Posted on April 8th, 2013 5 comments Add a comment >>
On Saturday I skied Mount Marcy and was surprised at how good the snow conditions were. I began at the start of South Meadow Road and had to take my skis off only once, on a fifty-yard stretch of the Marcy Dam Truck Trail.
To be sure, the trails were hard and sometimes icy on the approach to Marcy Dam and the first mile or so beyond, but above “50-Meter Bridge” (the second crossing of Phelps Brook), there was good snow: packed powder, with fluffier stuff outside the well-trodden track.
Somewhat surprisingly, given the gorgeous day, I saw no other skiers. I did, however, encounter a number of hikers who were coming down as I was ascending. Most of them were not wearing snowshoes, a violation of state regulations. Hikers in the High Peaks are supposed to wear snowshoes whenever there is at least eight inches of snow on the ground. The rationale is that winter hikers without snowshoes create “post-holes” that mar the trail.
Because the Marcy trail was so packed down, the hikers didn’t sink in the snow and so didn’t do much damage–at least at the lower elevations. When I reached the summit cone, I discovered that the strong winds of last week had blown snow across the trail. In places, the hikers had sunk a foot into this looser stuff. It didn’t ruin my day, but still …
Ron Konowitz and Katie Tyler skied Marcy on Sunday and sent me videos of post-holes they saw, including a big one on the Corkscrew, a steep, twisty section. Ron says he spent an hour filling in post-holes.
The objection to post-holes is not merely aesthetic: if a ski tip gets caught in one, the skier could be upended and injured.
Many people think they don’t need snowshoes once springlike weather arrives. Actually, when temperatures soar and the snow softens, hikers without snowshoes are more likely to post-hole. I recall descending the Corkscrew once on a warm, spring day and seeing a group of hikers at the bottom. When I yelled a heads-up, they all stepped aside–except for one guy who stayed in the middle of the trail. At the last moment, I did a hockey stop. Turns out he couldn’t move because he had sunk up to his thigh.
So if you’re planning to hike in the High Peaks, please remember that it is still winter at the high elevations. Bring your snowshoes–especially if gets warm enough that the snow starts to soften.
Note to skiers: lots of rocks were showing on the stretch between Marcy Dam and 50-Meter Bridge. It was still skiable, with caution, but it may not be if we get a lot of warm rain this week. Likewise, the many small bare patches on the truck trail are sure to get bigger. If you plan to ski Marcy next weekend, be prepared to do a lot of walking below 50-Meter Bridge.
Posted on March 25th, 2013 1 comment - Add a comment >>
I went backcountry skiing around Paul Smiths both days this past weekend and found the conditions outstanding, but who knows how long the snow will last.
On Saturday afternoon, I skied to the summit of Jenkins Mountain, starting at Black Pond on Keese’s Mill Road. I skied across the pond, climbed over an esker, and picked up the Jenkins hiking trail. I broke trail most of the way. The sky was overcast, so the summit view was not great, but I had a blast coasting back down the mountain in my own tracks. The snow at the top was relatively powdery.
The next afternoon I skied to Grass Pond from the Hays Brook trailhead in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest. The trail was well tracked, which made for fast traveling. You reach the pond via an old woods road. After visiting Grass, I continued up the old road for another mile or so, breaking trail. I had not done this before, so I was curious where it went. It led to an open forest, at which point I ventured off trail in hopes of finding the Osgood River, but I gave up when the ski turned into a bushwhack.
Judging from my weekend trips, I’d say skiing at the Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths will be a good bet in the days ahead.
On my lunch hours Friday and Monday, I skied to Oseetah Marsh from Route 86 in Saranac Lake. Snow has got thinner along the trail and in the marsh in the past few days. The marsh is looking browner. Snow also is vanishing on the railroad tracks in the vicinity. Rails are exposed and, in some places, so are the ties.
Even after the snow melts in the valleys, there will be skiing in the High Peaks. I may get up there this week. If so, I’ll post another report. When I skied Marcy a few weeks ago, though, I noticed there was less snow up there than usual for the time of year.
Posted on March 19th, 2013 2 comments Add a comment >>
They were predicting we’d get more than six inches, perhaps a lot more. They were wrong. We got only two or three, which prettified the woods, but it wasn’t enough to turn the season around for backcountry skiers.
There is still hope: the National Weather Services predicts Saranac Lake, where we’re located, could get three to five more inches over the next few days. Again, not enough to turn the season around, but we’ll take it. And who knows? Maybe this time we’ll get more than predicted.
On my lunch hour, I skied the Jackrabbit Trail from McKenzie Pond Road to McKenzie Pond to check out the conditions. The first thirty or so yards of the trail were scratchy, owing to exposed tree roots. After that, cover was thin but adequate for the two miles to the pond.
Keep in mind, however, that this section of the Jackrabbit doesn’t require a lot of cover to be skiable. I’d be leery of skiing trails with lots of boulders. If they were problematic before yesterday’s snowfall, they probably still are.
The larger problem on my trip was the quality of the snow: it was very sticky. I was on my Karhu Pinnacles, which are waxless skis. If I had thought to bring glide wax, I might have been OK. As it was, I had to stop numerous times to scrape the snow off the bottoms of the skis. I’d go twenty feet and could feel the snow building up again. It was frustrating and not much fun.
Here’s hoping that the snow on it’s way will be fluffy.
Posted on February 11th, 2013 Add a comment >>
I did two classic ski trips after last week’s snowstorm. Although we didn’t get as much snow as some had predicted, the conditions were pretty darn good.
Conditions have already changed. It warmed up enough on Monday to produce a bit of rain, but it’s supposed to snow again this week. With those caveats, here is a short trip report.
On Saturday, I skied the Jackrabbit Trail from McKenzie Pond Road to the top of the pass between Haystack Mountain and McKenzie Mountain. The big question was whether the long hill after McKenzie Pond (a 1.5-mile ascent) would have enough cover for a safe descent. Happily, it did, though there were a few thin spots easily avoided. The trail between the pond and the road also had adequate cover.
Incidentally, this was the case even though I did the trip in late afternoon, after many others had skied the same route.
On Sunday, I skied from Adirondak Loj through Avalanche Pass to Lake Colden. The snow on the trail from the Loj to Marcy Dam was often too thin to cover roots and rocks. It was still skiable, with caution. Above Marcy Dam, the conditions were very good on the trails. Wind had scoured the snow on Avalanche Lake, leaving much of the lake glare ice. Likewise, the cover on Lake Colden was thin or non-existent.
As I write, I don’t think we’ve lost too much of last week’s snow, though it won’t be as powdery as it was this past weekend. With luck, we’ll get some new powder by the end of the week.
Posted on January 21st, 2013 Add a comment >>
Oseetah Marsh just outside Saranac Lake is the destination of one of my regular lunch-hour ski trips. It’s short, easy, and scenic, with views of the McKenzie Range, the Sawtooth Range, and nearby Scarface Mountain.
Today I did the trip for the first time this winter. Why did I wait so long? To get to the marsh, I follow a snowmobile trail through a beautiful pine forest. Until this afternoon, every time I reached the edge of the marsh I found a small pool of black water, bordered by very thin ice.
I tried to ski the marsh as recently as late last week. Given the cold weather since then, I decided to try again today, and I’m glad I did. The ice was solid, with no slush. I did a short loop, taking in the views, and then returned to the office.
Nevertheless, we could use the frigid weather this week (it’s supposed to get to 20 below on Tuesday night) to solidify the ice on lakes, ponds, and stream crossings. The ice has been unusually thin this winter. In fact, the state issued a news release a week and a half ago warning people.
On a ski trip on Saturday, I found running water and wet spots in a few places on the Jackrabbit Trail. Let’s hope these get frozen as well.
In what has become an annual rite, I skied the 24-mile Jackrabbit from Saranac Lake to Keene to attend Mountainfest. I met Mike Lynch, the outdoors reporter for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, at Rock and River Lodge. We went to the spaghetti dinner hosted by the Keene Fire Department and then watched a slide show by Freddie Wilkinson, a professional rock and ice climber. I’ll link to Mike’s story about the Mountainfest when it appears online.
Since many people ski the Jackrabbit, I thought I’d share my observations of the conditions, section by section. The bottom line is that the snow cover was often thin, but the whole trail was skiable, if marginal in places.
North Country Community College to McKenzie Pond Road: The one wet spot, before the wooden bridge, is easily avoided and may be frozen by now.
McKenzie Pond Road to Whiteface Club: Extreme caution is advised on the hills on either side of McKenzie Pass (especially on the west side). I encountered small rivulets, exposed rocks, and patches of open ground. The cover improves the higher you go.
Whiteface Club to Lake Placid Club: No problems on the Whiteface Club’s golf course or on the Brewster Peninsula Trails. When I got to Howard Johnson’s in Lake Placid, I deviated from the Jackrabbit. Instead of following the trail through residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of the village, I walked to Mirror Lake, skied across the lake, and picked up the Jackrabbit again at the Lake Placid Club and Resort. I find this more enjoyable and more scenic. Incidentally, a dogsled operator told me the ice was eight inches thick. People were playing hockey and skiing on the lake as well as riding dogsleds.
Lake Placid Club to Cascade Cross-Country Ski Center: Due to wind, the coverage on the golf course was variable, but this posed no problems. The trails at Cascade were in fine shape.
Cascade to Rock and River in Keene: The long climb up the plowed Old Mountain Road is no fun, especially after a long day. I found enough snow on the side of the road or on the banks so I didn’t have to take off my skis. Ice climbers had post-holed the first half-mile or so of trail to reach the cliffs on Pitchoff Mountain. I was more worried about the long downhill on the other side of the pass. For the most part, it proved to be in decent shape except for one exposed patch that I rode over.
A FEW CAVEATS: Often the larger problem on my trek was not a shortage of snow, but the nature of the snow. The trail was rough and frozen, usually with a hard crust on the sides of the ski track. If we get a snowfall on top of this solid base, conditions will improve greatly. Also, on my ski to Oseetah Marsh, I discovered that Sunday’s high winds left the trail littered with pine needles, twigs, and small branches. Presumably, similar debris will be found on the Jackrabbit and other trails. It’s also possible that trees were blown over.
Posted on January 3rd, 2013 1 comment - Add a comment >>
The temperature fell to 24 below early Thursday. Most people would not see that as good news, but backcountry skiers should.
Despite the two feet of snow we received last week, we still lack midwinter conditions. On ski trips since the snowstorm, I have encountered a number of open brooks and seeping drainages. Also, slush in places. You’d think 24 below would solve that problem.
To test my theory, I skied to Oseetah Lake on my lunch hour today. Starting at the Route 86 railroad crossing in Saranac Lake, I followed a snowmobile trail for a half-mile through a beautiful snowy forest. Stepping onto the frozen lake, I made a few strides, looked behind, and notice the telltale gray tracks—the dreaded sign of slush. I immediately got back on land, but the snow had built up a few inches thick on my ski bottoms. I scraped it off on a balsam tree and continued on my way.
The takeaway: despite the deep freeze, you may still encounter slush on frozen lakes and ponds.
Click here to see my report on backcountry ski conditions. You’ll also find a photo of a skier’s precarious attempt to cross an unfrozen brook.
Posted on December 7th, 2012 5 comments Add a comment >>
Last Friday I went on my first ski of the season, a long loop around Heron Marsh and over an esker at the Adirondack Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths. Although Paul Smiths is only a dozen miles from our office in Saranac Lake, it usually receives noticeably more snow. And so it was on this day: there must have been at least six inches, enough to kick and glide over the VIC’s smooth trails. I snapped the photo above near the outlet of Heron Marsh.
A week later, thanks to rain and a few warm days, cross-country skiers are out of luck. I walked to Marcy Dam this morning and found only a dusting of snow long the trail and in the woods.
And the Adirondack Ski Touring Council reports that the forecast is not promising: “only a mix of precipitation is predicted for the weekend followed by temperatures near 40 and rain on Monday. After that it does cool off a bit, but still no season-starting storm in sight.”
I’m starting to fear that this could be a repeat of last winter, when many backcountry trails lacked sufficient snow until well into winter. The one bit of good news is that the trail to Marcy Dam was frozen, for the most part. That means if snow does come, more of it will stick around.
And as you can see from the photo below, Marcy Dam Pond is freezing over.
Posted on November 28th, 2012 1 comment - Add a comment >>
It’s starting to look a lot like winter on Baker Mountain, the little peak on the outskirts of Saranac Lake. I took the photo above a few days ago while hiking on my lunch hour.
I’m already dreaming of cross-country skiing. We don’t have enough snow yet, but we should soon.
One trail I’m eager to check out is the Mr. Van Ski Trail, which connects Adirondak Loj and the cross-country-ski center on Mount Van Hoevenberg. The 4.7-mile trail has been around for years, but it had become overgrown and fell into disuse. This fall, the Adirondack Ski Touring Council (ASTC) cleared and clipped the entire trail from the Loj to Hi-Notch at the boundary of the ski center.
However, Mr. Van is not an early-season ski. For one thing, it needs ten to twelve inches of snow to be skiable, according to Tony Goodwin, ASTC’s executive director. For another, it crosses Marcy Brook and South Meadow Brook. Bridges washed out long ago, so this is a trip best done in midwinter after the streams are frozen solid.
“What is required at both,” Goodwin says, “is a large, tall crib filled with rocks so that it can withstand the periodic floods. So far, no one has been willing to invest that much time and effort.”
Since ASTC’s work, Mr. Van has been outfitted with new DEC ski-trail markers.
Backcountry skiers will be pleased to hear that ASTC’s volunteers also clipped the top of the Wright Peak Ski Trail this fall. No longer will skiers have to run a narrow gantlet of branches from the summit cone to the point where the steep descent begins. In its final preseason project, the group rebuilt a bridge on the Jackrabbit Trail near Craig Wood Golf Course.
Incidentally, be sure to check out ASTC’s new website. Among other things, you’ll find a map and description of the Jackrabbit Trail and updated ski conditions.
In anticipation of snowier days ahead, we offer the following links to our reviews of ski gear:
Best Backcountry Skiing in the Northeast. A guide to ski adventures in the Adirondacks and New England.
Madshus Epochs. A versatile backcountry ski that doesn’t need wax.
Swix Blue Extra. If you wax your skis, this is the first kick wax to get.
Zippered Sequence T-Shirt. A great base-layer shirt for skiers.
Exos Beanie. A cool hat to keep your head warm.
Posted on May 7th, 2012 1 comment - Add a comment >>
Now we know spring is here: Ron Konowitz has stopped skiing.
Most skiers probably think last winter was a lousy one, but not for Ron Kon. He skied 161 days, all in the Adirondacks. That’s every day for more than five months.
“I had a good year,” Konowitz said today. “I definitely didn’t get into the backcountry as much as usual.”
Konowitz did a lot of his skiing at the state-run downhill center on Whiteface Mountain. “The snowmakers did an amazing job,” he said.
After Whiteface closed for the season, Konowitz would hike up the mountain and ski down the remaining snow. He made a final ski trip down Whiteface just last week.
He last skied Mount Marcy, the state’s highest summit, in early April.
A retired schoolteacher who lives in Keene, Konowitz is the only person who has skied all forty-six of the High Peaks. Or at least the only one to admit it.
Posted on April 26th, 2012 Add a comment >>
How bad was this winter for backcountry skiers? It ranks as one of the worst, according to the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, which maintains the twenty-four-mile Jackrabbit Trail between Saranac Lake and Keene.
Tony Goodwin, the group’s executive director, says the entire Jackrabbit was skiable for only twenty-five days this winter—by far the worst season since the trail was created in the 1980s.
Previously, the worst season was 1989, when the full Jackrabbit was skiable for forty-eight days.
“Our best season was 1998 when the Jackrabbit Trail was covered for 132 days,” Goodwin writes in the ASTC’s spring newsletter.
But Goodwin recalls worse winters before the Jackrabbit came into being.
“As recently as 1982-83 there was even less snow,” he says. “A lot of shoveling eked out about twenty-five days of skiing at Van Ho [the state-owned Nordic center], but I doubt the Jackrabbit Trail would have ever been skiable that season.”
Goodwin also points out that in 1932 and 1980—when the Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid—“there was literally no snow.” And in 1950 the World Nordic Championships had to be moved from Lake Placid to Maine for lack of snow.
It’s not much of an upside, but the dearth of snow meant little blowdown along the Jackrabbit this winter and few washouts this spring.