We're having a tough December here in Maine for outdoor sports. Our already-thin snow base has been devastated by ice and rain. We're projected to get some powder in the next few days, but I couldn't wait any longer to get into the woods and play. Rather than risk my recovery from a pinched nerve by nordic skiing on icy conditions, I grabbed my running snowshoes and headed to the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center.
I'm familiar with their nordic trails, which are extensive and well-maintained, but I've never ventured out onto the snowshoe paths which thread through the ski network. The gentleman at the lodge provided me with a cheat-sheet with trail descriptions that described the terrain, views, mileage and projected completion times. It's a nice companion to the maps of the Outdoor Center, which show the color-coded snowshoe trails in the context of the nordic trails, the warming hut and the surrounding peaks.
Because the snow was thin and poor, only the shorter and closer trails were packed. I was welcome anywhere on the snowshoe trails, but I dislike breaking trail in my smaller running snowshoes, when that's even possible. Even with these limits, I was able to make at least a 2.5 mile loop through the woods on the Red and Yellow trails, and could have taken a longer route on the Green trail, which also looked well-packed. I decided to be conservative on an unfamiliar network, my first time out, on ice and managing an injury.
Honestly, I need not have been so concerned, but there's no such thing as being too careful when you're managing a comeback. I was able to move easily and quickly along the trails, which rolled through some beautiful mixed forest. I only ran a few paces in a couple of perfect places, but certainly enjoyed how even at a brisk walk I felt light and nimble on my running snowshoes.
I found that personally, my moving times were well below the projections in the trail descriptions. If you are a novice, and especially if you are renting the larger, heavier walking snowshoes that they offer at the Outdoor Center, you may find that the time projections are much more accurate to your pace.
The trails are well-laid along hills, through some lovely varied woods, and along the shores of some wetlands and a small pond. Although the longer trails, which I could not access today, offer more sustained climbs, the total elevation gains along the network are modest compared to the hiking trails in the surrounding peaks.
I'm looking forward to a return in better snow later this season. Usually, my visits to the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center are focused on skiing endurance, but I'm eager to add snowshoe running into the routine. Their gorgeously laid singletrack offers adventure just as short or as long as I want to run. Furthermore, it's incredibly novice friendly, which makes me confident recommending it to anyone interested in developing skill on running or hiking snowshoes.
Pro Tip: the food at the Bull Moose Bakery, in the lodge, is excellent. You can spend the whole day on a single or multi-sport adventure and come in a time or two to warm up with coffee and snacks, even a full meal.