…in a sentence, its an expansive, scenic, and varied trail system, outstanding trail grooming and GREAT VOLUNTEERS!

There is some question as to whether this year’s Rangeley Lakes Loppet on Saturday, March 7th at the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center on Saddleback Road was the 24th or 25th successful annual day of cross-country ski races in Rangeley.  No matter.  What does matter is that there has been essentially a quarter century of local pride in another day of ski race-hosting job well done.

I have some background with this outstanding day of ski-skating and classic nordic skiing, so if I may not be speaking from authority, I am at least speaking from experience.  Back in March of 2000, I had just moved to our cedar log cabin on Gull Pond to live full-time in the Rangeley Region (we built the cabin over the course of four or five summers in the late ‘80s).  It was also the year of my first of many volunteer stints at the Rangeley Lakes Loppet.

My “water-stop“ volunteer‘s perspective at the recent Rangeley Lakes Loppet Allen Wicken

As a Minnesotan with a nordic pedigree (mostly Norwegian, but also a good dose of Swedish blood as well), I knew the art and science of classic nordic skiing, wooden ski waxing, and the appropriate degree of limited good sense to make for repeated and exhilarating days of skiing and non-life-threatening crashes on some of the more challenging downhill trail segments.  I soon got to know some of the local enthusiasts (the leader, and most enthusiastic of the bunch, was Jeff Foltz) and became a ski club member just before the 3rd or 4th Annual Rangeley Lakes Loppet.

This ski racing brainstorm of Jeff and other early leaders of the Rangeley Lakes Cross Country Ski Club did not always have the present Trails Center on which to stage the loppet (the term is based on the Norwegian word “Lopet” which means a long-distance cross country skiing event of at least 35+ kilometers).  The early flock of local nordic skiing enthusiasts established the first set of trails near the Rangeley Airport.

Permission was granted by owners of a large tract of land in that area on which to carve out a trail system of varying degrees of difficulty.  Directional signs were added, and an adjoining old two-story farmhouse and barn were also loaned to the club for a song.  This matched the club’s early treasury just fine.  The farmhouse became the ski system’s lodge.  A number of small rooms were a challenge at first.  Yet, it soon became a beloved, if not expansive, center for the trails system and its founding members and fee-paying skiers from the local area and western Maine.

By the early 2000’s, it was becoming clear that a small housing boom in the area meant that house lots were soon to replace many of the trails.  A search for another site became an absolute priority for the club.  Another bit of good fortune was the purchase of the Saddleback Ski Area and its surrounding acreage by the Berry family of Farmington. The lower parcel of acres with moderate hills not amenable to downhill skiing, yet including scenic streams and abutting the undeveloped shore of Saddleback Lake, became the focal point of negotiations with the new owners by the cross-country ski club.

To make a fairly long, and challenging, story short,…the negotiations resulted in permission to create a trail system on the land that had once been the location of a very basic and limited set of xc-ski trails established by the prior alpine ski area owners.  A lot of hard work marking and cutting the new trail system out of the wooded area, and even an assemble-yourself yurt was purchased and erected (on a very cold and finger-numbing November day, as I recall) in its present location.  It was supposed to be a temporary lodge, but the passing years have seasoned it to become another much loved, and quite adequate, lodge for the ages.  A barely balanced annual budget has also deferred serious consideration of a more grand and spacious lodge.

Since about 2005 or so, the highly regarded Loppet has been staged at the present Rangeley Lakes Trails Center site.  Skiers, both very accomplished 50k and 25k skate skiing racers, and more recreational 25k classic skiers doing the “Bert Kettle Classic” have spread the word….saying enthusiastically to others “it is a great race venue in early March, with great terrain and trails, great grooming (thanks to Beth Flynn and the rest of the groomer operators)….and friendly, helpful, enthusiastic volunteers” helping every Loppet race day to be a continued success.

Here is what it took, volunteer-wise, to make this past loppet a couple of weeks ago, another grand success:  2 well-trained with all of the state-of-the-art electronics, race-timers, 12 bakers of brownies, cookies, and the like to replenish thousands of expended calories by all of the racers, 5 servers of delicious soups provided free by 9 local restaurants, 12 volunteers at three water stops who are capable of running fast for about 10 yards (periodically) to get most of a paper cup half-filled with water or electrolyte replenishing drink in the hands of elite racers who don’t like to slow down much, 3 trained first aid/first responders, 3 pre-races parking “marshalls”, and last but not least, 3 servers of signature Rangeley Lakes Loppet “hot sausage with onions and peppers on a bun (roll?)” to the famished racers from all over New England !

The “thank-you”s are frequent and sincere coming from all of the racers when the meet up with one of us “locals” who are helping to make their experience at the loppet another great one.  And I have a feeling that the great reputation established by this fine four-season trails center and its enthusiastic supporters and volunteers has made its way to the new owners and general manager of the Saddleback Mountain Ski Resort, and that they already realize what a gem they have in their ready-made nordic ski venue just down the hill a bit from their fine and to-be-expanded alpine ski resort!!

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are…

Garrison Keillor

I’ll be ridin’ shotgun, underneath the hot sun, feelin’ like a someone…


Per usual, your thoughts and comments are more than encouraged.  Jot them down on a 3”x5” card and affix it to an aluminum-wrapped “signature sausage with onions/peppers on a bun” left over from the loppet and preserved carefully in your refrigerator…and slip it inside the log door on our mudroom on the rockbound west shore of Gull Pond….or simply launch an email to [email protected]

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

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