On New Year’s Day we didn’t have enough snow to ski most backcountry trails, but we decided to give the Jackrabbit Trail a shot, starting at Whiteface Inn Road in Lake Placid and ascending to the pass between Haystack and McKenzie mountains.
I have skied this section of the Jackrabbit often and had an idea of what we’d find: bare patches on the half-mile hill at the start but decent snow above. With a few inches of fresh powder over a thin but solid base, the trail should be skiable, I thought. We would just need to steer clear of the bare spots.
That’s pretty much what we encountered. What I hadn’t counted on though, was that the trail would have been thoroughly trashed by bare-booters – that is, hikers without snowshoes.
I understand why hikers felt snowshoes were unnecessary. Over the holidays, we had only four or five inches of snow. The problem is that the prints left by their boots had frozen into miniature craters, creating a surface that was difficult, and dangerous, to ski.
If this were just any trail, I wouldn’t bother to complain. But this was the Jackrabbit, perhaps the Adirondacks’ premier ski trail, which stretches 24 miles from Keene to Saranac Lake. It was created, and is maintained, by skiers.
Josh Wilson, executive director of the Barkeater Trails Alliance (BETA), which maintains the trail, said his organization tries to dissuade the public from bare-booting, but it remains a problem, especially on stretches of the trail near roads.
“We are already seeing that a few sections of the Jackrabbit have been trampled by people walking on the ski trail, thus making skiing undesirable and even dangerous in some locations,” he told the Almanack.
Wilson thinks many bare-booters are tourists who don’t realize they are ruining the trail for others.
In the High Peaks Wilderness, visitors are required to wear snowshoes or skis whenever the snow is deeper than eight inches. There is no such rule for the two Wilderness Areas that the Jackrabbit passes through. Even if there were, it would not have applied on the day of our ski trip.
Absent a change in regulations, we must rely on the goodwill of bare-booters to stay off the Jackrabbit. BETA (formerly the Adirondack Ski Touring Council) has put up signs on the Jackrabbit near Saranac Lake urging hikers to wear snowshoes. Wilson said the organization probably will put up a similar sign in Lake Placid.
“All users of winter ski trails should possess a basic understanding of winter-trail etiquette,” Wilson said. “When snowshoeing on ski trails, snowshoers should avoid walking on an established ski track and should instead create a parallel track next to the existing ski track. When winter trail etiquette is followed, cross-country skiers and other winter users can both enjoy the winter trail system without conflict.”
Most of the bare-booters had turned around at the Placid Lean-to, about a mile from the road. One hiker, however, continued bare-booting all the way to the pass and then headed though the woods toward the summit of Haystack. Since there is another trail leading to Haystack, I wondered why this person felt it necessary to use the ski trail.
I thought I might be brooding too much. But on our return, we ran into another skier heading toward the pass whence we had come. The first words out of his mouth: “Thank you for wearing skis.” He was one of the Jackrabbit volunteers, scouting the trail for fallen trees.
On the final descent to the road, I managed to find untrampled snow for a short stretch on the edge of the trail and made a few turns. Conditions were quite good, a taste of what might have been.
Photo by Phil Brown: McKenzie Pass on New Year’s Day.