Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Few Ways Snow Makes Tug Hill Different

Tug Hill, the 2,100-square-mile uplift west of the Adirondack Park, gets so much snow that camps are said to have entryways on the second floor in case the first floor gets snowed in. Tug Hill gets so much snow that driving through can be like traveling into a snow globe while skies remain clear north and south of the bubble. Tug Hill gets so much snow that plow drivers “plant” ten-foot-tall saplings every fall so they can see where the side of the road is.

And last week was planting time throughout Lewis County, when the “whips,” as the young limb-stripped hardwoods are called, were spaced along windswept roadsides.
“The town highway departments do it, and the county does, and the state actually does it too,” says Lewis County Highway Superintendent Chuck Langs. “The snowbanks get so high you don’t know where the side of the road is without them. The whips are what the drivers go by when they’re plowing snow. That reflective tape [tied to the top] you can see in a storm or at night.”

The plow drivers themselves stake the whips along their routes so they will know where culverts, ditches and other obstacles are buried. “They usually try to cut maple or beech,” Langs says. “Softwoods, if you hit them with a wing, it’ll break them off. Greenwood will bounce back.”

Langs says Tug Hill road crews have used whips since before his time; he’s not sure how old the practice is, but it may be unique to the region, which is reputed to get more snow than any U.S. place east of the Rockies.

The Tug Hill hamlet of Montague owns the single-day New York State record of snowfall, receiving 77 inches (6 feet, 5 inches) in a 24-hour period in January 1997.

A combination of lying immediately downwind of Lake Ontario, whose open waters give rise to moist air and function like a snowmaking machine in cold temperatures, and a quick rise in elevation (up to 1,900 feet) benight the plateau every winter. It’s holy white hell on drivers but heaven for snowmobilers and skiers. Serious cross-country skiers travel from afar to train in the region, which gets snow early and holds some even when other Northeastern areas suffer washouts. This article from Adirondack Life gives the low-down on three excellent Tug Hill x-c ski areas. For downhillers, Snow Ridge Ski Resort, in Turin, is also really fun and ridiculous with snow.

Photo: A whip, along Route 177 west of Lowville

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Mary Thill

Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.




2 Responses

  1. Anthony F. Hall says:

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