For Maine outfitters, rental shops and ski locales, waiting for snow in January is similar to a farm enduring a drought.
“We certainly know when it hasn’t snowed,” said Greg Perry, manager of Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockland, a retail sports store that provides rental snowshoes and cross-country skis. “We’re having a good strong year anyway, but the rental business is dependent on snow.”
While Maine’s larger ski resorts have the ability make snow for their slopes, it’s rare for cross-country trails to be doctored up with man-made snow. And for that reason, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Maine Wilderness Lodges in Greenville — accessed via snowmobile and cross-country ski trails — is late in opening winter. The ground is bare.
“It’s really been a tough year so far,” said Michael Boutin, owner of Northwoods Outfitters in Greenville, which provides outdoor gear, expert advice and guided wilderness trips of the Moosehead region. “My guides are chomping at the bit.”
Their cross-country ski and snowshoe sales are down about 30 percent from last year. Nevertheless, Boutin is optimistic that his business will do just fine, given that snow comes soon.
“The ground is good and frozen,” he said. “So when it does snow, conditions are going to be good.”
Winter trails are abundant in his neck of the woods. His customers don’t have to travel far to reach the AMC ski trail network, as well as the popular cross-country ski trails at The Birches Resort, Lily Bay State Park and Natural Resource Education Center at Moosehead Lake. His guides usually take snowshoers to chase down wildlife tracks at Lily Bay State Park or hike nearby mountains, such as Little Moose Mountain.
Boutin says that just six inches of snow will be good enough to start cross-country skiing on lakes, ponds and carriage roads, and after about a foot of snow, they’ll start grooming the forest trails.
At the moment, the far north, believe it or not, has some snow. And Fort Kent has enough for cross-country skiing, according to staff at 10th Mountain Ski Center in Fort Kent.
“We’ve seen winters like this,” Boutin said. “And usually when the snow does come, there will be a big rush.”
If you’re interested in being a part of that rush, here is a partial list of places in Maine that offer cross-country ski or snowshoe rentals (many of which have a rent-to-buy deal):
BANGOR — Epic Sports, 6 Central St., cross-country touring skis and snowshoes, 941-5670.
BAR HARBOR —Cadillac Mountain Sports, 26 Cottage St., cross-country touring skis, snowshoes and ice skates, 288-4532.
BETHEL — Carter’s X-C Ski Center, 786 Intervale Rd., cross-country touring, skate and backcountry skis and snowshoes, 824-3880.
CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Sugarloaf Outdoor Center, Route 27, snowshoes, ice skates, cross-country skis, 237-6830.
ELLSWORTH — Cadillac Mountain Sports, 32 High St., cross-country touring skis and ice skates, 667-7819.
FREEPORT — L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery, 95 Main St., cross-country skis and snowshoes if attending a “Walk-On Adventure,” 1-888-552-3261.
FORT KENT — 10th Mountain Ski Center, 33 Paradis Circle, cross-country skis and snowshoes, 834-6203.
GREENVILLE — Northwoods Outfitters, intersection of Route 15 and Pritham Avenue, cross-country touring and backcountry skis and snowshoes, 1-866-223-1380.
PRESQUE ISLE — Nordic Heritage Center, five miles east of Presque Isle on Route 167, cross-country skis and snowshoes, 762-6972.
NEW GLOUCESTER — Pineland Farms Outdoor Center, 15 Farm View Dr., cross-country skis and snowshoes, 688-6599.
NEWRY — Sunday River Outdoor Center, 23 Skiway Rd., cross-country skis and snowshoes, 824-5700.
ORONO — New Balance Recreation Center at the University of Maine, snowshoes and cross-country touring skis, 581-1082.
OXFORD — Carter’s X-C Ski Center, 420 Main St., cross-country touring and skate skis and snowshoes, 539-4848.
If you would like to add a place you know of to rent cross-country skis and snowshoes to this list, please leave them information about the shop/locale the comments below.