Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Adirondack Backcountry Skiing Conditions

Since the big storm last week, I’ve been skiing a lot in the backcountry. Generally, I found the conditions very good, but skiers need to be mindful that we had little or no base before the snowfall. You may encounter exposed boulders on trails. If you’re skiing off trail, you must be wary of logs and rocks lurking within the powder.

On New Year’s Day, I skied from Adirondak Loj to Lake Colden. At the outset, I wondered if the cover would be adequate on the trail from the Loj to Marcy Dam, a section with a lot of large boulders. Although I did encounter some exposed rocks, they were easily avoided.

As you probably know, Tropical Storm Irene wiped out the bridge at Marcy Dam in 2011. The state has built a new bridge a bit downstream from the dam, but skiers and snowshoers find it easier to cross Marcy Dam Pond (much of which has drained) when it’s frozen. That’s what I did.

The trail from the dam to Avalanche Camps, near the start of the Avalanche Pass Ski Trail, also has a number of large boulders, but almost all were covered. I had no trouble skiing this section in either direction.

As I ascended the ski trail, I encountered Nate Jefferies, the Lake Colden caretaker, who was shoveling snow onto the trail. The trail would have been skiable regardless; he just made it better. On my way back, I had a blast on the descent. Thanks, Nate!

The descent from the top of the pass to Avalanche Lake also was enjoyable, despite a few rocks.

Nate estimates that there is six to eight inches of ice on Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. That’s enough for a safe crossing, but you still have to watch out for slush, especially if following someone else’s tracks.

I skied the Jackrabbit Trail twice. First, I did a round trip from North Country Community College in Saranac Lake to the top of McKenzie Pass (the height of land between Haystack and McKenzie mountains). A few days later, I skied through the pass, starting at Whiteface Inn Road in Lake Placid and ending at McKenzie Pond Road outside Saranac Lake.

The highlight of both trips was the mile-and-a-half descent from the pass to McKenzie Pond. Since you can pick up a good deal of speed, you want to be sure the cover is adequate on this part of the trail. On my trips, it was. Perhaps one or two small drainages could use more snow.

Other Jackrabbit notes: there were a few exposed rocks between the pond and McKenzie Pond Road and a few slushy spots between the road and the college. Nothing unusual for early-season skiing.

The Adirondack Ski Touring Council reports that the Old Mountain Road part of the Jackrabbit has “perfect cover” and a skied track. This section, on the Keene end of the trail, also has a long downhill. Click here to read the council’s assessment of backcountry conditions.

I also skied off-trail a few times. Although there is lots of snow in the woods, skiers must be extremely cautious, given the lack of base. Logs, saplings, and rocks may be hidden beneath the fluffy powder. Also, many brooks have not frozen yet. Let’s hope conditions improve with more cold and snow.

On one of my off-trail excursions, Chris Ware, a photographer for Newsday, shot some video and still photos. He stitched things together and posted this fun video online.

Photos by Phil Brown: Avalanche Lake; Chris Ware crossing an open brook.

Phil Brown

Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.


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2 Responses

  1. adkWorker says:

    Wow. Sounds like a lot of fun. I had to work so I couldn’t make it.

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  2. [...] 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. ADK, Backcountry skiing [...]

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