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  • Correspondent photo by TIM JONES

    Lucie Villeneuve guided us to sunshine and a spot where the only sounds were the soft winds and the hiss of skis on fresh snow.
  • Correspondent photo by TIM JONES

    Guide Lucie Villeneuve leads the way, breaking trail through untracked snow near Errol, New Hampshire.
  • Correspondent photo by TIM JONES

    Skiing down this narrow trail through the woods was so much fun, we climbed up and did it again.
Saturday, March 12, 2011

Errol exploration a true active outdoors adventure

The little town of Errol in the Great North Woods Region of New Hampshire, is kind of quiet, out of the way (on the Maine border, 20 miles or so north of Berlin), and surrounded by hills, lakes and rivers. In other words, it’s the perfect Active Outdoors kind of town, especially if Spring is coming too fast for you and you are looking to hold onto winter a few weeks longer.

I was in the neighborhood recently and built in an extra day to explore the area.

I’d first gotten the idea from the folks at the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (www.northernforestcanoetrail.org). The NFCT is a magnificent 740-mile water passage from Old Forge, New York to Fort Kent, Maine. It’s a paddlers dream in the summer, but often forgotten in the winter. The NFCT is building partnerships along the trail to help get more people year around.

In Errol, they have partnered with Lucie Villeneuve of Outdoor ESCAPES New Hampshire LLC (603- 528-0136; www.outdoorescapesnewhampshire.com) who will arrange guided paddling or hiking adventures in the warmer months and cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter. Lodging for these packages is at 150 Main Street Lodging On The Androscoggin (603-482-3150; www.lodgingontheandroscoggin.com) a very comfortable guest house right on the banks of the river on the edge of Errol.

Since I’d just come from three days of skiing and dogsledding on flat, packed trails around Lake Umbagog, and since there was more than a foot of fresh powder snow on top of a deep base of snow, I asked Lucie if she’d mind searching for some untracked snow on a slope. She was happy to oblige and made it clear that she will customize adventures to the client’s desires and abilities.

We decided to ski up (“up” being the operative word) the summer access road to Munn Pond, just south of Errol. Even with skis on we were sinking knee deep into the soft snow in the woods. At one point, where the snow-covered road was narrow and steep, we detoured onto the packed snow of a nearby snowmobile trail to scale the slope more easily.

The pond was beautiful, nestled among quiet hills. Though we knew there was a snowmobile trail not far away, we couldn’t hear it, and we skied across the lake hearing only the soft sigh of the wind and the hiss of our skis on the snow. Just beautiful. We saw tracks of moose, coyote, ruffed grouse and snowshoe hare but no other people. Lucie is a born teacher, good at seeing and explaining the wonders of nature you see on a trek like this. After a couple of hours of exploring lovely, silent places, we reluctantly headed back down the hill toward the car.

The slope we had avoided coming up was now a narrow ribbon of pristine, deep, untracked snow winding through the trees. I went first, swooping down through knee-deep snow, whooping all the way for the pure joy of it, breaking tracks for Lucie to follow. My tracks allowed her to gain speed and she flew past me as I stood to the side of the trail. We had so much fun, we decided to climb up and do it again. This time, the extra speed and momentum carried us back into the tracks of our original climb and we coasted all the way down to the car. What a great finish!

By choosing a guided trip, I found not only good companionship but also a place I probably never would have explored on my own. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy.

Going guided

Not all of us are lucky enough to know someone experienced who can inspire us to try something new and get us started safely. Many of us need outside help with getting motivated, planning and safely executing an outdoor adventure.

Joining an outing club or a group like your local chapter of the AMC (www.outdoors.org), Green Mountain Club (www.greenmountainclub.org) or Adirondack Mountain Club (www.adk.org) is always a good way to meet people who can show you how to get started. You can also get help getting started from outdoor equipment companies like L.L. Bean (www.llbean.com)with their “Walk-On Adventures” programs in many of their stores, REI (www.rei.com/learn) with its Outdoor School, and EMS (www.emsexploration.com) with its climbing, kayak and ski schools. All are good options

Hiring a guide like Lucie is another great option. You get to dictate the schedule and the activities you desire. The guide provides the expertise to help you enjoy the adventure without worry. A good guide is well worth the price if you are exploring something new or an area that’s new to you.

The guided advantage

Lucie, I discovered, is the mother of two beautiful kids, and a former cross-country ski instructor at both The Balsams Wilderness (1-800-255-0600; www.thebalsams.com ) in nearby Dixville Notch, N.H and at Gunstock Nordic Center (1-800-GUNSTOCK x 193; www.gunstock.com ) in Gilford, N.H. She also has other guides who work with her throughout the year.

As a young mother herself, she’s particularly attuned to the needs of families with young kids. She operates trips throughout New Hampshire, almost year ‘round. In the summer she offers canoeing, hiking, biking

We had perfect weather and snow conditions for the ski trip we had planned but she made it clear that she was well prepared with other options if Mother Nature didn’t cooperate. That preparedness alone makes her a great resource.

I’m looking forward to a canoe trip with her and her family on the Androscoggin this summer.

Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.