The northern frontier: Fort Kent, Maine (Part 2)

Between Lonesome Pine and the touring trails, the challenging five-kilometer loop competition trails designed by John Morton hosted the 2004 Biathlon World Cup. For those who forget their headlamps, three kilometers are ]it. Beginning immediately outside the day lodge, it passes the biathlon range before climbing and dipping through thick cedar, spruce and birch trees.

Alternately, if the T-bar is running, hop it to the hill top for a small charge and ski ten feet to find yourself in the competition trail’s middle. If the T-bar is closed, and you are in good shape, traverse the slopes to the top. On the competition trail, Mike’s Mountain is the highest point; the climb to the top leaves legs heavy with fatigue, but invigorated by the twisty slalom-like course that follows.

Lonesome Pine trails

On the touring and competition trails, impeccable grooming leaves a wide skating lane and crisp classic tracks, set fresh after new snow and for weekend visitors by Mike Paradis and his 14-foot-wide Bombardier. Early season snow and the Lonesome Pine trails are groomed by snowmobile.

Adjacent to the trail sits a heated building with 26 wax rooms. One waxing room, often with an iron and basic service tools, is open to the public when the area has no events.

While all facilities and trails are provided at no charge, a small donation is appreciated. The day lodge adds amenities that shoot the ski area past the usual day-use venue. After skiing, hit the showers and sauna in the basement, or stretch out with a good book beside the second level stone fireplace. Enjoy your own lunch at one of the hand-carved tables. Keep your food and drinks cold during the day in the refrigerator, and warm them up in the microwave or on the stove–all located in the communal kitchen. Look out the large bay windows at passing skiers, shooting biathletes or swaying birch trees. Chat with the resident athletes.

Longer Days; Unlimited Trails

In springtime, Fort Kent is at its best. The freeze-and-thaw cycle forms a thick, weight-bearing crust atop the snow usually by late March. Days become longer and warmer. Because the approximately 130″ of annual snowfall often lasts through the middle of April, you can add a week to your winter.

With hundreds of acres of” potatoes, buckwheat and oats, the fields just south of Fort Kent are prime for spring crust cruising. Drive to one of the fields, snap on a pair of skate skis, and the choice is yours. Left, right, climb or tuck. Just remember: crust is best enjoyed in the morning. Too late, and you will fall through; too early, and the crust might be too icy.

One of the best fields near Fort Kent sits off the Violette Settlement trail, below the Red Barn, a landmark shown on the trail map. Park in the lot by the day lodge, ski to the field, hit the crust for an hour or two and ski back for lunch and a sauna. In the afternoon, enjoy the groomed trails at the ski center or carve turns in the slush on the alpine hill.

Admittedly, Fort Kent is remote and rustic. There are no five-star resorts, no award-winning restaurants, no chic boutiques along Main Street. For skiers who truly want to get north of it all to enjoy the solitary feeling of” skiing, Fort Kent is an unspoiled, unpretentious choice.

For more skinny …

How to get there:

By any means, Fort Kent is a long way from anywhere. Its remoteness makes it a unique place. Getting to Fort Kent is challenging, but a fascinating experience of its own. Fly into Quebec City, the nearest city, and enjoy the culture of the French Canadian capital. Drive three hours east along the Saint Lawrence River to Fort Kent. If you prefer to stay in the US, fly into Bangor and drive north four hours. Plan on flying in early for stunning views of Mount Katahdin along the way.

Where to stay:

The Northern Door Inn (866/834-3133;www.northerndoorinn.com) has comfortable motel-style rooms, offers a simple breakfast and is centrally located in town. Located in Clair, directly across from Fort Kent, the Maple Leaf (506/992-2120) has hotel rooms and an in-house restaurant. The Overlook Motel (9.07/444-4535; www.overlookmotel.com) has modern rooms as well as lakeside cabins in Eagle Lake, a 20-minute drive from Fort Kent. For other cabins, try Pond Brook Cabins (207/444-6108; www.pondbrookcabins.com), also in Eagle Lake.