It was in the New York Pocono Mountains in January that Tricia Deering and Linda Laird first heard of Maine Huts & Trails.

They were on vacation at a winter destination where there was no winter. And they looked at The New York Times travel section story with photos of pristine frozen lakes, snow-covered birch groves and happy woodland explorers.

And these intrepid outdoor women who spend their commuter days looking up at the George Washington Bridge decided with their best friends they would drive 10 hours north to look at mountains. And it’s no exaggeration to say it changed their way of thinking and showed them what an outdoor adventure could be.

“We met different people who came from different backgrounds, and by the end they were sharing different things, a flask or hot chocolate mix they brought. It’s not what I expected, but it’s what I hoped for,’ said Laird, a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.

Eight years ago, that was what Larry Warren had in mind when he announced his intention to build a 12-hut, 180-mile hike-and-ski trail from the Mahoosuc Mountains to Moosehead Lake. He said it would draw city-goers and tourists to the remote western Maine mountains, where they would help the economy, while learning what it means to be deep in nature. And since the first 2.4 miles of trail was cut in 2007 and the first full-service hut opened for business the next year, MH&T has not slowed down.

In the next month, construction of a fourth hut will be announced. And while the last three off-the-grid luxury lodges are unusual in their completely green approach, the next will be a flagship hut on this ambitious trail, with views to the Bigelow range out the large windows, and the best of fly fishing, mountain biking and hiking at the doorstep.

“We’re not taking a break,” said Conrad Klefos, the Huts & Trails communications and marketing director.

Nor do at least some of the visitors who have traveled from nearly every state and as far as Dubai think they should. Since the hut system opened for the first full winter in 2009, use has doubled from 1,085 to 2,532 in 2011. And despite a scarcity of snow this winter, it still drew 2,170.

But then, the idea behind the Huts & Trails system came from the original Mountain Division lodges in the Colorado Rockies and the age-old Alpine huts of Norway and Sweden.

It’s a primal but important idea that drew Laird, Deering, Kathleen Fetissoff and Skip Jonas from New Jersey and the sprawling Tri-State area to Maine’s northern forest. Once there, they said they met a world they otherwise would not have found, in a remote place where strangers gather, share stories and leave friends.

“The social experience is the thing that first-time visitors find most surprising, but it’s the thing that keeps returning visitors coming back,” said hut manager Sky Purdy. “We have a bell in the huts, like a hotel bell. We ring it at dinner time when there is an unexpected social connection, such as when two people find out their parents grew up in the same town.”

For Laird, Deering, Fetissoff and Jonas, their hut adventure was a physical challenge, a needed retreat, a rare experience, and now a fond memory of a wild place.

Most of the four were beginner Nordic skiers when they began, and soon-to-be members of the 60-plus demographic, all of which made them wonder if they could ski 11 miles from hut to hut. But after venturing to Poplar Stream Hut, just 2.5 miles from the first trailhead, they decided they wanted the full hut-to-hut experience, and they would venture on, deeper into the woods, to Flagstaff Lake.

“We were nervous. But we decided we could do the 11.5 miles if we stayed two nights after that. So that’s what we did. And that day we spent at Flagstaff, when we skied across the lake, it was overcast and drizzly, but we felt very out in the wilderness. It was very atmospheric,” Deering said.

At Flagstaff Hut they met astronomers from Boston, counselors who worked in prisons and Mainers who knew the woods. And Laird wished she had brought novels to share when they relaxed in the common room with these new friends.

By the end of their adventure there was talk of where the trail would one day go, much reflection on this place that was “not near people,” and the wish that the Maine western mountains were not so far away. But Laird promised they’d be back.

“I think in the years to come it’s going to be one of Maine’s treasures. That’s what I tell people,” she said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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