Driving north on Route 26 from the Maine Turnpike, you get one of the first good views of the mountains just after cresting Pigeon Hill and entering the town of Oxford. Frequent travelers on this route know the spot I’m referring to, which is now adorned by a flashy casino.
My destination on a recent sojourn was not the distant mountains, but Oxford itself for a day of cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snow tubing. Descending the hill toward the Welchville crossroads I soon pulled in to Carter’s X-C Ski Center, on the left just before the Little Androscoggin River.
Inside the ski shop I met Jesse Hall, the manager and friendly son-in-law of the owners, Dave and Anne Carter. While purchasing trail passes, Hall let me know the trails weren’t yet groomed or tracked.
Now, as any Mainer worth his salt pork knows, after a frosty minus-20 degree night, sometimes an engine just won’t start, whether it’s a car, truck, snow blower or, as was the case at Carter’s, the snowmobile used for taking care of the trails.
Undaunted, my wife and I clipped into our skis and struck off under clear blue skies to enjoy the 2 inches of fresh powder overlaying the old tracks, with the promise the groomer would be around “as soon as we can.”
Carter’s features 40 kilometers of trails on its 100-acre property, with about 90 acres of woodlands and the remainder old farm fields. Five named ski trails comprise Anne’s Moondance and Lover’s Lane, and Beaver, Swamp and Cabot trails. A sixth trail, Snowshoe Hare, is dedicated to snowshoeing.
The cold was invigorating and the skiing delightful, accompanied as we were by Hall’s dog, Mya, our unofficial but welcome guide. Traffic noise from the road soon faded away in the hush of the snowy forest, where tracks of critters large and small crossed our path. We glided ever on to the back edge of the land before stopping for a Thermos of hot tea, steam rising from not only our cups but two sweaty bodies.
The snow machine trailing a grooming track finally caught us as we started off again. One pass left a sweet 4-foot swath of corduroy, a second doubled it, and not long after the groomer was back setting ski tracks. The good skiing got even better now, and we delayed our lunch break accordingly.
The Carters bought the farm and farmhouse in Oxford some 20 years ago, Hall later told me. The couple ran a farm stand and then started a ski club for local folks, which morphed into a more formal if rather quaint cross-country ski center.
Perfect for beginners and intermediates, skiers of any ability will really enjoy the laid-back, woodsy environs at Carter’s.
“The trails are flat and easy, and roam through the woods,” said Hall.
“It’s a nice place, real peaceful. It feels like the backcountry when you’re out there.”
The center caters mostly to a traditional Nordic skiing clientele, but there is a 2-kilometer loop just for skate skiers. Carter’s also operates one of the largest full service cross-country ski shops in New England, complete with ski and snowshoe rentals. In addition to its Oxford location, Carter’s has 55 kilometers of trails at its other facility in Bethel.
After thoroughly enjoyable morning and afternoon sessions out on the ski trails, we had covered plenty of ground for one day. The snowshoes would have to wait for another time.
Bidding goodbye to Carter’s, we bounded back up the road to Oxford Plains Snow Tubing for a few thrilling swoops down the hill just as the sun was setting. Our fun day concluded with an apres ski burger and beer (and six bucks of winnings at video poker) amid the glitz of the Oxford Casino.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an avid hiker and skier. Find Carey Kish on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CareyKish.