Forget the gym. Just head outside this new year to clear your head, test your comfort zone and play in the snow. Whether on the sidelines at a spectator-friendly ski resort, traipsing through the woods on snowshoes or skinny skis, or ripping through the gates, you'll find it.
Embrace winter in Back Cove's Payson Park during the Jan. 23 WinterKids Welcome to Winter Festival. The festival (winterkids.org) got its start as a way to show immigrant children the joys of living in a cold climate and is now open to the general community. From 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. families can go sledding, snowshoeing, Zumba and ice skating. Hot chocolate, healthy snacks, masco visits, the L.L. Bean Bootmobile and giveaways are planned. Don't miss those inflatable kayaks and rafts on the sledding hill.
Romp through the forests within an hour of Portland. Ski Maine lists 18 Nordic centers in the state. Cross-country skiing is invigorating, affordable and calorie-burning. Plus a healthy share of them are on farms making for some creative homemade apres ski concoctions. Try the 40k network of Harris Farm in Dayton (harrisfarm.com), or the one-way trails by the apple orchards at Bridgton's Five Fields Farm (fivefieldsski.com). New Gloucester's Pineland Farms (pinelandfarms.org) caters to outdoor lovers in every season while Carter's XC (carterxcski.com) in Oxford is a fine network with some nice flats for newbies and rolling hills for intermediates.
Hard to believe it was only three years ago that the Red Bull Frozen Rush premiered at Sunday River (sundayriver.com). Okay, so off-road Pro 4 trucks with 900-horsepower engines catching air off berms or a dual gap jump on your favorite terrain at South Ridge makes you steam. But you gotta feel the power when they rev those engines and create snowy dust devils as they go head-to-head on the custom course which includes an over-under jump. The free event is Jan. 8, with qualifiers on Jan. 7. Party both nights at the Foggy Goggle.
Get going in the Mountain Dew Vertical Challenge (skiverticalchallenge.com). The long-standing race series is a prime place to try that first race through the gates. Or, if you’re a seasoned skier or rider, clean up with some medals and freebies. The race is free with a lift ticket and is very family-friendly. The competition comes to Maine on Feb. 6 at Shawnee Peak and returns March 5 at Mt. Abram. Medals are given to the first three finishers in each category. The finals are in northern Vermont at Jay Peak April 9.
The old-school style of snowboarding lives again during the sixth annual Sugarloaf Banked Slalom March 19 and 20 (sugarloaf.com). Hosted by Olympian (and CVA grad) Seth Wescott, the good vibes on the slalom course come from polished pros who've showed up over the years, like Olympian Ross Powers and CVA alum and World Cup rider Alex Tuttle to up-and-comers. Lots of swag and fun. Watch it or compete. This is what competitive riding looked like before the pipe and park evolution.
Enjoy some backwoods comfort with Maine Huts and Trails ( mainehuts.org). The growing network and hut system with four backcountry huts and more than 80 miles of trails so far in western Maine. In winter, consider a snowshoe or free-heel ski excursion using Poplar and Stratton Brook Huts near Sugarloaf. Snowshoe on the new Oak Knoll trail to Stratton Brook. Ski and snowshoe to Poplar. Do a hut-to-hut adventure either on your own or with a guide. Gear shuttles and guides are available.
Slide through the woods under the watchful eyes of little gnomes living in trailside homes at the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center (rangeleylakestrailscenter.com). Those gnomes were created by volunteer Marty Velishka and come in myriad shapes and sizes. Run by the Rangeley Lakes XC Ski Club, the 55k network also holds top notch events. The Rangeley Fat Bike Loppet debuts Jan. 31 while the popular 20th annual Rangeley Lakes Loppet (25k race or tour) is March 5. The Moose Dash Snowshoe Race (5k and 10k) is March 20. Do all three and be a stud.
When you stay at the summit in Shawnee Peak's Northridge Yurt and Tuckerman's Cabin (shawneepeak.com) it's like having your own private ski area. Ski under the lights and then bunk down in the four-person yurt or six-person cabin with necessities like kitchen utensils, propane stove and outdoor fire pits. Fire up dinner and for dessert mellow out under the stars. First tracks will certainly be memorable.