The Ghost of Ski Areas Past

“It was a strange figure – like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions” – Charles Dickens

I first spied the line while on a fat bike ride earlier this winter. OK, there’s not much elevation change anywhere near Portland, Maine so calling it a “line” is a little optimistic. But seeing as how I’ve been earning my turns for the past 10 years or so any bit of nearby skiable vertical is a good thing, especially if I don’t have to drive an hour (or more) to reach it.

The snow was crusty and old (much like myself) as we hadn’t had any fresh for a few weeks and the midwinter thaw was in full force. As I rode I noticed that off to the side of the trail was an undeniable clearing in the woods. It led directly off the ridgeline and out of view.  I walked over to the edge of the incline and immediately saw it: a fall line with just enough space to link some turns. I made a mental note to return when (if) the snow did.

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The one, the only – Poplar Ridge

In the meantime I did a little research. Amazingly enough, there had once been a ski area on this hill! The topo map of the area still shows the liftline of the defunct Hurricane Ski Slope .  From 1946-1973 it had operated on this pleasant little slope, with a larger open area of private property still remaining as a pasture to this day. It just goes to show that skiers know a line when they see one, even if it’s only 200 or so vertical feet. I can almost hear the schralpf of ski edges and the cries of kids learning to ski in Winter’s past.

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Entering the danger zone (downhill haha) on my ancient Kazama’s

A week later I finally got my chance to ski it.  After a massive almost 70 degree warm spell had decimated the remaining snowpack we were gifted with a surprise foot of fresh. I headed up to the ridge on my ancient Kazama Mountain High metal edged touring skis, found the clearing and pointed them downhill – a direction they remained headed despite my best efforts to turn them until a tree loomed in my field of view. I’d forgotten how fun it is to coax skinny 210cm double cambered touring skis to turn in fresh snow. I kick turned down the rest of the massive vertical face. Errrrr well it felt intimidating on the skinny skis at least.

As unenlightened it may have been, the proof of concept was sound. There was a hill nearby that offered an opportunity for some sorely lacking verticality in my life! I dug out my rusty-edged-almost-as ancient-as-the-Kazama’s K2 Piste Stinx tele skis and ordered up some 3-pin bindings for some control with my touring boots. After another excruciating week of ridiculous up and down February temperature swings (60deg to zero and the almost back to 50! No one ever said living on the coastal plain in Maine is conducive to great snow conditions!) and a visit from mail order Santa, I was ready for the next storm cycle.

The buds of the beeches may have been fooled but the calendar still read “winter” as a few coastal storms soon churned up the Eastern seaboard. Three feet of fresh fell within a week – winter was back!  With my grungy 90’s era skis humming Nirvana I hit that slope after every storm blanketed it with fresh snow.  The Atlantic Ocean can be a great snow gun under the right conditions.

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“Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us”

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Trees tend to grow arms in the wind and grab skis around here

Some days the powder was knee deep, on others it was crud.  Though the runs may have been short the lift lines were even shorter, not to mention the price was right. I’m not a total cheapskate but $100 plus lift tickets are not my thing anymore. As long as I have enough base to clear most of the fallen tree branches that litter the floor of my little glade the price is right.

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Glades are fun, even if they’only provide 200ft of vertical

Of course now the calendar has been flipped from Winter to Spring. The snows are melting as the sun intensifies with each passing day.  Soon I’ll be mountain biking these very hills as some of the best trails in the area wind to the top of this tiny ridge. It’s my hidden gem, my escape from the everyday.  Regardless of season, it’s a chance to recapture the past and feed that inner child on the slopes of Poplar Ridge.

Oh and Powder Magazine, if you’re listening – feel free to drop by anytime for a tour.

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