For advanced skiers who are looking forward to hitting the High Peaks this winter, the Adirondack Ski Touring Council has some good news: There are now fewer opportunities to get skewered by branches or whapped in the face by evergreen boughs when skiing down Mount Marcy.
Tony Goodwin, executive director of the council, joined two other local skiers last September to prune trees along the 7.5 mile trail from Adirondack Loj to the summit of the state’s highest peak. This was their second pruning trip in a year.
Long a popular ski route as well as a hiking trail, it’s the only official ski trail to the top of a High Peak.
The route was first built with skiers in mind but has been allowed to grow inward over the years. Recently, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has allowed skiers to go in and clear the trail to the width allowed for skiing – six feet in most places, eight around turns.
The work, which included the use of expandable poles up to 20 feet long – the snow is often five to ten feet deep by March, meaning the dangerous branches are far overhead in summer – drew some curious stares by warm-weather passers-by. “People actually ski this trail?” was a frequent question, Goodwin said.
A week after their work on Marcy, a larger group headed to the Wright Mountain Ski Trail (which stops below the summit), which was also cleared of dangerous branches.
“We’re definitely making a noticeable improvement,” Goodwin said.
Backcountry skiing in the High Peaks has grown into a very popular sport in the past decade, with the advancement of high-tech alpine and telemark gear, a ski festival in March and the release of a photographic guide to skiing slides.
But many serious skiers complain the DEC has refused to consider making the mountains more backcountry ski-friendly, such as creating separate trails for skiers and hikers, allowing the widening of unofficial routes or permitting the pruning of small saplings in areas that would make nice glade skiing.
“They’ve definitely made it clear we can’t go too far beyond the six-foot width for trails,” Goodwin said.
In other ski news, the Town of North Elba has created a small parking lot on McKenzie Pond Road near Saranac Lake for users of the popular Jackrabbit Trail. The parking lot coincides with a new section of trail that takes advantage of an easement purchased by the council to ensure continued access from that point.