Nordic Skiing in Pittsburg, NH

Exploring The Great North Woods: Nordic Skiing in New Hampshire

The quintessential rustic cabin wilderness getaway is not just for Hallmark movies and holiday films. These little pods of paradise exist throughout the state, and are abundant in Pittsburg, NH. More commonly known for its motorized trail system and packed pubs, Pittsburg is also a sweet destination for the outdoor explorer who values adventure and camaraderie as much as good food and a cozy place to kick back after a day of putting in some miles.
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Klementovich

When considering ideas for an outdoor experience, the notion of a Nordic ski — starting at the Canadian border and connecting four of the area’s lakes, with an overnight in between — quickly became the game plan for the three-day weekend. Friends, dogs, food, and cabin hosts were really the critical elements of the plan. Equipment was secondary, as we each scrounged around in our basements for adequate gear that would enable us to glide over the miles that were ahead of us.

Pittsburg is special in that it is large township dotted by lakes; it is the home to the Headwaters of the Connecticut. Lake Francis and First, Second, and Third Connecticut Lakes easily connect by snowmobile trails and a bit of bushwhacking. Although the majority of the ski time is on the frozen surface of the lakes, short distances on snowmobile trails were necessary to piece together our route. We were careful to listen for machines, completely pulling off to the side of the trail knowing that our place in the hierarchy of horsepower.

Our adventure began Friday evening, when we all congregated at the cabin owned by the Inn at Bear Tree. Everyone was psyched to claim the cabin, equipped with plenty of guest rooms, a fully functioning kitchen, leather sofas, and a stone fireplace that anchored us all to the heart of the space. Our plan was to travel in, drop our bags, and enjoy a casual meal out at Murphy’s Steakhouse, located a mile up the road. This was a perfect way to ease into the weekend, leaving our to-do lists behind and planning for the trek ahead.

Saturday was our big day. The plan was to hitch a ride with our cabin hosts to the start of the route, which was Third Connecticut Lake, accessed at the Canadian border in Pittsburg. After a hearty breakfast of Belgian waffles, we packed our bags and loaded up the cars. Dogs, skis, poles, packs, friends – all jammed together – made the northbound drive on Route 3 to the very top of the state. There we began.


nordic skiing, pittsburg, nh, winter
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Klementovich

Connecting the dots, we found our way to Third Lake and navigated south, linking Second Lake to First Lake.  The day was a collage of landscapes, happy faces, meaningful conversations, and yes . . . some suffering.  Eighteen miles of a slow glide, averaging three miles per hour, really allows for all of the senses to absorb the experience and be connected to the place in an intimate way. 

Our lunchtime stop was near an island on Second Lake.  It was a landmark in the distance that we targeted for our mid-day regroup.  Naan, hummus, trail mix, energy bars – this was easy, quick fuel that provided the calories we needed for the remainder of the day’s journey. 

nordic skiing, pittsburg, nh, winter, new hampsire
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Klementovich

From there we skied the inlet out to First Connecticut Lake, where our lakeside cabin was situated.  After a full day of ticking off miles, we tenderly made our way up the knoll to the cabin, ready for dinner that we prepared together.  An easy evening of good food, great friends, and fireside chats about the day ensued.

at bear tree, nordic skiing, pittsburg, NH, new hampshire, great north woods
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Klementovich

Day three of our trip started out more casually; maybe even with some hesitation knowing that blistered, cranky feet and sore legs would have to once again find that rhythm of the slide.  After a hodgepodge breakfast of leftover lasagna, waffles, and trail mix, we packed or bags and made our way to the front porch to gather the skis and poles we piled there the night before.  The day sparked new, and before we knew it, we were racing down the knoll to the lake where we began the ten-mile trek to southern most point of Lake Francis.  There we reunited with our cabin hosts, who drove us back to camp for clean-up and departure.

nordic skiing, pittsburg, nh, new hampshire, winter, great north woods
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Klementovich

This is one example of how to creatively piece together an epic adventure simply by evaluating the area’s natural assets and making a plan.  The good news is that “epic” can take on different meanings for different ability levels and ambitions.  Re-imagined, this trip could easily be a series of short excursions (ski or snowshoe*) from the cabin with other low-key activities woven in.  A half day of reading by the fireplace, followed by a lunch of soup and bread, and an afternoon ski along the edge of the lake would be just as satisfying as a long day on the trail.  The idea is to merge good friends, food and activity.  The quintessential cabin just makes the going easy and the laughter lighter.

nordic skiing, first Connecticut lake, pittsburg, nh, new hampshire, winter, great north woods
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Klementovich

Here are a few things to keep in mind before embarking on a spontaneous adventure like this one:

  • Consider the season. This ski was planned at the end of the season when snowmobile traffic was light and temps were near freezing.  The lakes were solid and a long day out on the trail was made easier with late-season temperatures.
  • Have a plan and be willing to adapt. I like spreadsheets, so my planning practices are a little over the top.  Although detailed scheduling is not necessary, it was helpful to have a general structure in place for shuttling vehicles and meal planning.  The key is to be willing to adapt and go with the flow.
  • When heading out for a day on the trail, be prepared. Bring a pack, even one that seems ridiculously big, with layers, fuel, hydration, a spare phone battery, and a first aid kit.  It goes without saying, pack your trash and leave no trace.
  • Finally, know your place and respect your environment. If you are accessing multi-purpose trails that are maintained by a club, consider becoming a member to help support the work that is done to maintain these trails.  Also, get out of the way when the intended user is approaching.

*Free snowshoe rentals are available at the Spoke ‘n’ Word Bicycle and Repair Shop, located in Colebrook.

Meal planning is easy with make-ahead meals that can be reheated on site.  There is no need to bring the entire pantry and refrigerator from your home.  A few hours of prep work will equate to more time on the trail or hanging out by the fire with a cold brew.  Here’s my easy waffle recipe that feeds a crowd:

Make-Ahead Whole Wheat Belgian Waffle Recipe

Servings: 12

Ingredients:

3 c. whole wheat flour

3 c. quick cooking oats

2 Tbsp baking powder

1 ½ tsp baking soda

3 Tbsp brown sugar

½ tsp salt

6 large eggs

4 ½ c. buttermilk

¾ c. butter, melted

1 tsp vanilla

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

Directions:

Combine all wet ingredients in a large bowl.  Sift together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients until the batter is incorporated and not overmixed.

Cook waffles according to the waffle iron instructions.  Set aside to cool.  Wrap the waffles individually in cellophane or in packs of four in a bread bag or gallon-sized zip lock bag.  These waffles toast up easily in a toaster or oven.  Top with mixed berries and/or April’s Maple maple syrup.

great north woods, pittsburg, nh, winter, new hampshire
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Klementovich

Blog Written By: Bridget Freudenberger
Photos by: Joe Klementovich

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