For several months now, Andrew has been raving about the scallops at Dimillo’s on the Water in Portland, ME with a promise that he’d take Lindsay there someday. Yesterday was the day, our Saturday was wide open with no other responsibilities, so we grabbed our skis and jumped in the truck. From Northern New Hampshire, we headed east into Maine and south to Bridgton. We thought about going to one of the chain sandwich shops, but luckily found a great little cafe called Beth’s Kitchen Cafe to eat lunch in Bridgton. Good food and relaxing atmosphere. After lunch we headed over to Shawnee Peak to check out the bunny slope. Even though we do a lot of cross-country and back-country skiing, we both shy away from the downhill ski places. But we thought that after the sleet and rain the day before, a downhill ski place would probably have the best snow. The plan was to maybe get the cheapest ticket and practice our tele-turns. Andrew was definitely more excited at this prospect than Lindsay. Before we bought our tickets, we walked over to the bunny slopes to check it out. The carpet tow area was right in the middle of the park and barely held a slope, and after we fought our way through the crowds to the bunny slope we were dissappointed by the little terrain. For $15.00 each we would have to dodge the hundreds of people learning to ski and snowboard on a tiny hill. Hmmmm……not exactly what either one of us thought of as a good time. Back in the truck, Andrew started looking at the Maine gazeteer for cross-country ski places and Lindsay plugged into her Droid phone to look up prices and grooming conditions. There was a place not far from where we were called Five Fields Farm. Unsure about how the recent weather would have impacted the trails, we decided to do a drive-by.
Five Fields Farm is on Route 107 just south of downtown Bridgton, ME. During the growing season this farm is an apple orchard, but in the winter it turns into a cross-country and snowshoeing touring center. We drove past the farm to see that they had groomed and caught a glimpse of nice view into the valley below. Let’s check it out, we thought, and we turned around to see if we could talk to someone about how the trails groomed out.
Inside the welcome center, we found Tom the owner. He was laying out a new sign and listening to NPR. In his working corner were tools, a wood stove, firewood, and an ancient cash register. He easily began telling us about his grooming adventure that morning and Andrew discussed grooming techniques and experiences with him. In another section of the building were rows and rows of ski rental equipment: boots all lined up in various sizes and snowshoes leaning up against the wall. We learned the whole story of the place, about how his Uncle had suggested he open a cross-country ski place nearly 15 years ago, about how he spent years following his boys to alpine ski races all over the northeast, and how this hill is at the snow line, so it’s a perfect place for a cross-country ski center. But with the weird winter we’ve been having this was only his second weekend open for the season.
We took a picture of the map on the wall because Tom hadn’t made it to the print shop yet, but he showed us the loops and where the changes in elevation were. A group of 5 women walked in and started trying on ski boots, so we put our $10 in the cigar box for Tom and headed out to the trails.
According to Tom, they had gotten about 5 inches of snow and 1/4 inch of sleet that froze to a crust. He had managed to break up most of the trails that morning, so the conditions were icy but managable. We headed out through the old farmstead, past an ancient cemetary perched on a knoll and out through the top of an extensive apple orchard. Soon we crossed into the woods and started a gradual climb through a young mixed forest hillside, onto the adjacent Loon Echo Land Trust property. Surrounding Five Fields Farm are properties now owned by the Land Trust, but Tom grooms ski trails throughout the land for 27 kilometers of seamless trails.
The ice in the trees sparkled in the sunlight, dripped to the ground, and occasionally chunks of ice would fall and spring the tree banches upward toward the sky. We skied past a Loon Echo Land Trust kiosk and parking area for Bald Pate Mountain trail, and saw two groups of snowshoers on their way down from that short hiking trip to the top. We soon made our way to the highest point on the ski trails. The woods in this area consisted of mostly young birch with the occasional group of older hemlock and pine. We skied down a nice little hill, faster than usual because of the ice, and ventured down an ungroomed section of trail to check out a potential view (through the trees).
We looped back up and followed a trail into one of the apple orchards. Nicely pruned apple trees stood all in a line as we skied next to them, enjoying a view of the Foster Pond below the fields. We continued looping on the trails and found the trail to the lower woods.
Nearly 6 miles and 2 hours later, we found ourselves back at the truck. We stopped back in to tell Tom of our great time and found him routing the sign he had started earlier. We told him we were impressed with the terrain: not too flat and not too difficult, but plenty of fun hills and turns. Without a cross-country skiing background, Tom had laid out the trails with just his knowledge of downhill skiing and he told us how he had carefully watched the snow melt for two springs to understand where to place the trails. He didn’t want part of his trail system to melt before other parts and had managed to succeed. In the spring, without many exceptions, all his trails melt overnight, on the same night. He said there was no way he was going to try to shovel snow in the wet spots in the spring. We thanked him for a great day and jumped back in the truck.
We headed south, toward the Maine coast. In a short hour of so, we were driving through Portland, bee-lining for Damillo’s Floating Restaurant. We had a wonderful meal of broiled scallops, mashed potatoes, and brussel sprouts while we watched boats coming into the marina. After we stuffed our faces, we had one more stop to make. We headed northeast along the coast toward Freeport. Lindsay had a L.L. Bean gift card to spend so we hit all the L.L. Bean stores: Hunting and Fishing, Home Store, and Bike-Boat-Ski. We walked away with some new goodies and finally left Freeport at 10:00 pm. What a fun day!