Monday, April 8, 2013

A Skier’s Plea to Hikers: Don’t Post-Hole

Marcy-in-winterOn 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 …

wind slabRon 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, 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.

Photos: Above, Mount Marcy on Saturday afternoon; and below, a wind slab on the summit (courtesy Phil Brown).

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of 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.

35 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    It is a lot easier to hike in the spring with snowshoes that have good traction anyway. I was hiking this past week and with even small shoes you stayed right on top and no sliding back with the right kind.

  2. Twinrivers says:

    Even walking in ski trails with small amounts of snow diminishes the skiing experience. The “wax pocket” under the foot has nothing to grip if there are is no snow there (or spotty snow). Walking also destroys the integrity of the tracks that skiers use that make a significant difference in the effort required to balance. In Scandinavian countries you wouldn’t dare walk in ski trails – it’s just bad manners and totally unacceptable. Snowshoes, at least, keep the trail relatively level. If people must walk, keeping to the side of the ski trail would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Tom Mc says:

    This time of year I’m running into the barebooters on almost every trail I ski. Last Weekend we skied the N-P Trail South of Long Lake and ran into 4 booters from Rochester who destroyed the trail. My companion caught a tip in a foot deep hole and took a header.
    Fortunately, right now the snow is firm enough in many areas to ski off trail and avoid this situation.
    While we’re complaining of poor trail etiquette. There should be a large sign at every trail head in the High Peaks that reads “MICRO SPIKES ARE NOT SNOWSHOES”. They cause as much damage to the trails as bare boots and more and more people are using them in place of snowshoes.
    Where are the Rangers???

    • Paul says:

      Did you tell the guys from Rochester to get some skis or snowshoes? Where are the rangers? This isn’t NYC, you gotta learn to take care of things yourself.

      • Tom Mc says:

        They knew they needed snowshoes but weren’t aware of the local conditions. I did give them a couple of web-site (including this one) where they could get current trail conditions before they left home.
        My comment of the Rangers was made because in the 77 outing in the Adirondack and Catskills I made last year I did not encounter one Ranger. The closest was Dawn, the Assistant Ranger on Lows and a Summer Intern in the parking lot of Lila, neither has enforcement powers. If there were Rangers on the trail they could be doing what they do the best, Educate.

        • Paul says:

          Tom, I agree with that. If we want more rangers on the trail we better stop spending so much money on land acquisition and focus on management of what we already have. DEC’s budget has been slashed, yet we continue to find EPF money to buy new public land in the Adirondacks. Our priorities are all out of whack.

          I would note that I often see rangers on easement land that has very few users. They should focus on the places you are talking about and not worry so much about these other places.

  4. Remmy says:

    Where are rangers? Just what we need more gov’t in the woods. Your ancestors would be horrified by your attitude.

  5. MmmRocks says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I feel as if most hikers that are familiar with the Adirondacks know, understand, and follow the rules regarding snowshoe use. From what I’ve seen, it’s usually tourists who are unaware or or disregard the rule. And if 1 out of every 100 hikers fails to wear snowshoes, it will ruin the trail.

    That said, if you’re going to give a lesson in trail etiquette, you probably shouldn’t admit to breaking trail etiquette yourself. On a hiking trail, when hikers going uphill encounter a skier going downhill, the hikers have the right of way. Too many skiers go barreling down the trail, oblivious to who has the right of way, and yell at hikers to get clear the trail in front of them. The person going uphill on foot is expending a lot more energy. It’s really inconsiderate to not step aside to let them pass, when you can easily continue downhill afterwards. Just because you’re going the fastest does not give you the right of way.

    • Paul says:

      Good luck with this idea of making a skier pull over for some guys shlepping up the hill. How easy do you think it is to just stop and pull over when you are cruising downhill?

      BTW it is mostly “tourists” in these places.

      • MmmRocks says:

        If skiers are choosing to ignore trail etiquette because it’s “not easy” then it would be hypocritical of them to criticize hikers for doing the same.

    • John Warren says:

      If the etiquette follows the rule set by watercraft, and it probably should, the person with the least mobility would have the right of way. In this case, that would be the skier.

      • MmmRocks says:

        Hiking trails obviously don’t follow watercraft etiquette.

        • John Warren says:

          How do you know? I’m not aware of any etiquette that says hikers have the right of way in this situation. You’re making that claim, but what’s your source? You seem to be extrapolating from the ROW experience of two hikers meeting on a hill on a trail, both with equal ability to maneuver. That seems based on the friendly notion that (all other things being equal) you should yield to the person working harder (same with yielding to a person carrying a heavy box, climbing stairs). It ignores the maneuverability issue which is at the core, it would seem to me, of the question of right of way in unequal situations.

          In every condition I can think of, right of way is determined in favor of the person/vehicle with the least ability to maneuver. This is true at a yield sign, and with water and air craft.

          It’s an interesting question, but it seems you have burden of proof in arguing otherwise.

          I should say, that obviously, the person on skis has an equal responsibility with the hiker to not injure the other person. A skier can not turn into a hiker, and a hiker can’t suddenly stick their walking stick into the path of skier. But that issue us unrelated to who should have the right of way.

          • Pete Nelson says:

            I have hiked for decades with the accepted convention – which I thought was universal, if not universally known – that the party traveling downhill has the right of way. That’s because a descent is harder to control and more dangerous to yourself and others on the trail than an ascent.

            Am I naive to think this is not commonly understood? I would give the right of way to the descending skiers.

            • MmmRocks says:

              Whether someone going uphill or downhill has the right of way is open to debate. Whether a hiker or a skier has the right of way on a hiking trail, however, is not up to debate. It is accepted etiquette throughout the country that the hiker does.

              • Paul says:

                I assume that this means that bikers and pedestrians never have the right of way on a road??? Where are you coming up with this stuff. I lived and hiked in the Rockies for almost a decade we never had these rules you describe out there? As I remember it out west one rule to follow was “if you are in my way, get out of it”. And I learned pretty quickly to follow that one!! I first learned it driving too slowly up a mountain pass. After you get passed it is customary to receive the one finger salute from the guy who just passed you.

            • John Warren says:

              I think you are correct Pete. My example wasn’t very clear. I was attempting to get at the issue of maneuverability. Mmm’s unsupported declarations notwithstanding, the skier has always had the right-of-way for me. If you’re a hiker with an axe to grind you might want to call it a “hiking trail” and claim special privileges over the people using it in other ways (where does the trail runner fit in? or someone sleeping on the trail?), but that doesn’t hold water and begs the question: Who has right-of-way on a “herd path”? Herds?

            • TiSentinel65 says:

              I wondered about this rule. I try to let people coming down hill to pass. It gives me a little breather. People coming down hill are more apt to be injured, turn an ankle or what not. Coming down requires more effort to resist gravity.

  6. Phil says:

    Mmm … never heard that rule, but it doesn’t make sense to me. A skier at the top of a hill might have to wait a long time for a gang of hikers to climb up. But the skier might be able to descend in a matter of seconds. I would say it makes more sense to let the skier go first.

    • MmmRocks says:

      I’m sure there’s many hikers who find it easier and faster to hike without snowshoes as well. Sounds like both of the groups here are in the same boat.

      Regardless of who’s going up or coming down, hikers do have the right of way on a hiking trail. The only thing that would have right of way ahead of them would be some kind of a pack animal, but that isn’t really relevant on most hiking trails in the Adirondacks.

  7. Bill Colucci says:

    Not sure what is more “annoying” to me, post holers or hikers who will veer off trail during mudseason so as to not get their new gortex lined boots wet…or dirty.

    I say it lightly as I don’t think most are doing this maliciously

  8. Hooligan says:

    As a skier, you shouldn’t ski down the trail at hikers expecting them to get out of your way. Hikers going uphill are usually looking at their feet and many hikers wear headphones. They may not see or hear you coming. And regardless of whether they’re wearing the correct footwear/equipment or not they could become tangled and be unable to get out of your way.

    You may feel as if you have the right to the trail because you’re going downhill on skis, but if you crash in to and injure a hiker on a hiking trail, who do you think is going to be paying their medical bills?

  9. Bill says:

    Phil, Postholing on what is obviously a ski trail is inconsiderate/clueless at best. I had the chance to X-country ski on the Tupper Lake trails this winter. They start at their golf course and you can go all the way up to Big Tupper. It’s a beautiful course layout, track set with a variety of terrain to suit all abilities. I was there on a beautiful day with fairly fresh soft snow but someone had obviously been walking on the ski tracks. based on how much they sunk in I can’t imagine it was very enjoyable. I met a couple folks skiing the trail and mentioned the postholing and they acknowledged the problem and said there were signs up requesting people not walk on the trails, snowshoes welcome. They indicated it was a “local” who lived nearby who just wanted to exercise his “right” to traverse Town owned property in any form he wanted. There’s one in every crowd.

  10. Phil Brown says:

    Bill, thanks for the post on the Tupper trails. Hooligan, you are right that skiers need to be cautious of hikers. In this case, I yelled ahead, and there was time for them to get out of the way. No big deal. My error was in assuming the other guy would too as they were all together.

    Again, MMM, I’ve never heard of that rule, and it goes against common sense and common courtesy.

    • MmmRocks says:

      Phil, have you done much hiking outside of the Adirondacks? It’s accepted trail etiquette throughout the country that hikers and equestrians have the right of way on hiking trails. It’s the responsibility of bicyclists and skiers to look out for the people the trail was intended for. Most hikers are nice enough to let you have your fun and zoom by, but that doesn’t mean you have a right to ski directly at someone and then get upset when they don’t get out of your way. You could have seriously hurt that person. For someone who wants hikers to take responsibility for their actions that could put others in danger, you’d think you’d be more willing to do the same for your actions.

  11. Tom says:

    Whether skiing or walking uphill, I have always moved to the side for a downhill skier, whether that downhill skier is stopped or moving. When skiing downhill, I have always expected people going uphill to yield to me. I admit that I just assumed that was the accepted practice, because that’s the behavior I’ve always encountered. It is much easier for the uphill person to yield, than for a downhill skier to stop.

  12. GratefulHead says:

    I’ve always adhered to the rule that the person coming down, be it on foot or on skis or whatever, has the right of way. When skiing you ALWAYS yield to the uphill skier because it is difficult for them to stop immediately. The same goes for hiking, especially in winter. It’s easier to slip going down hill and easier for someone going up hill to move. Just my two cents.

  13. Alan Wechsler says:

    I have tried three times to get bare-booters to not walk in my ski tracks, with no luck.

    Once, skiing into Siamese Ponds, we broke trail for four miles, only to have some backpackers hoof it out. I asked them if they would mind not walking in our tracks. They muttered something, and ignored my request.

    The second time was in the Catskills, at Overlook Mountain. Same scenario — broke trail, jerk hikers bare-booting it in the other direction. I asked them to please not walk in our ski track. They said, “We’ll try.” Which they did, for about 10 feet, or until they were out of our sight. Then they promptly did just what I asked them not to, screwing up our return trip. We ran into them later, and gave them dirty looks. They didn’t apologize.

    Third time was at the Pine Bush near Albany. I asked some local redneck, “Hey, would you mind walking outside the ski track?” The trail was plenty wide to accommodate both users. His reply was, “Why don’t you ski outside my footprints?”

    I’m not optimistic that any non-skiers will care about the rights of skiers to have a ski trail in good condition.

  14. Peter says:

    The discussion about the uphill/downhill right of way is interestingly ludicrous. Some logic prevails here. A hundred and eighty pound person traveling 20 miles an hour on a six foot wide trail creates a significant amount of momentum and force. Add to it the slightly out of control nature of many skiers (either through joy or pure lack of talent), and it seems logical to get the heck out of the way. I’m an advocate of diving into the woods and looking up the hill to see if any others are coming. Good luck with debating etiquette with an out-of-control skier with a grin on his or her face.

  15. Paul says:

    Not really sure it is a question of “out of control” when you are skiing down a steep hill even the best skier in the world needs some pretty serious space to stop. The hiker can just step out of the way. This whole discussion is kind of silly.

    Personally, if I am hiking I prefer to just let people quickly pass me so I can be alone again, so I am happy to step aside rather than create a potential pileup in the name of “etiquette”.

  16. Tony Goodwin says:

    Between the posthole and right of way issue, I’m not sure where to begin. Ten plus years of experience in the High Peaks, where postholing is actually a ticketable offense, has shown how difficult it is to change the behavior of those who apparently cannot imagine that they are doing any harm. Elsewhere, it seems we skiers and snowshoers will just have to learn to live with those who believe that one goes to the woods to be “free” of both regulation or social convention. Remember the story of Sunday Rock on the road up along the Raquette River from Potsdam. Past that rock society’s conventions, including going to church every Sunday, didn’t apply.

    When encountering postholers, I now often just make some comment to the effect that it would be a lot more fun if you weren’t sinking in and move on.

    In places like the Pine Barrens mentioned above, there should be no expectation that everyone will be wearing skis or snowshoes. Most of those trails/roads are wide enough that the first skier should carefully stay to one side, let the walkers destroy that track, and then make another ski track on the other side of the road that hopefully won’t be used by the walkers. Sorry to be so pessimistic about any possibility of controlling postholing, but this isn’t a skiing society such as you’d find in Scandinavia.

    As for who has the right of way on a downhill, the “rule” on old dedicated ski trails where skiers were both climbing and descending was that downhill skiers had the right of way. When everyone the trail was a skier, this was an easy rule to appreciate and obey. On mixed use trails, however, I unfortunately am of the opinion that no user has any superior “right” and skiers therefore must slow or stop until they are sure the hiker is either able to step aside or there is a place to go around the hiker. Ron Konowitz and the Adirondack Powder Skiers Assoc. would like to see dedicated ski trails next to some hiking trails, but until that happens (if it ever happens) we will just have to accept the need to share and share alike.

    • Paul says:

      The trails I have skied on in Scandinavia would not be much fun to hike on anyway. And if you were hiking on them they would probably think you are a crazy person and call the cops.

      Plus they are mostly maintained with the kind of groomers that are the basis of a new lawsuit here by environmental groups in the Adirondacks. We should probably not even start to compare ourselves to places that are more “sane” than we are here!

    • Phil Brown says:

      Good comments, Tony. The best rule is common sense. The skier should make sure the hikers are out of the way and then descend. In my example, I admit I should have stopped instead of assuming the last guy would get out of the way.

      I would add that on narrow, twisty trails a skier may go around a corner and encounter hikers or ascending skiers with little time or space to stop. If ascending, stick to the right when visibility is limited by terrain and be on lookout for skiers coming down.

  17. Paul says:

    Phil, I agree that you should make sure as best you can that hikers are out of the way, but how can you really do it in a situation like this? Isn’t this you and another guy skiing down Marcy:

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