The Yarmouth High Nordic ski team runs on the school’s track during a conditioning practice on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

As many high schools in southern Maine finally begin their winter sports seasons with practices this week, athletes and coaches on Nordic ski teams must contend with another issue: no snow.

Last week, the Maine Principals’ Association revised its regulations regarding the Maine Department of Educations’ color-coded health advisory system for schools, allowing local districts to decide whether teams can practice or play games.

For those Nordic ski programs given the green light to practice, the lack of snow in southern Maine is hampering what they can do. For now it’s a lot of running, strength training and agility work, with some roller skiing when possible.

“We’re approaching February very quickly and to not have any days on snow right now is very disheartening,” said Yarmouth Nordic Coach Dylan Thombs.

Schools in western Maine, such as Fryeburg Academy, have snow – and its Nordic skiers are getting on the trails. But along coastal southern Maine, the trails are green, or muddy, not snow-covered.

“We’ll try to get somewhere where there is snow if possible,” said Freeport Nordic Coach Joel Hinshaw. “But that’s the hard part. We can’t all just jump in our cars and go.”

Thombs, in his second season as head coach, said schools can’t let the lack of snow distract from what is important: that after weeks of being able to communicate only virtually, the team is together again.

Cumberland County was given a “yellow” designation in the color-coded system on Dec. 18, joining Androscoggin, Oxford and York counties, who had been yellow since Dec. 4.  That means those counties were not allowed to practice until the MPA revised its guidelines last week.

Yarmouth High Nordic ski coach Dylan Thombs speaks to his skiers during a conditioning practice on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Moving forward, even as we don’t have snow, my tune as a coach has not changed,” said Yarmouth’s Thombs. “We will support one another as a family, support one another as a team and continue to promote a healthy lifestyle that is COVID friendly.

“We take COVID seriously. Masks are worn all the time, we socially distance, all practices will be outside. We’re approaching the season with an abundance of caution and will double down on those efforts.”

Thombs said the Clippers have about 55 skiers on the roster. Each practice includes about half the team, based on the school’s hybrid academic system. Students in school that day are allowed to practice.

“Even if we can only get half the kids together at a time, I think that’s a smart, measured approach,” he said.

Freeport’s Hinshaw said the team had two good weeks of snow before Christmas in which the skiers could work out on their own. But the rainstorm on Christmas and the warmth that followed wiped that away.

Like Thombs, he is stressing the positive aspects of being together while trying to figure out how to practice. The Falcons will run, do strength and technique reviews and roller ski when possible.

“It’s about getting the team back together and making social connection, getting them back into thinking about skiing,” said Hinshaw. “That’s important. They’ve been training on their own but it’s been hard to do it on their own. It’s about getting back to a team scene and evaluating fitness, seeing where everyone is.”

None of the local trails – Twin Brook, Riverside, Pineland Farms – have snow. And only Quarry Road in Waterville has snow-making capabilities. But right now it’s too difficult to get transportation to Waterville for the southern Maine schools.

The trails at Stark’s Mountain in Fryeburg are snow-covered. Raiders Coach John Weston grooms the trails each morning. “The course is fully open,” he said. “We have no more than six inches, and it’s packed out to three or four. But they are good trails and have good drainage so we’re able to maintain them.”

He hopes that once the Western Maine Conference allows competitions the week of Feb. 8 that they can hold some there.

“This is a very positive step,” he said of the opening of practices. “Now if we can start to get more snow …”

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