A group of skiers enjoy the trails along the Androscoggin River at Carter’s XC Ski Center in Bethel. Carey Kish photo

Just 10 minutes down the trail through the woods, shuffling along on skis with an overloaded orange sled in tow, I arrive at a russet-colored frame cabin. With a big smile and a warm heart I read the words on the side of the structure: Camp Fern. It feels like home already, and good thing too, because this is where I’ll be hunkering down for the next two glorious nights.

Camp Fern is one of three off-the-grid cabins available at Carter’s XC Center in Bethel. Carey Kish photo

Situated on the western slopes of Farwell Mountain, Camp Fern is one of three off-the-grid cabins available for overnight stays at Carter’s XC Ski Center in the Middle Intervale neighborhood of Bethel, several miles north of the village. The cabins may each be just a short trip from the trailhead, but the remote feeling is palpable.

The late afternoon sun is streaming through the big picture window as I unpack my duffel bags and spread out, hiker-style. Upstairs are several bunks and beds, and as I spread my sleeping bag over the queen mattress, I consider how sweet it’s going to be tucking into its downy warmth a few hours hence.

Dinner is a simple affair of roasted chicken, potato wedges, salad and red wine from the grocery store in town. Satiated, I push back from the table, grab a book from the shelf and settle in, feet up. Quiet but for the sizzle of the wood stove, I can hear coyotes yipping and a barred owl calling, accentuating the solitude of the place. This is why I’ve come.

Camp Fern’s big picture window looks out to the high mountains beyond Carey Kish photo

Before turning in, I don my headlamp and jacket and head outside to find the privy, then amble over to the woodshed for a few extra armloads of ash, maple and birch. The cabin is comfortable, yes, but it’s going to be a long night. So I stoke the blaze, add a couple sticks, adjust the damper and extinguish the lantern. Sleep is nigh.

Carter’s XC Ski Center features 55 kilometers of cross-country ski trails on 200 acres purchased by Dave and Anne Carter from Dave’s father in 1991. The Carter family has ties to the area dating to the late 1700s; Dave grew up here and developed his lifelong passion for skiing, both downhill and Nordic, while a student at Gould Academy.

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“Dave loved skiing and was always an enthusiastic promoter of the sport,” said Anne Carter. “His dream was to get as many people out on cross-country skis as possible. And to open his own ski center.”

In 1976, the Carters bought a 100-acre farm on Route 26 in Oxford. Summers they worked the farm and winters they ran a ski club, inviting skiers to enjoy the winding trails by donation. Eventually the couple bought some equipment, started a ski shop and turned the place into a real business in 1984. Beloved by many for four decades, the old barn and some of the land in Oxford were sold to Oxbow Brewery in 2018. The brewery continues to welcome skiers on the trails lovingly cut by the legendary Dave Carter, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2014.

A skier enjoys a sunny afternoon on the Carter Pastures trails at Carter’s XC Ski Center in Bethel. Carey Kish photo

Waylaid by several pots of coffee and a rare but delightful laziness, it was late morning before I made my way down to Willowbrook Lodge on Intervale Road, the base of operations for Carter’s XC Ski Center. The center, which continues to be a family business run by Anne and her daughter, Jes, has a complete ski shop of gear as well as ski, snowshoe and fat tire bike rentals. Ski lessons are available, and if you’d like a guided tour, Jes Carter will happily lead the way.

Anne Carter, right, and daughter Jes Carter operate Carter’s XC Ski Center in Bethel. Carey Kish photo

On the mountainside where the cabins are nestled is the center’s more challenging network of ski trails, which lead to an overlook with a grand view of the White Mountains. Emanating from the lodge are the easier trails, which wind through tall pines to the old cow pastures along the Androscoggin River.

I spent most of my ski time making enjoyable laps along the river and leisurely soaking in the wide open views of the surrounding jumble of mountain peaks. Pleasantly tired, I relaxed that evening once again at Camp Fern content in knowing that all I had to do the following day was do it all over again.

Start planning your own Carter’s XC Ski Center ski and stay adventure with a visit to cartersxcski.com

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow more of Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish


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