Snowmobile Fun at Northern Outdoors in Maine (5 stars)
My favorite Maine destination is Northern Outdoors, and this month they connected us with Backcountry Expeditions for a trip through Maine’s trails. Brian Crater was my guide for a half-day trip of three hours heading south and stopping at the Moxie Mountain overlook that costs $150 for the sled rental and $100 for the guide. Whole day trips ride out to anywhere such as Greenville and stop for lunch at a real restaurant.
Maine has 14,500 miles of snowmobile trails, and they are all connected, so you can not only ride for the day, you can really travel statewide. There are no laws limiting the age for rides on personal sleds, but Backcountry Expeditions sets a limit of ten years old.
Brian and his wife Rachel make packing for the trip easy. “We try to prepare people for how to dress,” Brian told me, “how to wear layers, and the rest we discuss when they get here.” It turns out to be remarkably easy to ride a snowmobile. You dress in a full body suit to protect yourself against the weather, with a helmet. There’s a single tread, just like the treads on a tank, centered undernearth the snowmobile, and the short skis out in front are inert. They do nothing but hold up the front end and let you scoot along snowy trails, or even for a short distance across paved roads.
Snowmobiling can be done in two ways: one is to get a thrill for speed, and the other just to amble by looking at the scenery. Both are an amazing rush.
First, you couldn’t get more thrilling than zooming along if you enjoy speed. It’s like the downwards part of a roller coaster or have super powers on riding a bicycle. I was quite comfortable a twenty miles per hour, but above that I heard a little girl screaming and soon I realized — it was me! As long as you’re careful to watch for little bumps and little ice patches, you can scoot up to thirty miles and hour and I even hit forty. I found the snowmobile exceptionally easy to steer. The paths were wide, allowing in plenty of sunlight, and pretty soon instead of shrieking I was hooting woo hoo. It’s completely effortless and the snowmobile showed no signs up tipping at any point, although I did get cocky and skid twice in three hours. Pretty good. It felt safe to me even at high speed.
Second, and I am comfortable with my masculinity so I will confess this, I actually enjoyed going slower more. At a speed of 10 or 15 miles per hour, you needn’t worry about bumps and ice patches, and can spend all your time looking around admiring the pristine nature. It’s hard for me to imagine a more beautiful landscape, and the overlook that we stopped at took my breath away. I have to say that snowmobiling is far less scary than skiing, and those of you who have some apprehension should just give it a try.
The only real problem I encountered was my breath fogging up my visor, but Brian assured me that their new business (they are two years old) will invest in new helmets soon. Until then, you will need to open your visor to unfog it, allowing the cold air in, and then close it down when you are feeling cold.
Brian was an exceptional guide who made me feel comfortable right away and explain clearly how the snowmobile worked and where we’d be going. The only fault I can think of is that Brian is very much a need for speed type, who kept outpacing me. Although as the ‘customer’ I knew that I needn’t feel an obligation to keep up, I did of course feel this obligation, and when he kept vanishing out of sight ahead of me, even after I asked him to go slower twice, it meant that he could no longer point out to me areas of the path that might be especially slick or bumpy. But this was a minor issue and to be fair, Brian had no rearview mirrors on his ride.
That evening I was fortunate enough to stay at Northern Outdoors, which has a resort in The Forks, Maine. In the winter, snowmobile tours leave from there and in the summer they have whitewater rafting. A few years ago they put me up in one of their luxury cabins and it could not have been more worth it, including a hot tub. This time, in the winter, I experienced a Lodge-o-minium.
I admit it: I am a bit of a nut about grit. I like to take my shoes off indoors and at an adventure resort it’s impossible to keep dirt and little stones off the floor — except that it is. Somehow my lodge-o-minium was flawlessly tidy, going beyond clean to looking new and unused. It took me a long time to find one tiny spider web and one tiny scuff mark in a place where the walls and each item of furniture seemed pristine. There was nothing there to shame a large hotel chain, despite the higher level of abuse that surely Northern Outdoors takes from the wilderness and its adventure-seeking guests.
The lodge-o-minium comes with thick drapes, allowing you to block out the rising sun and sleep in if you wish. (Did I mention it was fantastically clean? Yea, I can’t get over that.) It came with a comfortable living room area, with a large sofa, kitchen table, and small kitchen with stove, refrigerator, and microwave oven. Its two levels had a very tall ceiling, giving a sense of space, with two queen beds, a twin bed, plus of course a shower in the bathroom. Even the wood on the walls had the same color. It was perfect, a word I do not use lightly.
You’ll want to spend most of your time at Northern Outdoors in its central building, which has a bar, restaurant, and large gathering space with a real fire. It’s the only building on site that has the Internet. You can watch television, play video games, and there’s a pool table. Outdoors, they have a hot tub, which is closed for the season but will return. They also have a small store with gear and memorabilia. The quiet buzz of the guests and staff milling about is pleasant, homey, a nice backdrop to spending your evening with friends.
To me the staff are the reason why Northern Outdoors is my favorite destination in Maine. I’m used to going to a hotel and being treated nicely by the concierge and bellhop — this is to be expected, but this niceness, well, I can often detect a bit of “tip me” or a bit of resentment underneath. It’s just a job to them, so the kindness can be forced. At Northern Outdoors, you get the full summer camp treatment. You are transported to a childhood moment where all the ‘counselors’ form a community of friends who are having the time of their lives as well as working for you. I had a number of unforced, real conversations with the staff, and they made me feel right at home.
If you like my website and read the blog, then trust me. You owe it to yourself to check out Northern Outdoors, which is closer than you think. If you have time to watch TV, you have time to go to Maine, so don’t be lazy and just go. You’ll thank me when you do!