About 120 cross-country skiers participated in the Ben Paradis Invitational races at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center on Friday. Credit: Jessica Potila | Fiddlehead Focus

FORT KENT, Maine — Cross-country ski enthusiasts from near and far enjoyed an abundance of snow at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center during the annual Ben Paradis Invitational on Friday. About 120 skiers from seven high schools throughout Maine as well as alumni and coaches participated in the mixed relay race event, which is named for legendary Fort Kent ski coach Ben Paradis.

Paradis, 75, has been coaching student athletes in cross-country skiing since 1981.

“It was great; everyone had a good time and that is exactly what it is designed to be, a fun event,” said Carl Theriault, who coaches the Valley Rivers Middle School and Fort Kent Community High School cross-country ski teams along with Paradis.

A group of 24 student athletes from Freeport High School traveled 300 miles to compete at the invitational. Freeport coach Joel Hinshaw said the group appreciated the fresh snow available in Fort Kent. He said snow is currently lacking throughout much of the state.

“In the foothills of western Maine they have snow, but as you come up the highway, anywhere east of Rumford doesn’t have any,” Hinshaw said.

Hinshaw added that Freeport initially had snow but it has since melted.

“We got spoiled because winter was starting out really great. During the last week of November we had snow and we were skiing. We thought, ‘Yes, this is gonna be a great winter,’” he said.

Hinshaw said it was disappointing when the snow melted, and not ideal for training.

“We’ve been roller-skiing which is not quite the same as training on snow,” he said.

Athlete Lily Horne, a Freeport High School senior, said she enjoyed skiing on fresh powder at the outdoor center.

“It’s a really fun course. It’s cool because you go all the way up and then downhill,” she said. “The snow was really soft so it was definitely kind of slow but it was fun.”

Horne’s relay team fared well in the competition, placing second in the mixed team race.

Students from schools in Fort Kent, Madawaska, Caribou, Ashland and Falmouth as well as from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics also participated in the invitational. A list of results is available at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center website.

The outdoor center’s trails also were open to the public on Friday, and an athlete from New Jersey took advantage of them. Stefani Meyer, along with her dog Bella, a 1-year-old greyster made the trek from Garfield, New Jersey, to Fort Kent for the sole purpose of getting in some skijor training on snow at the outdoor center. Skijoring is similar to dogsledding, but rather than riding on a sled as dogs pull them, the mushers are on skis.

Meyer, a Team USA sled dog racer and foreign language educator, said she has been taking advantage of Christmas and Easter school breaks from work to enjoy the outdoor center’s snow for the past five years.

“I come up here whenever I can to train,” she said. “In New Jersey, there’s not so much snow.”

Meyer, 55, also participates in dryland dog racing and has qualified for several International Federation of Sleddog Sports world championships. She said she first learned about the outdoor center while researching skijor facilities online.

“I was looking for places to go skiing with my dog. [The outdoor center] was the first one to reply and they have taken me in with open arms,” she said. “I’m a big supporter of the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. If we didn’t come up, I would still get a membership because it’s just a fantastic venue.”

This was originally published in the Fiddlehead Focus.