A classic skier passes a winding stream on Lower Pipeline Trail at Rangeley Lakes Trails Center on Dec. 9, 2023. Ron Chase photos

We’d been waiting for a couple of weeks for opening day at Rangeley Lakes Trails Center. I wanted to ski and my wife, Nancy, planned to snowshoe. Dec. 9 was the magical day. A phone call confirmed that many of the ski trails were groomed for classic and skate skiing and snowshoe trails packed by snowmobile.

The exceptional Rangeley Lakes Trail system is situated at the foot of Saddleback Mountain. They receive copious amounts of snow each winter. As a result, it’s one of our favorite winter sports destinations.

The trails are maintained by the Rangeley Lakes Cross Country Ski Club. The dedicated members do a masterful job of keeping the trails in the best possible condition while operating a yurt where passes are purchased.

When we arrived early on a cool, partly cloudy day, some vacant parking spots remained in the lot adjacent to the yurt. Additional space is available in an overflow parking area across the street. The helpful yurt manager confirmed she had skied the Tote Road Trail earlier and it was in good condition. She also informed us that another volunteer was out grooming trails and had reported that Bridge Trail was scratchy in places. As far as she knew, the snowshoe trails were fine but asked Nancy to report back on her findings. We were ready to ski and snowshoe.

A classic skier, I began skiing on Tote Road while Nancy left on Snowshoe Alley. The Tote Road classic tracks were groomed to perfection. I glided effortlessly east in a scenic wintry setting.

The snowshoeing is excellent on Tote Road Trail.

After reaching a major intersection at the end of Tote Road where four trails meet, I continued straight on Bridge Trail. As predicted, the snowpack was thin, which prevented the groomer from setting tracks for classic skiing. However, there was sufficient snow to climb the gradual circuitous incline to View Trail.


View Trail lived up to its name, furnishing exceptional views of the peaks of the Saddleback Mountain Range. Snow conditions were excellent for a steady ascent to the highpoint. However, the descent on the western slope was rough in spots and required careful maneuvering to avoid a fall. An old man in fear of injury, I held a snowplow for much of the steepest section.

At the bottom of the hill, View Trail joins Lower Pump House Road. Turning right on Lower Pump House, I began an easy climb past a side trail on the left that connects with Hoffman Run to the north. Persisting uphill to the top, a stimulating descent followed to the eastern end of Hoffman Run. The approximately 1-mile Lower Pumphouse/Hoffman Run Loop was the best skiing of the day. I added to the entertainment by skiing the loop twice.

While I was contemplating my next trail choice at the Hoffman Connector and Lower Pumphouse junction, several skiers converged there. All expressed excitement and enthusiasm with the arrival of opening day.

I followed another skier double-poling downhill on Lower Pumphouse to Lower Pipeline Trail. We should have paid closer attention to the guidance provided at the yurt; the northern portion of Lower Pipeline was ungroomed. We alternated packing a route on the partially broken path until crossing a bridge where the trail was again groomed and tracked. Skiing next to a winding open stream with Saddleback Mountain as a backdrop was remarkably scenic.

Upper Pipeline Trail begins at the Tote Road/Bridge Trail intersection. The straightforward path ascends steadily uphill for about a mile towards Saddleback Mountain. The benefits of a potential climb seemed worth the effort. When I met a skier enjoying a thrilling ride down, that was all the incentive needed to push on. After completing the strenuous undertaking, I experienced the most exhilarating downhill ski of the day.

Several cheerful skiers were encountered when I returned to the yurt on Tote Road. Shortly before arriving, I met Nancy finishing her trek. She too had enjoyed an invigorating outing.

Rangeley Lakes Trails Center has some of the finest Nordic ski and snowshoe trails in Maine. We anticipate returning for more exciting adventures. “Do a snow dance,” encouraged the yurt manager when we departed.

My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” includes two more Nordic ski trips and several winter mountaineering expeditions.

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco or in bookstores and through online retailers. His previous books are “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals — New England.” Visit his website at ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at ronchaseoutdoors@comcast.net.

A Nordic skier climbs Lower Pump House Road.

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