The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is soliciting comments regarding their plan to amend the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP), the document which governs management of the state-owned “forever wild” lands of the Adirondack Park. It’s the first time the SLMP has been substantially amended in more than 25 years, and represents a critical opportunity for advocates of backcountry skiing.
Among the changes that are being considered is a proposal from the Adirondack Powder Skier Association (APSA) to explicitly allow for the creation and maintenance of designated backcountry ski touring trails on Forest Preserve lands classified as Wild Forest and Wilderness.
APSA formed in 2012 to urge the state to allow them to maintain off-trail areas for backcountry skiing in the Adirondacks, but soon ran into issues with interpretation of the State Land Master Plan. Even though the SLMP allows for recreational amenities like hiking trails, horse trails, snowmobile trails and ski trails, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has maintained that the minimal maintenance sought by APSA – the clearing of blowdown, branches and brush for backcountry skiing – is a “prohibited activity.”
Key components of APSA’s proposal include:
- Designated backcountry ski touring trails would be established within naturally occurring openings under a mature canopy on pitches that would require a minimal amount of maintenance to create safe and reasonable access.
- Site selection and route design will utilize carefully planned out criteria which integrate the natural terrain features and contours. Blowdown, branches and brush may be cleared, but no trees will be cut. Designated backcountry ski touring trails will avoid summits and other environmentally sensitive areas. Site selections will be approved by DEC.
- The use of skis or snowshoes will be required on designated backcountry ski touring trails. A designated skin track will be used for ascents. On trails where more than one descent line may exist, decent lines will be separated by “understory islands.”
- Maintenance of designated backcountry ski touring trails will be performed between September 1 and April 30. These trails will be closed to foot traffic between May 1 and August 31.
- Trained APSA volunteers will perform trail maintenance at little or no cost to the state under the DEC Adopt-A-Natural-Resource stewardship program.
- Signage and outreach will educate hikers and other summer users to protect this resource.
The SLMP was written in the 1970s, before improvements in gear motivated skiers to seek out challenging backcountry terrain in increasing numbers. While skiers in the Adirondack region have several excellent commercial ski areas to chose from, skiers who seek a wilderness experience face very limited options. In fact, only 9 miles of designated ski trails currently exist in the Eastern High Peaks, compared to more than 250 miles of hiking trails and 40 miles of horse trails. Low-impact backcountry ski touring trails selectively located throughout the Adirondack Park are not only a recreational use that is compatible with the SLMP, they will provide eco-tourism opportunities for communities within the Park.
Backcountry ski trails do no more harm to the environment – and probably less – than hiking trails. Hiking trails are built by removing soil and hardening the trail surface. Erosion results in additional soil removal as the hiking trail is used. Designated backcountry ski touring trails as proposed by APSA, on the other hand, leave all soil in place. Any cut brush is left where it falls. As a result, these ski trails are not attractive hiking routes in the non-winter months. In winter, when the ski trails are used, a deep layer of snow protects the vegetation and soil below. No trail erosion occurs and there is virtually no adverse environmental impact. Further, the establishment of designated backcountry ski touring trails separates skiers, who descend at a relatively high speed, from slower moving winter hikers and snowshoers, enhancing safety and the outdoor experience for both groups.
The APA will accept written comments on the SLMP amendment process through December 5th. If you support more access for backcountry skiing in the Adirondacks as an environmentally friendly, traditional use of Forest Preserve land, please write to the APA in support of APSA’s proposed amendment to the SLMP.
Comments should be addressed to: Kathy Regan, Deputy Director, Planning, PO Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977, and can also be emailed to SLMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov. Times and locations for the public hearings can be found here.
Photo: Conservationist John Apperson skiing across the Lower Ausable Lake in 1927 on his way to ski Haystack and Basin. Apperson is credited with the first ski ascent of Mount Marcy in 1910.