A group of skiers enjoy the slopes along the Androscoggin River at Carter’s XC Ski Center in Bethel. Photo by Carey Kish

Just 10 minutes down the trail through the woods, shuffling on skis with an overloaded orange sled in tow, I come to a russet-colored frame cabin. With a big smile and a warm heart, I read the words on the side of the structure: Camp Fern. I already feel like home, and that’s a good thing too, because that’s where I’ll be hiding for the next two glorious nights.

Camp Fern is one of three off-grid cabins available at Carter’s XC Center in Bethel. Photo by Carey Kish

Located on the western slope of Farwell Mountain, Camp Fern is one of three off-grid cabins available for overnight stays at Carter’s XC Ski Resort in the Middle Intervale neighborhood of Bethel, several miles north of the village. The cabins may each be a short ride from the trailhead, but the feeling of remoteness is palpable.

The late afternoon sun streams through the large bay window as I unpack my duffel bags and spread out, hiker-like. Upstairs are several bunk beds and beds, and as I spread my sleeping bag on the queen mattress, I think how soft it’s going to be to slip into its fluffy warmth in a few hours.

Dinner is a simple affair of roast chicken, potato wedges, salad, and red wine from the town grocery store. Satisfied, I move away from the table, grab a book from the shelf and settle down, feet in the air. Quiet but for the crackling of the wood stove, I hear coyotes yelping and a barred owl scream, accentuating the loneliness of the place. That’s why I came.

Camp Fern’s large picture window overlooks the high mountains beyond Photo by Carey Kish

Before I turn in, I don my headlamp and jacket and head outside to find the restroom, then head to the woodshed for a few more armfuls of ash, maple, and birch. The cabin is comfortable, yes, but the night will be long. So I stoked the fire, added a few sticks, adjusted the damper, and extinguished the lantern. Sleep is near.

Carter’s XC Ski Center offers 55 kilometers of cross-country ski trails on 200 acres purchased by Dave and Anne Carter from Dave’s father in 1991. The Carter family has had ties to the area since the late 1700s; Dave grew up here and developed his lifelong passion for skiing, both alpine and Nordic, while a student at the Gould Academy.

“Dave loved skiing and was always an enthusiastic promoter of the sport,” said Anne Carter. “His dream was to get as many people out on cross-country skiing as possible. And to open his own ski center.

In 1976 the Carters purchased a 100 acre farm on Route 26 in Oxford. In the summers they worked on the farm and in the winters they ran a ski club, inviting skiers to enjoy the twisty slopes by making donations. Eventually the couple bought some gear, opened a ski shop and turned the place into a proper business in 1984. Beloved by many for four decades, the old barn and part of the Oxford lands were sold at Oxbow Brewery in 2018. The brewery continues to welcome skiers to the slopes lovingly carved by the legendary Dave Carter, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2014.

A skier enjoys a sunny afternoon on the Carter Pastures trails at Carter’s XC Ski Center in Bethel. Photo by Carey Kish

Attacked by several pots of coffee and a rare but delicious laziness, it was late morning before I checked into Willowbrook Lodge on Intervale Road, Carter’s XC Ski Center base of operations. The centre, which continues to be a family business run by Anne and her daughter, Jes, has a full ski equipment shop as well as rental of skis, snowshoes and fat bikes. Ski lessons are available, and if you would like a guided tour, Jes Carter will be happy to show you the way.

Anne Carter, right, and her daughter Jes Carter operate Carter’s XC Ski Center in Bethel. Photo by Carey Kish

On the mountainside, where the cabins are nestled, is the centre’s more challenging network of ski trails, which leads to a lookout point with awe-inspiring views of the White Mountains. Emanating from the lodge are the easier trails, which wind through tall pine trees to old cow pastures along the Androscoggin River.

I spent most of my skiing time taking pleasant laps along the river and quietly enjoying the unobstructed view of the jumble of surrounding peaks. Pleasantly tired, I relaxed again that evening at Camp Fern, glad to know that all I had to do the next day was start over.

Start planning your own ski Carter’s XC Ski Center and stay adventurous by visiting cartersxcski.com

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish

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