At a public meeting in Saranac last week, several skiers said the glades on Lyon offer some of the best backcountry skiing in the Adirondack Park.
“We’re not looking to cut down mature forest; we’re looking to maintain what’s already there,” said Dean Schneller, a lawyer representing the Adirondack Powder Skier Association.
Skiers have been maintaining glades on Lyon for decades. In 2008, the state bought the 3,830-foot peak from the Nature Conservancy and added it to the forever-wild Forest Preserve. Now that the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is preparing a management plan for Lyon (and associated tracts), skiers fear they will be ordered to stop pruning the glades.
Tom Martin, DEC’s regional forester, told the skiers at last week’s meeting in Saranac High School that maintaining glades is illegal. Not only does it violate the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, he said, but it may violate Article 14 of the state constitution, which decrees that timber in the Forest Preserve shall not be “sold, removed or destroyed.”
Amending the state constitution requires approval by two consecutive state legislatures and the public.
Schneller argues that maintaining glades does not violate the constitution since the skiers want only to prune brush, whippets, and brambles, not cut timber. In fact, he notes that the state maintains glades at its ski areas on Whiteface and Gore mountains, both located in the Forest Preserve (and authorized by constitutional amendments). He concedes that the State Land Master Plan makes no mention of ski glades, but he contends that they are nonetheless a recreational use that fits with the plan.
Martin, however, disagrees. “If you want to legally maintain glades on Lyon Mountain, we have to change the State Land Master Plan, and that is a heavy, heavy lift,” he said.
The master plan, which governs management of the Forest Preserve, allows for a number of recreational amenities, such as hiking trails, snowmobile trails, and ski trails. Skiers argue that glades do no more harm to the environment—and perhaps less harm—than do trails.
Ron Konowitz, a longtime backcountry enthusiast, said skiers care about the environment as much as anybody. “We’re people that want to protect the area,” he remarked after the meeting.
The State Land Master Plan was written in the 1970s before the revolution in telemark skiing. In recent decades, improvements in backcountry equipment—including plastic boots, better bindings, and wider skis—have motivated telemarkers to seek out challenging terrain such as steep trails, slides, and glades.
“The user group is growing, and we’d love to foster it by providing more skiing opportunities,” Konowitz said.
He said backcountry skiers help the local economy by patronizing restaurants, shops, and gas stations. Local officials have backed the association’s proposal.
The association wants to work with DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency to change the State Land Master Plan and/or other regulations to permit the maintenance of ski glades on Lyon.
One option would be to reclassify the glades from Wild Forest to Intensive Use—the zoning designation of Whiteface and Gore. Another would be to amend the State Land Master Plan to establish a general provision allowing ski glades in the Preserve. In either case, DEC presumably would write guidelines for what’s permissible and oversee the work.
Due to a quirk in state law, some of the glades on Lyon may not be not part of the Forest Preserve. That’s because Article 14 does not apply to state land in the town of Dannemora. The mountain is partly in Dannemora, partly in Saranac. However, Martin said the Dannemora lands are still governed by the State Land Master Plan.
Click the links below (PDFs) to read the Adirondack Powder Skier Association’s three-page letter to DEC.
Photo: Ron Konowitz skiing on Lyon Mountain.