MAINE, USA — It has been anything but a traditional Maine winter in southern parts of the state. Warm weather and rain are leaving many of the state's popular trails for winter recreating completely bare.
"We need 6 inches to start grooming," Hillary Knight, president of Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, said. "We've got some gigantic puddles around here. That's it."
Smiling Hill Farm is home to nearly 30 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, and when there's enough snow, trails are groomed for classical, and skate skiing. Knight said she and her team started working to prepare for the season in October.
"We start prepping the trails, getting everything ready, transitioning the gift shop into the ski center. Everything's ready. We just need the snow," Knight said.
It's a similar situation for many other areas that offer nordic skiing in southern Maine. At Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Thursday's brief snow was a tease.
"Looking out and seeing all the snow coming down, it looked really encouraging. But as soon as the rain started it dashed all our hopes," Pineland Farms Outdoor Director Neal Reynolds said.
Reynolds said typically in mid-January, Pineland sees between 600 and 700 cross-country skiers per week. However, with nowhere near enough snow to groom the trails, the team has gotten creative to give folks a chance for winter outdoor recreation.
"Pretty much right now, conditions are ideal for it," Reynolds said about fat-tiring biking. Fat-tiring biking is exactly what it sounds like, mountain bikes equipped with larger tires that allow for greater control in rough conditions, like all of the slush and mud currently on the trail system there.
"We try to encourage people to stay off the ski trails because it does dig up trails, but right now it's fair game. People can go anywhere with them," Reynolds said.
Pineland isn't the only cross-country ski location that's getting creative. At Smiling Hill, they're working to find possible opportunities to offer families during February break if there still isn't enough snow. Knight said the temperatures have kept business steady at the farm's ice cream barn.
"A lot of people are going to be coming out for ice cream this afternoon," Knight chuckled.
Both Pineland and Smiling Hill are hopeful that, sometime very soon, enough snow will fall to allow for some cross-country skiing this season.