Skiers enjoy the trails at Carter’s X-C Ski Center in Bethel. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Maine’s Nordic ski areas are anticipating a busy season this winter, based on the bustle on trails this summer during the coronavirus pandemic.

Spreading out skiers is more easily achieved at Nordic centers because skiers don’t have to congregate on long lift lines waiting to be carried up a mountain. There also is not as much of the apres-ski culture found in Alpine skiing, where people gather to socialize afterward.

“Avoiding mass gatherings is easier at Nordic centers, where you just put your boots on and go,” said Matt Sabasteanski, communications director at the Pineland Farms Outdoor Center in New Gloucester.

Gabe Perkins at Bethel Village Trails said if the summer traffic on Bethel’s trails is any indication, skiers will be out en masse. The nonprofit’s 15-mile trail systems saw a 25-to-50 percent increase in traffic this year. And that’s in a ski town full of active outdoor people.

Lots of newbies may be drawn to Nordic skiing as an outdoor outlet since it’s easier to learn than Alpine skiing and requires less investment. Generally a daily trail pass at a cross-country ski center costs between $10 and $20, while equipment rentals cost $10 to $25, and season passes are between $100 and $160.

“We think just like we saw this summer at state parks and on hiking trails, people will want to be active outdoors this winter. We think it will be a huge benefit for Nordic areas,” said Dirk Gouwens, Ski Maine’s executive director.  

Similar to Maine’s Alpine areas, the Nordic centers have been building and planning for more expansive check-in areas to allow for social distancing.

Bethel Village Trails plans to move its entire operation outside to allow for curbside pickup for rentals and tickets at The Bethel Inn golf shop, where the Nordic center is based. Orders will be taken online in advance, or through the ski center’s window. The nonprofit is building two shelters that will offer protection from the wind near the trail center.

“We’re all in this together. We want to make sure people can recreate responsibly as a form of recovery,” Perkins said. 

At Pineland Farms, one of the busiest Nordic ski centers in Greater Portland, the idea is the same – with the operation moving outside to a new hut where rentals will be brought out to guests. The nonprofit also is setting up four additional fire pits at warming huts around the 30-kilometers of trails. The farm’s market food, also, will be sold out on the trail system.

Carter’s X-C Ski Center in Bethel is building a second rental shop so that customers can get boots in one building – and then go to a second building to get skis, poles and snowshoes, to help spread skiers out. Tickets and rentals will be sold online and attendants outside will help assist patrons. 

At Harris Farm in Dayton, owner Dixie Harris said the only big change this winter will be no socializing inside the store, where skiers typically swap stories while enjoying farm fare. As for COVID-19 safety protocols, the farm has been implementing them for months.

“We’ll just transfer those protocols from the farm stand to the ski center,” Harris said. “We’re getting lots of calls for our ski sale. People can’t wait for winter.”

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