WATERVILLE — Childhood friends Liza Goss of Wiscasset and Nell Houde of Jefferson have been visiting with each other only on outdoor outings during the coronavirus pandemic. They hiked together in the summer; then met up to bike in the fall. And when winter came, both returned to Nordic skiing after years away from the sport.
“Since we don’t live in the same household, we do things together outside. We came back to skiing to stay safe,” Goss said last weekend after the two drove an hour from their respective homes to Quarry Road Trails in Waterville to skate ski together.
Goss and Houde are part of a national trend as a record number of skiers turn to cross-country skiing during the pandemic, after a fall in which Nordic gear sales spiked. Nordic centers across the country have seen an increase of 20 to 50 percent in day tickets, season passes and rentals this winter, according to the Cross Country Ski Areas Association in Woodstock, Vermont.
“We just finished collecting the data. But the raw data shows huge increases in just about everything,” said Executive Director Reese Brown. “It’s unfortunate it had to come to a pandemic for this to happen. Obviously, we would do anything to not have COVID. But now our attention is on retention.”
In Maine, as well, Nordic ski centers are reporting an increase in cross-country skier traffic. Even in southern Maine, where an early start to winter fizzled out after rain melted the snow pack by late December, the early signs are promising.
In Rangeley, it’s unclear if the 30-percent increase in skiers at the Rangeley Lakes Trail Center is attributable to the pandemic or the long-awaited reopening of Saddleback, the popular Alpine area just up the road that has brought downhill skiers back to the region after the ski area was shuttered for five years.
Rangeley Lakes Trail Center General Manager Beth Flynn said she’s never seen both parking lots full on the weekends. The center’s free Sunday ski lessons have been full, Flynn said, another indication that the sport is attracting new skiers.
“I’ve seen a lot of people I wouldn’t normally see,” Flynn said. “I do think people really want to get outside.”
Not far away at Titcomb Mountain in Farmington, a new ski race series on Thursday nights sold out quickly. Held under stadium lights, the series will add another healthy outlet during the pandemic. It allows for 80 participants (to stay well within the state’s limits of 100 people at outdoor gatherings during the pandemic) and offers three race classes: middle school, high school and masters.
“The Twilight series sold out within a week,” said General Manager Seth Noonkester.
Another first at Titcomb Mountain: two Nordic ski clinics for beginners will be offered on the Sundays of school vacation week. For $20 – which includes the $10 trail pass – newbies can learn proper technique in classic and skate skiing.
“Technique in Nordic skiing is huge. It is the difference between being work – and being fun work,” said Tony Ramsey of the Farmington Ski Club. “We’ve talked about holding a beginner class before. The pandemic opened up the opportunity with so many new people wanting to try it.”
At Black Mountain of Maine in Rumford, Nordic season pass sales are up 100 percent over last year, said Deanna Kersey, the center’s marketing director. Traffic on the trails is up, as well, thanks in part to the new Friday free ski days, compliments of L.L. Bean.
“That has opened up the eyes of many recreational skiers to our Nordic trails, resulting in more day passes sold over the weekends,” Kersey said.
In southern Maine, trails were largely devoid of snow during a dry January. But some Nordic centers in the region reported record sales in December before a Christmas Day rainstorm washed away the snow.
At Pineland Farms, season-pass sales were higher than usual in December, said Matt Sabasteanski, the Outdoor Center’s spokesman. Harris Farm in Dayton had the best December in cross-country ski sales in 35 years, said Rachel Harris.
“Everyone wanted to get outside,” Harris said. “There are always people who buy a season pass. But there were other people looking for something to do in early December.”
On Wednesday afternoon after the Nor’easter last week, Harris Farm was buzzing with a steady stream of skiers. Many were returning to the sport after years away from it. Plenty in the crowded upper parking lot were cheering for more snow this winter.
MaryAnne Roy and her 10-year-old son, Austin, were there learning to cross-country ski. On just their third day out, MaryAnne Roy laughed when she said they had seen a few falls, but both of them embraced the new adventure.
“There are a lot of metaphors for life in this, like you’ve got to dig in when you’re going uphill,” Roy said. “Then at the top, you get to enjoy the glide.”
Roy and her son had talked of taking up Nordic skiing for years. For the first time this winter, she said they finally had the time to do it – all they needed was the snow. And they got it last week.
“We don’t have as many commitments – we aren’t doing as many activities now, because they’re canceled,” Roy said. “That’s one of the silver linings (to the pandemic). We have more time to try this.”
— to www.pressherald.com