NEW GLOUCESTER – Officials at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester are letting it snow, whether Mother Nature likes it or not.

After several years offering about 30 miles of groomed trail for cross-country skiers, Pineland will now be creating its own snow, making it the only Nordic facility in the area with that capability.

Last weekend, a half-dozen trail crew members received a lesson in snow-making from one of Maine’s experts, Dan Susla of Freeport. Teaching the crew how to read the quality of snow as well as the art of creating durable powder began last weekend and continued through this week in preparation for next week’s school vacation.

And while temperatures haven’t been ideal, last weekend’s cold blast helped the team churn out about 100 meters of 6-inch-deep snow. The goal is to increase that amount about 10 times by this weekend, in hopes of providing a 1-kilometer loop for Nordic enthusiasts. And, in another few weeks, after the Christmas holiday, the goal is to have a 5-kilometer race-ready loop available.

Matt Sabasteanski, Pineland’s director of outdoor recreation, was among those learning the tricks of the snowmaking trade from Susla. Having traveled to premiere Nordic ski venues around the world, Sabasteanski is hoping to replicate those conditions in New Gloucester to lure more skiers to the Pineland facility.

“We provide world-class skiing at local pricing,” Sabasteanski said of the trail network that meanders through woods and fields on the 5,000-acre Pineland property, owned by the Libra Foundation. “I’ve been all around Europe and I’ve seen what quality grooming, what quality trails and what a quality experience is all about, and I’ve been able to bring that back to the state of Maine.”

While Pineland has groomed many miles of trail for years around the campus, most of which lies in New Gloucester, this is the first year they haven’t had to wait until Mother Nature provided a blanket.

“We’re the only Nordic center in the area that will have snow and we’re going to start with a 1k loop, just a small training loop,” Sabasteanski said. “But we have the capacity to make another 5k on a loop on the edge of the campus. It’s one of the toughest loops we have – our advanced race loop – so people who are pre-season training can come.”

Susla designed five guns for Pineland. The aluminum guns, which mix cold air and water and spray snow from a nozzle about 10 feet off the ground, were then built last January by Harry Davis, owner of Freeport Manufacturing Company.

What makes the guns even more interesting, according to Susla, is that their original use had nothing to do with snow, but as a method of delivering fertilizer to fields. Using leftover product from the Pineland Creamery, Susla said, the guns were used this summer at Gillespie’s fields on Mayall Road in Gray to spread cheese whey.

“They were always intended for snow, but this is the first time they will be used for snow,” Susla said.

While Sabasteanski praises the involvement of local businesses in the snow-making process, saying “everything has been kept local, and it’s been pretty cost-effective for us,” he also says making snow is “not an inexpensive venture,” mainly due to the amount of fuel needed to operate the air compressors as well as water requirements. Fortunately, the trails on the Pineland campus can be fed by nearby fire hydrants, which the guns tap into using 3-inch fire hose.

“We get water from hydrants, but that also complicates things because we’re connecting to the potable water system, so we have to be very diligent in making sure those connections are right,” Sabasteanski said of the operation, which has received approval from the Yarmouth Water District.

While the artificial snow is meant to provide a layer for those in the area wanting to get a jump on the season, it can also complement Mother Nature when snowfall is light during the season. While recent winters have brought abundant natural snow, Sabasteanski said the capacity to make their own snow will ensure Pineland’s ability to continue hosting middle school and high school cross country ski races, as well as the southern Maine chapter of the Bill Koch Youth Ski League. It could also open the doors to the hosting of larger races, such as those from the New England Nordic Ski Association, he added.

“We’re always open to hosting NENSA events,” Sabasteanski said.

Snowmaking is now in progress at Pineland Farms in New
Gloucester, which last weekend introduced five snowmaking guns,
making it the only Nordic facility in the area with the ability to
make its own snow.    (Courtesy photo by Ben Susla)

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