I don’t want to become one of those New Englanders who, by mid-February, complains about the inconvenience of snow. I want to get excited when I see flakes fluffing downward, turning the massive white pines outside my window into temporary snow-art installations. I want to be the type of New Englander who helps out kids by adding one more voice to their prayers for a snow day. Because I am determined to love snow, I continually search out ways to positively engage it while ignoring snow’s negative points. That’s how all successful relationships work, right?
Cross-country skiing is the answer. Anytime the snow cooperates, I reward it by throwing my equipment into the hatchback of my snow-worthy station wagon and heading out for a good spot. Since the recent blizzard brought over 20″ of snow to Massachusetts, I knew the time was perfect for my first visit to Great Brook Ski Touring Center in Carlisle. The Department of Conservation & Recreation maintains over 10 miles of machine-groomed trails for cross country skiing on the property of the 1,000-acre Great Brook Farm State Park, which is less than 45 minutes from Natick Center. From Dec. 1 to March 20, snow conditions permitting, those 10 miles of trails are set aside for skiing only. There is no snow-making equipment at the popular spot, so make sure you check Great Brook’s Facebook page ahead of time for the latest report on trails conditions.
My mid-week visit meant a laid-back, crowd-free experience, but not one that felt isolating. “You should see it on a weekend,” one regular Great Brook skier said. So warned. A quick look at the trail map convinced me to warm up on the Lantern Loop, an easy one-mile glide that starts and ends at the touring center. Just use the lanterns as your guides, and you won’t get lost. Beautiful during the day, on Tuesday and Thursday from sunset until 9pm the trail sparkles as the lanterns are lit for night skiing around the loop. Only the Lantern Loop is open during evening hours; other trails close at dusk.
After conquering the Lantern Loop, I set off to see what else was out there. Trails are well marked, so as long as you familiarize yourself with the map symbols it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself in a situation that’s beyond your abilities. Most trails are fairly easy and the majority of them offer a wide, packed surface consisting of a smooth skating lane between two sets of ski tracks.
For experienced skiers, there’s the more difficult Woodchuck Trail or the Maple Ridge Trail. There’s even a short stretch of black diamond trail that goes by the name of Chicken. Yes, I was too chicken to try it out, but I did venture onto Maple Ridge. Yes, I fell more than once on Maple Ridge. That’s what happens when I get controlling and fight the snow instead of keeping a good thing nice and easy.
The easy drive to Carlisle was well worth it. The longer I stayed out there on the trail, the more relaxed and loose I became, gliding past a working dairy farm, across fields, alongside streams and ponds, and through the quiet woods. On skis, I felt my connection with snow, nay the entire season of winter, deepening.
Winter and me, we’re in a good place right now.
When natural snow is available, Great Brook is a welcoming place for both classical and skate skiers who want to get outside and enjoy beautifully groomed trails. A full roster of rental equipment is available including skis, boots, poles, and sleds for towing children (no dogs allowed, sorry). Snow shoes are also available for rental, but cannot be used on the machine-groomed trails. The staff can point you to the expansive area where snow shoeing (and hiking) is permitted.
The lodge and snack bar are closed for the season, however, there are plenty of outdoor picnic tables.
ADDRESS: Great Brook Ski Touring Center, 1018 Lowell St, Carlisle, MA 01741
HOURS: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday: 9am-5pm (or dusk, whichever is earlier); Tuesday, Thursday: 9am-9pm, (night skiing on Lantern Loop, conditions permitting)
TICKETS: Purchase at the ski touring center at 1018 Lowell St. Daily rates range for free for young children up to $15. Season passes available.
OFF-TRAIL SKIING: Those who do not wish to purchase a trail pass and who have their own ski equipment can use the ungroomed trails located west of Lowell St. Inquire at the ski touring center for a map of these trails.
NON-SKIER ACCESS: Walkers, horseback riders, and all other users are prohibited from using the machine-groomed ski trails during ski season, but are permitted to use the trails west of Lowell St. Park at the ski touring center and look for the Acorn trailhead across the street.
RENTALS: Skis, boots, poles, pull sled, snow shoes
FUR FRIENDS: Dogs are not welcome on machine-groomed ski trails.
FACILITIES: Port-a-Potties available.