its boilerplate). Its only about a mile from the Gray I-95 interchange. Come back up to Pineland and ski Libby Hill as a warmup.

Another excellent trail John Morton (but further up the road) is Bond Brook in Augusta. It is also super flowy and actually has a double black diamond "half-pipe". It too is only about 5ish K though.

Libby Hill and Bond Brook are free, community trails.