Monday, December 21, 2015

Comments Sought On Adirondack Ski-Trail Guidelines

Wright Peak Ski TrailThe Adirondack Park Agency has proposed guidelines for maintaining three types of ski trails in the Forest Preserve. The public has until January 29 to submit comments on the proposals.

It’s legal to ski any trail in the Forest Preserve, but many are too narrow, too steep, and/or too rocky to be negotiated with boards attached to your feet.

There are some trails in the Forest Preserve that were designed for skiing. Examples include the Avalanche Pass Ski Trail, the Wright Peak Ski Trail, and the Raymond Brook Ski Trail. However, they are few and far between even though backcountry skiing has grown in popularity — thanks, in part, to better equipment.

The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan defines a “cross country ski trail” as a marked trail designed for skiing and snowshoeing “which has the same dimensions and character and may also serve as a foot trail.”

Under the APA’s proposal, this would not change. In essence, however, the guidelines define three types of ski trails along with standards for maintaining them.

Nordic ski trails

 These are the easiest routes, traversing gentle terrain. “The trails will be designed with speeds associated with beginner skiing as a distinguishing characteristic,” the proposal reads. “Gentle curves and mild slopes will require a limited ability to control speed and navigate variable terrain.”

The APA recommends that such trails be cleared to six feet wide for one-way traffic and eight feet wide for two-way traffic. If the grade exceeds 10 percent, they may be cleared up to twelve feet wide.

The average grade would be 4 percent to 10 percent, with a maximum grade of 20 percent.

Examples of existing trails that meet these criteria include the Hays Brook Truck Trail in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest and the Old Farm Clearing Trail in the Siamese Ponds Wilderness.

Backcountry ski trails

These are more challenging trails, with significant downhills. “Curves and slopes on the trails will require an ability to control speed and navigate variable terrain,” the proposal states.

Backcountry ski trails could be cleared to a width of eight feet for one-way traffic and ten feet for two-way traffic. If the grade exceeds 10 percent, they could be cleared up to twelve feet wide.

The average grade would be 10 percent to 30 percent, with a maximum of 40 percent.

Examples of existing routes that fit the criteria are the Wright Peak, Avalanche Pass, and Mr. Van ski trails.

The guidelines call for bridges over streams on both Nordic and backcountry ski trails.

Skin tracks

These would be used to access slides and other skiable terrain. They would be “developed with a steady climb that enables skiers to gain elevation at a sustainable pace. … Kick turns should be developed where features, like tops of rocks and buried stumps, create benches and flat terrain exists.” Skin tracks would be designed only for uphill travel and limited to four feet in width.

Existing trails

The proposal also encourages land managers to take into account skiing when maintaining existing trails. It notes that some improvements on hiking trails, such as rock water bars and bog bridging, can pose obstacles to skiers. “To create conducive facilities for backcountry skiing, the needs of skiers must be considered throughout trail planning and management process. Although there are many options for making existing trails more conducive for backcountry skiing, not every trail will be managed for this use.”

Note: Tony Goodwin’s guidebook Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks recommends a number of trails that are suitable for skiing.

Open-woods skiing

It’s noteworthy that the proposal contains no recommendations for maintaining open-woods routes (or glades) for skiing—a type of use pushed by the Adirondack Powder Skier Association. Kevin Prickett, an APA planner, said the agency postponed action on this because of legal questions over tree cutting. Ron Konowitz, the president of the association, told the Adirondack Explorer that he hopes the open-woods proposal will move forward in 2016.

Comments on the proposed ski-trail guidelines can be sent to or mailed to the Adirondack Park Agency or state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Click the link below to read the guidelines in PDF format.

Ski Trail Guidelines

A skier skins up the Wright Peak Ski Trail (Adirondack Explorer file photo). 

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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.

36 Responses

  1. Joe Smith says:

    “Kevin Prickett, an APA planner, said the agency postponed action on this because of legal questions over tree cutting.”
    Be a hero Kevin… The desires of tax paying NY resident back country skiers will be met, one way or another….

  2. M.P. Heller says:

    I was reading this proposal package on the APA website recently. I’d have to say it’s rather well thought out and addresses the needs of a variety of users. I’d be happy to see it implemented, the Adirondacks are a wonderful resource for backcountry skiing opportunities.

  3. Todd Eastman says:

    Say no to anymore “ski trails” like the Wright Peak ST. People have skied all over these mountains for nearly a century without cutting many swaths through the forested slopes. Any hiking trail can be skied if conditions are correct for the skills of the skier. Better alternative is for skiers to sharpen their skills and not just their edges…

    … there are loads of slides for those who prefer gentle skiing.

    • Joe Smith says:

      Sir Todd,
      Early ADK skiing (If early pictures are accurate) probably showcased the wide open spaces of a recently logged and burned landscape… there was no need for them to be “cutting swaths through the forested slopes….”

      • Tim (another one) says:

        since it seems like the open woods skiing basicly requires forestry to maintain, isn’t the easement lands the appropriate location for this?

        • Bruce says:


          When I read the article, I had much the same thought. I wasn’t much of a skier, but I loved snowshoeing in the forest. It seems to me that cutting swaths through the back country for skiers defeats the whole purpose of back country, open woods skiing. If you want to ski on a trail, go where there’s a trail.

          Some woods are too thick for snowshoes (mine were 60″ long and 14″ wide, because I’m a big boy), does that mean the state needed to cut a path? No, go around or go somewhere else.

        • Paul says:

          Easement lands are privately owned and the state has bought only certain recreational rights. The idea of cutting new ski trails on them is probably a non-starter unless the state wants to pony up some more money for that “new” recreational right.

  4. Daniel Hanchett says:

    Wow! This is answered Prayer! Would love to help out with any trail development or maintenance!

  5. Adam Frank says:

    Backcountry skiing is one of the fastest rising outdoor sports that could have a great impact on the economy of a struggling region. Allocating even a small portion of the great 6 million acres we all enjoy would have negligible environmental impact would most likely not cost more than materials due to the abundance of volunteers available for projects like this. We all would like to see the Adirondacks as a thriving place where people can work and live. Revitalizing tourism and bringing people into the area is the only way to do this. It would be prudent and beneficial to implement some sort of backcountry skiing area or at least a few more trails.

  6. Paul says:

    12 foot wide for back country ski trails? Sounds like the new snowmobile trails, except here it could be on Wilderness land. Interesting?

  7. Bruce says:


    I’m confused. Isn’t open woods skiing supposed to be the skier’s equivalent of bushwhacking? In other words, you go where existing terrain and cover allow you to go, like on long, skinny snowshoes. Why would the folks who do this need trails?

    • Merry says:

      I have understood for some time that back country skiers who want glade skiing create and maintain the glades themselves. Marcy was a prime example. Joe Smith, above, said it: “The desires of tax paying NY resident back country skiers will be met, one way or another….” Anyone able to confirm or deny?

      • M.P. Heller says:

        If you are referring to clandestine and illegal glade cutting on forest preserve lands, yes, I can confirm it happens. I’m not saying where though because I don’t want to support the expansion of this type of behavior.

      • Joe Smith says:

        Sir Merry,
        Actually, there really are no glades off of the Marcy Trail (except in a good snow year, the summit dome is great open woods) into Marcy Dam… maybe a short section off the hikers’ trail just below Indian Falls and the skit trail/hiker trail junction. In the early 70’s, the ski trail below Indian Falls was a gorgeous glade that has since “evolved” into the narrow packed trail that is experienced now. The older, now retired forest rangers (before they became cops), actually kept the corners and such trimmed back because they also enjoyed the skiing. In fact, if memory serves me, one of those rangers took it upon himself to cut the Avalanche Pass trail without prior approval. He wisely realized the dangers involved with fast skiers coming face to face with the uphill trudging hikers on the straight and narrow “Misery Mile” section of that trail, and he dealt with it… And it was approved….

  8. Todd Eastman says:

    Go to Vermont if you want easy skiing…

    • Paul says:

      Yes, and bring your money with you.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        Weakening the provisions that allow the Forest Preserve to exist as a far wilder place than Vermont or less protected areas would decrease the region’s status as a destination for wilderness-based activities.

        Looks like the slides provide enough open skiing for scads of skiers already. Do you really want to modify the high boreal forests to suit the needs of skiers that can’t change their game to deal with natural conditions?

        Why are there so many Vermonters over here skiing if the skiing is so scary? Well maybe because what is here is different and excellent in it’s own way.

        • Joe Smith says:

          Sir Todd,
          I have skied slides and have experienced glades. Each has magic, each requires skills. Yes, these mountains have lots of slides but glades, as once experienced 30 and 40 years ago (remember?) have disappeared. There is lots of room here to open up the forest in spots and would probably benefit the local fauna also.

  9. Joe Hansen says:

    I welcome an increase in ski trails and improvements ( yes cutting ) of select hiking trails to facilitate skiing. Not everyone is a Red Bull sponsored athlete with 1% er abilities. Moderate difficulty trails would attract older skiers and families. Personally I’m not offended by the cutting of a few trees here and there. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of ecology will tell you that clearings in a forest canopy provides an “edge effect” which increases biodiversity. There will plenty of wildness left on widened trails.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Nature sports are not democratic, learn or back off and find a suitable challenge.

      If you can’t climb 5.12, stay away from 5.12s.

      Don’t adjust the environment to suit your needs, adjust your goals.

      • Joe Smith says:

        “Don’t adjust the environment to suit your needs, adjust your goals.”

        Sir Todd,
        Does that mean we should go back to living in caves, ski on wooden slats using leather straps to hold them to our old leather boots?

      • Bruce says:


        Excellent point. Everyone wants more of what they like to do in the park’s forested lands. Everyone also cites economic and ecological benefit by having more.

        What would the park look like if “everyone” got their wish? I believe it would be a far different, and less attractive place. Each group only wants a “little more,” which of course they say benefits wildlife, the ecology, and the economy. Like a savings account, each “little bit more” of man made change eventually adds up to something larger. Before you know it, the Adirondacks has lost much of its natural character and become a “canned” recreation area. Whatever happened to getting out in natural forest, and leaving no trace?

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating locking up the forest, there must be allowances for varied recreation on public lands, but it must be balanced and responsible. If you look at the Boreas Ponds and Essex Chain acquisitions, there are already existing, rather stout roads. I see nothing wrong with using these roads for whatever recreation is suited to them in a responsible manner. Even if these areas were restricted to hikers and other foot traffic, as Peter Bauer advocates, there would soon be changes suited to their needs, such as more and better trails, lean-tos, campsites, boardwalks and bridges so they won’t have to bushwhack, and have a comfortable place to sleep at night.

        As you said, let’s use what’s there.

        • Joe Smith says:

          Years ago, a ski tour off the top of Phelps into Pelkey Basin was enhanced by somebody with an access trail down the North Ridge. The basin offered wide open Birch forest glade skiing with the occasional spruce tree poking its’ top out of the snow. It was a wild forest that offered great skiing. Show up now and all those little spruce trees have grown and the glade experience has become a memory….
          Glade skiing has a rich history, I think, here in these mountains…. Throw us a few crumbs please.

          • Todd Eastman says:

            Then find other places to ski glades. No trail needed to be hacked through to get to the Phelps glade; some good thicketeering was required but it was a simple and short push to get through.

            The forest evolves and things change. In some bazillion acres of hills and forests, there are plenty of places to find skiing suitable for damn near anyone without demanding special exemptions to the constitution.

          • Todd Eastman says:

            Joe, I might add that the ADK skiers are among the best skiers I have ever skied with anywhere in the US. The narrow trails and tight trees have developed skiers with lightening fast reactions and a keen sense of humor regarding the nature of skiing in the area.

            The first step towards finding more open terrain will be getting out of the central core of the High Peaks and using gear that allows easier XC travel to get into the more remote areas. Big-rig ski gear makes skiing easier on the ups and downs but provides inefficient travel through the longer approaches. Change gear before asking for cut skin tracks, ski trails and manicured glades. And these will be maintained by who?

            • Joe Smith says:

              “And these will be maintained by who?”

              Sir Todd,
              I’m thinking their are a few locals that would make it their mission…

            • Bruce says:


              This is just a thought which occurred to me, and I admit there may be nothing to it.

              Is the state currently allowing foot traffic into Boreas Ponds and Essex Chain? If so, as I understand the law, skiers can go in also. Didn’t both areas have recent logging activity before the state took over? If these things are true, there should not only be open areas for glade skiing, but also a road to ski in on.

              • Todd Eastman says:

                Bruce, there are many variations on what is meant when the work “backcountry” is attached to the word “skiing.”

                The steeper terrain in the High Peaks and other larger mountains within the Park are what the discussion about glades, skin tracks, and wider cut trails primarily revolve around. Most of the more recently logged areas are less steep and though not preferred for downhill oriented backcountry skiing experienced in the High Peaks, can offer excellent backcountry skiing of a more Nordic style.

                Without making this distinction, the discussion gets muddied. The different parts of the Park offer amazing variations of backcountry skiing. I encourage skiers to seek out the areas that match their skills and aspirations without altering the environment to make the skiing easier.

  10. Smitty says:

    Sounds like a great idea to me. I frequently ski the Peavine Swamp trail but it’s narrow and I have some real difficulty with the steeper parts, including some crashes.

  11. Pete Poleto says:

    An excellent collection of ideas that will encourage and distribute skier traffic throughout the region. Good for young and older skiers and a boost to economic development in the region. I strongly support.

  12. Joe Smith says:

    Todd Eastman says: December 23, 2015 at 1:46 am
    “Nature sports are not democratic, learn or back off and find a suitable challenge. If you can’t climb 5.12, stay away from 5.12s. Don’t adjust the environment to suit your needs, adjust your goals.”
    Sir Todd,
    I just read this again and it got me thinking a bit… 5.12 climbs… Tell me, what 5.12 climb, here in this local, did not see a brush, pick, trowel, to make it work as this rain forest climate really has an effect on the vegetation, be it on rock or in the forest… If what I’m told is correct, the POTENTIAL of the route was realized AFTER the work to clean up the routes was done… The “environment” was adjusted to suit the needs of the local climbing crowd…. and they loved them. The same would hold true for ski routes, I think.

  13. Wayno says:

    It is a huge park and there are areas currently being kept open for glade skiing on the down low. This is a great form of recreation and exercise, often in areas of mountains that would otherwise be ignored or underused. There is room in the park for glade skiing and it should be recognized and allowed.

  14. Todd Eastman says:

    Glade skiing is for wimps…

    … ski the natural goods or go home!

    • Joe Smith says:

      Sir Todd…. These are not the western forests to which you have moved to… These are the rain jungles of the Adirondacks!!!!

      Sir Wayno,
      Thank you for your realism.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        The Adks have no corner on thicketeering. If you want easy skiing to match the current version of what is groovey in AT or Tele, find suitable places for that or go to the desolation caused by the Alpine Centers. Forests evolve and areas with fresh disturbances, also known as glades can be found throughout the Park. As for rain jungles, the Adks have a relatively dry climate… and open skiing.

        • Joe Smith says:

          Where? Gore? Man made. Pelky? Gone…. Bear Claws off Algonquin? Grown in…. JBL Valley hill sides? Lots of whippers…. Local? Man made…
          You’ve been away too long, Sir Todd.

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