Mike Lynch, a writer/photographer with the Adirondack Explorer, and I learned this firsthand when we skied a trail called Poor Man’s Downhill with Keith McKeever this week.
Keith happens to be the spokesman for the Adirondack Park Agency, but he also is active in the Barkeater Trail Alliance (BETA), a group of mountain bikers that has been creating and maintaining bike trails in Wilmington, Lake Placid, and Saranac Lake. As noted in an earlier article on Adirondack Almanack this week, BETA recently merged with the Adirondack Ski Touring Council.
Poor Man’s Downhill (PMD) was created several years ago as a snowmobile trail, but BETA has been using it as a bike trail in non-winter months. It starts on the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway and ends at Leepoff Cycles on Route 86 in downtown Wilmington. In summer, the town often runs runs shuttles (there is a $5 daily fee) from Leepoff to the start so bikers can enjoy a three-mile downhill ride.
Of course, skiers enjoy gravity, too, so we arranged our own shuttle. Mike and I met Keith in the Leepoff parking lot, got in Keith’s pickup truck, and headed for the Memorial Highway. Before we skied PMD, though, Keith showed us a new hiking trail that leads to a fantastic view on Cobble Ledges. BETA hopes the state will allow biking on this trail too.
Cobble Ledges had long been a local secret, but late last year, the state Department of Environmental Conservation marked (with blue disks) a 1.25-mile trail to the lookout. As it happens, the new trail is very skiable, except for a few tricky spots, and since it starts less than a half-mile up the road from the upper end of PMD, it’s easy to combine the two trails into one trip.
At first, the Cobble Ledges Trail follows an old logging road, but it soon becomes a footpath. It climbs gradually for two-thirds of a mile, gaining 170 feet in elevation. It then descends even more gradually, losing 110 feet in elevation before emerging onto a huge ledge covered with grit and rocks, both big and small. Keith told us that his wife, Jennifer, nicknamed the lookout the Beach. The vista stretches from Vermont’s Green Mountains far to the east to nearby Whiteface and Esther to the southwest. Peaks in between include Jay Mountain, Hurricane Mountain, Giant, and the Sentinels.
After spending fifteen minutes taking photos and admiring the scenery, we headed back. On the way, we stopped to chat with two ice climbers at Chiller Pillar, a mass of ice on a small cliff just off the trail. The climbers, Marie Rist and Alex LaLonde, are enrolled in the expeditionary studies program at Plattsburgh State College.
Once back at Keith’s truck, we drove 0.4 miles down the road to a pull-off on the opposite side of the road. PMD was a hoot. In 3.1 miles, we descended 1,225 feet. I don’t think there was a foot of uphill.
Keith said PMD is a hair-raising ride on bikes, but on skis it proved to be quite mellow. Often we were kicking and gliding or poling to maintain momentum. In one section, we cruised for 0.7 miles, but it was so gentle that an experienced novice probably would not have felt intimidated. Just beyond this was a steeper section where we picked up speed. We went pretty much straight down, but since the trail is wide and smooth, it would have been easy to make turns to reduce our speed.
Although PMD is a snowmobile trail, we saw fresh snowmobile tracks only over the first 0.6 miles—the stretch between the Memorial Highway and Marble Mountain Road. After crossing the latter road, we got back on PMD and skied through fresh powder.
At 1.1 miles, we reached a service road for the closed Marble Mountain ski area. We turned left and soon reached the T-bar’s former generator. We turned left again and began our long, easy coast, followed almost immediately by the shorter, faster one. After that we cruised back to Mike’s car, kicking and gliding most of the way but helped by a gradual slope.
Given the unusually cold weather of the past two months (no thaws), PMD is in great shape this winter. However, Wilmington does not get as much snow as Lake Placid. In some winters, Keith warns, the bottom part of PMD may have bare spots. He says it needs six inches to a foot of snow to be skiable.
DIRECTIONS:Leepoff Cycles is on the north side of NY 86 soon after you enter the hamlet of Wilmington from Lake Placid. It’s in the same location as the Up A Creek Restaurant. To reach the start of Poor Man’s Downhill from Leepoff, drive east on NY 86 for 0.6 miles to the four corners. Turn left onto to the Veterans Memorial Highway and go 2.8 miles to a pull-off on the left. For the Cobble Ledges Trail, continue 0.4 miles (bearing right onto County 72) to a pull-off on the right. As of now, there is no sign marking the trailhead.
Top photo by Mike Lynch: Keith McKeever (front) and Phil Brown on Poor Man’s Downhill. Lower photo by Phil Brown: ice climbers on Chiller Pillar.