Ski the World-Class Nordic Trails of the Maine Winter Sports Center
By Virginia Wright, Courtesy of the Maine Tourism Association
Aroostook County possesses a mystique, a sort of more-Maine-than-Maine allure. It’s huge, for one thing. At 6,672 square miles, it’s the largest county east of the Mississippi. It is sparsely populated—less than 6 percent of the state’s population lives here. And it’s way, way up north, sharing more than half its border with Canada. In fact, The County is so remote that many residents speak “Franglais,” a French-English hybrid rarely heard elsewhere.
There are many things you’d expect to find in such a place—small-town friendliness, say, and simple lifestyles—but international sporting events are not among them. Surprise! Aroostook is home to not one, but two Nordic facilities that have hosted national and international championships, including the 2004 World Cup Biathlon.
“These are world-class venues,” said Andy Shepard of the nonprofit Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC), which operates 10th Mountain Lodge, in Fort Kent, and the Nordic Heritage Center, in Presque Isle. “Europeans consider them among the top five Nordic and biathlon venues in the world.”
You don’t have to take his word for it. While visiting during the World Cup in Fort Kent, Paul Collard, who is creating a biathlon venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia, said MWSC put forth “some of the best efforts in the world.” Moreover, he told the Bangor Daily News, “There is great community spirit here, people working together to make this happen [and] having fun doing it.”
Likewise, Rainer Rosenbaum, director of a German television network that broadcast the World Cup to millions of German households, called the facility “beautiful” and said the network portrayed Fort Kent as “a very nice place for the holidays.”
MWSC hosted two more big events in 2005, the National Junior Biathlon Championship, in Presque Isle, in February, and the International Paralympic Nordic World Championships, in Fort Kent, in March. The Junior Biathlon Championship was, in effect, a dry run for the World Junior Championships for Biathlon to be held in Presque Isle in 2006, the first time that event has been held in the United States. Many of the biathletes will go on to compete in the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy, the following week. The Paralympic World Championships featured world-class athletes with disabilities from 17 nations competing in Nordic and biathlon events. Four Nordic and two biathlon titles were up for grabs. The International Paralympic Committee is affiliated with the International Olympic Committee. Their respective Olympic games are held in the same year and, since 1988, at the same venues.
You can ski these world-class venues. Both centers, which double as community touring centers, have trails designed by John Morton—25 kilometers at Fort Kent, 12 at Presque Isle. Both have lighted roller-ski loops, full ranges with 30 shooting stations and 26-room waxing facilities. Lodges were designed by Peter Gallenz, a former World Cup Skier, and are noted for being spectator-friendly. The 10th Mountain Lodge pays homage to Fort Kent’s 1840s blockhouse, a National Historic Site. Nordic Ski Center reflects the traditional style of the Swedish community that helped develop skiing in the United States.
World-class events are just part of MWSC’s mission to reestablish skiing as a lifestyle and invigorate local economies. MWSC has invested in four community ski areas and its programs have inspired schools to reintroduce skiing into their athletic programs. In 2002 and 2003, five MWSC athletes won a combined 11 medals in national championships, including five golds.
photo credit: Courtesy Maine Winter Sports Center