You rattle in your seat as Pleasant Road turns to gravel. Eleven miles later, you leave the wheels behind in the winter parking lot and haul your overnight luggage to a shed for the snowmobile shuttle. And after scribbling your name on the register, you strap on your daypack, clip into your skis, and glide onto the trail.
“If you’re not there by dinner, we’ll come looking for you,” yelled a smiling man from his snowmobile.
The whining of his engine fades away as you turn right onto Trout Brook Trail. Then, it’s the creaking of frozen trees, wind sweeping across Long Pond and the swish of skis over packed snow for miles.
Fighting through the arms of birch and pine, the sun’s light wanes in the forest long before it reaches the horizon. But just up ahead on Long Pond Trail, after 8 miles of traversing the white terrain, the glow of solar lights emerges. You’ve reached Gorman Chairback Lodge, the newest link in Appalachian Mountain Clubs Maine lodge-to-lodge cross-country ski chain.
“It’s a beautiful building in a beautiful location,” said Dan Rinard, Gorman Chairback’s year-round manager. “We were really lucky this year. The ski conditions are awesome. The groomers have been busy keeping the trails neat.”
Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins sits on the shore of Long Pond in the Moosehead Lake Region and is surrounded by 66,000 acres of AMC-owned conserved land. The state-of-the-art building, which opened for guests on Jan. 27, is designed to be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) registered sporting camp building in Maine.
Completely off the grid, the lodge’s has a solar-powered electrical system, radiant heated floors, abundant insulation, and double-glazed, argon-filled windows.
Amenities include a wood-fired sauna, hot showers, recycling toilets, unlimited coffee and tea, linens, home-cooked breakfast and dinner and fixin’s to make lunch and trail snacks.
“The building is up to modern standards, but still retains the feel of a camp,” said AMC member Walter Grous from Durham, N.H., who was on his way out of the woods on Saturday after spending the night at Gorman Chairback with his wife, Emma.
Walter has been using the same skis for 40 years, and Emma wears her original bindings. They’ve skied to lodges in the White Mountains, but they didn’t compare to luxury of Gorman Chairback.
Rinard has seen a wide range of people visiting the lodge and cabins since it’s opening day. There’s something for everyone, he said: 35 miles of ski trails around the lodge, local snowshoe trails including Third Mountain and the Barren-Chairback Ridge and a comfy reading room for people who’d rather stay indoors and enjoy the tranquil view.
Rinard, who enjoys ice skating, is trying to make a small rink on the edge of lake in his spare time. With the frequent snowfall, it’s been difficult task to keep the space clear for flooding.
The 100-mile dogsled race brought several AMC volunteers to stay at the new lodge last weekend.
“I came last year, and it wasn’t open yet,” said Lynne Route of North Conway, N.H., as she relaxed in a leather chair beside the wood stove in the lodge’s reading room. “I just fell in love with the skiing and the people.”
Three AMC companions sat with her, drinking wine and passing around crackers.
“The ski in yesterday was so beautiful,” said Route. “I’m a birder. I saw a black-backed woodpecker right at the 2-mile mark. They’re kind of illusive, hard to find. He posed for the camera.”
“This place was done first class,” said Bill Stoner of Indiana, who was skiing the lodge-to-lodge network solo, making friends along the way. “Nobody realizes how cool this place is yet.”
Solar-powered lights hung from the high, peaked ceiling, crossed by enormous beams. The smell of fresh lumber ceded to roasting turkey as bowls of stuffing, mashed potatoes and peas were placed out on tables made by Maine House Furniture in Abbott.
“Everything’s homemade and a little bit more TLC when it comes to the food,” said lodge cook Nate Dusoe.
Guests settled down at the tables in wooden chairs made in Rumford. The trees used to construct the walls keeping out the winter cold all came from within 500 miles of the building site — a requirement for LEED certification.
“One of our focuses is having a positive impact on people of the county,” he said. “The contractors [for the lodge] are all from within 20 miles of Greenville.”
Gorman Chairback was first built as a private camp in 1867, and was a commercial camp until 1990. Since the AT used to travel directly through that area, it was also a re-supply stop for through-hikers. AMC acquired the camp just 3.5 years ago, though they purchased the surrounding 38,000 acres about 7 years ago, according to Operations Manager for AMC Maine Woods Gary Dethlefsen.
Extending the network of lodges with Gorman Chairback is a part of AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative, a campaign that has led to the permanent protection of 100,000 acres of forest while preserving public access for outdoor recreation and nature-based tourism.
“There was some concern that this building would be out of place and too much,” said Dethlefsen. “But those skeptics have changed their mind. It fits, and I think it’s better than the original proposal because it’s hidden from the lake [set back farther from the shore than originally planned].”
After a dessert of brown sugar pie, guests lingered in the reading room or ventured into the starless night to their cabins. Though the lodge is new, the oldest cabin beside Long Lake was made just after the Civil War, and the newest was built in the 1930s. The AMC restored these cabins, adding donated L.L. Bean furnishing, but reserving their rustic charm. Wood stoves, gas lighting and flannel linens keep the refurbished cabins cozy and warm.
Each of the eight cabins holds 1-6 people, and a separate bunkhouse holds up to 12 guests. They plan to construct four additional cabins this spring, according to Rinard.
“It’s just the experience of being about to get away from the busy streets, turning the beeper off, turning the laptop off, turning the cell phone off, and having a cozy meal and enjoying nature,” Dusoe said. “It’s a great getaway.”
So far this season, the crew hasn’t had any emergencies, but they have left the lodge on snowmobile during dinnertime to find guests who chose a lengthy trail.
Gorman Chairback is the southern-most point in AMC’s lodge-to-lodge network. Many of the people staying at Gorman Chairback stayed at Little Lyford, West Branch or the Medawisia Wilderness lodges and cabins before skiing of the woods.
Gorman Chairback is slated to be open for guests until March 28, when it will close for early summer landscaping, and will reopen July 1. Reservations can be made at www.outdoors.org/mainelodges.