Now that we’ve actually been blessed with some natural snow, Maine’s Nordic ski areas have opened alongside our downhill slopes. According to the nonprofit Ski Maine Association’s membership rolls, Maine is home to 18 cross-country ski areas. The trails of these Nordic ski centers are long enough to ski from Portland to Albany, New York, and back.

The largest of these networks is covered by the umbrella of the Maine Wilderness Lodges. Owned and operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Maine Wilderness Lodges offer Nordic skiers a chance to explore over 66,000 acres of conservation land that the AMC owns. The network is so named because it strings together mile after mile of ski trails with a number of lodges, allowing skiers to use the trails during the day and stay overnight in wilderness lodges.

The Gorman Chairback Lodge and Little Lyford Lodge, nestled in Maine’s 100-mile wilderness, mix blissful solitude, amazing terrain and comfortable amenities for those willing to make the trip. The lodges, east of Moosehead Lake and south of Baxter, show off a part of Maine that many tourists and even locals never explore.

The trail network is massive, with 80 miles of groomed trails of varying difficulty. The shortest ski-in trip is from a winter parking area to Little Lyford, about six miles. Once you are on the network, you can string together interlodge and day trips that span dozens of miles.

The lodge-to-lodge ski trail offers groomed backcountry skiing between the Gorman Chairback and Little Lyford lodges, as well as lodges owned by partner West Branch Pond Camps. All three provide meals, showers and a choice between private cabins or a shared bunkhouse space. The AMC even provides a shuttle between cabins, allowing skiers to travel light from place to place.

The lodges also work closely with snowmobile clubs to maintain motorized access, but they keep the snow machines largely away from the ski trails. The result is pleasant skiing and snowshoeing rarely interrupted by the buzz of engines.

The AMC lodges are open to skiers for the bulk of winter, depending on trail conditions; a typical season runs from December through March. They open back up after mud season for summer visitors. Rates at either of the lodges for nonmembers start around $100 for the shared bunkhouses and $150 to $200 for private cabins. Reservations can be made on the AMC website, outdoors.org.

While the Maine Wilderness Lodges are the largest network of ski trails in Maine, they aren’t the only option for skiers hoping to plan an ambitious multihut expedition. The Maine Huts and Trails system, based in Carrabassett Valley, links four huts across 43.5 miles of ski trail.

If you have been on any section of the large trail network, or stayed and eaten at any of the four “huts” (actually eco-lodges strategically located at about 12-mile intervals) you are well aware of the unique experience.

From the trailhead on Route 27, skiers and snowshoers can traverse to the Stratton Brook, Flagstaff, Grand Falls and Poplar Huts. Each hut features amenities like home-cooked meals with local organic ingredients, comfortable beds, bathrooms with showers and even shuttles to transport your gear from hut to hut. They also serve beer and wine; fellow Maine beer-lovers will be happy to hear local breweries like Baxter, Geary’s, and Rising Tide are well represented.

Modeled on the Alpine huts of the Alps, the huts of the Maine Huts and Trails system each have their own feel. The newest, Stratton Brook, offers great views of Sugarloaf and the Bigelows, as well as easy access to the trails of the nearby Sugarloaf Outdoor Center. Flagstaff sits on the shore of Flagstaff Lake. Grand Falls, the northernmost hut, is also the most remote, while Poplar (only three miles from the trailhead) is the easiest for beginners, families and day trippers.

The trails of the network are also gorgeous, and relatively minor changes in elevation over their length mean they aren’t too challenging for beginning and intermediate skiers. With that said, they are only groomed on a weekly basis, so prepare for backcountry-like conditions. If you fear your Nordic skills aren’t up to snuff, the trails can be traversed by snowshoe.

Trail access to the Huts and Trails network is free but lodging is not. Rates for the shared bunkhouse rooms are $90 for adults and $45 for 17 and under during the week, and $130 and $65 during weekends and holidays. The rate includes dinner, breakfast and a trail lunch. Select guided trips can be booked at MaineHuts.org, but regular reservations – as well as arrangements for private rooms – must be made by phone at 265-2400.

Josh Christie is a freelance writer and lifetime outdoors enthusiast. He shares column space in Outdoors with his father, John Christie. Josh can be contacted at:

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