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Living In Portland

Ski Portland!

Admittedly, it hasn't been much of a winter here, or anywhere else in North America. But Portland, Maine does occupy the northern latitudes, which means that we get snowstorms, even in a globally-heated world. This week, March came in like a lion and dropped a foot of snow over the city.

Some people gripe about the winter weather. But a lot of us (the author included) love it. On snow days, schools are closed, and so are many offices. It's the perfect opportunity to hunker down for a day of compulsory relaxation.

Or you can head outside. In 2010, Outside magazine named Portland the best "adventure town" in the east, thanks to the abundance of outdoor recreation within day-tripping distance of the city. For skiers, there are big mountains like Saddleback and smaller, more affordable areas like Mount Abram, and then there are the miles of groomed nordic skiing trails at Pineland Farms, just 20 minutes up the road in New Gloucester, Maine.

But even when driving is terrible, there are numerous ski trips you can make within city limits.

On the Eastern Prom, a short hill that's popular for sledding can also be skied, from the end of Congress Street to a stone's throw from the Atlantic Ocean. There's also a shorter, steeper pitch through the trees next to the playground. The slope between the street and the ocean is short and not terribly steep, but how many ski runs end on a beach? Even though it's only in the 20s, on a sunny day you can still manage to get a suntan.

The Eastern Prom area is also good for cross-country skiing. It's about a mile from the abandoned railroad trestle to the north and around to the Portland Company complex to the south, and finding a few lines of untracked powder on the hills in between.

Skiers less concerned with scenery can find a slightly bigger hill on the other side of town, at the Western Prom. New Hampshire's Mount Washington is also visible from the top on clear days, which lends this ski run more of an alpine flavor. It's also longer and steeper, although you'll have to watch out for the plowed walkway that traverses the hill in switchbacks. This is a good place to ski off into the sunset at the end of your workday (as my wife Jess is doing in the photo at the top of this post).

On the other side of Back Cove, the city parks and recreation department has been building a terrain park on the hill in Payson Park for the past several winters, thanks to donated equipment from some of the state's big ski areas and local enthusiasts. The hill even has snowmaking equipment to keep it going through snow droughts.

On the outskirts of the city, several large parks and open spaces host extensive trail networks for cross-country skiing. My favorite places include the Fore River Sanctuary (where you can ski along the edges of Portland's biggest salt marsh), and the Riverside Golf Course, where volunteers from the Portland Nordic Ski Club groom trails for skate-skiing (they ask for a small donation, but it's a bargain).

So if global warming's got you down, there's no need to burn gallons of petrochemicals to get away to the mountains - ski Portland instead!

Photo: Jessica skis the Western Prom. Photo by Christian MilNeil.

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