Thursday, December 20, 2018

Comments Sought On Backcounty Ski Trail Development

Cross Country Ski Trails in the Adirondack ParkThe Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have announced they are holding a joint public comment period to solicit comments regarding proposed guidance for ski touring trails in the “forever wild” Adirondack Forest Preserve and their conformance to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

The proposal adds to existing standards and guidelines for cross-country ski trails as currently defined in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and the Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Preserve Policy Manual. The joint public comment period will conclude on February 1, 2019.

The Backcountry Ski Trail plans can be found here. What follows is an unedited APA press release describing the proposed changes:

The proposed design standards address a growing interest by the general public in backcountry skiing. The goal is to provide skiers of any ability level a wide range of opportunities to enjoy skiing in a wild forest setting. Criteria to protect natural resources, limit user conflict and improve the skiing experience are key components of the proposed guidance.

Construction standards would apply to all Adirondack Park State Land classifications except Intensive Use Areas. Three ski trail categories are proposed: Nordic Ski Trails, Backcountry Ski Trails and Skin Tracks.

Nordic Ski trails would be located on terrain which is not overly challenging and includes limited obstacles to negotiate. Trails would be designed with gentle curves and mild slopes to control speed and ensure beginner level skiers are capable of safely navigating variable terrain. Existing examples of cross-country ski trails that fit this category include the Hays Brook Trail (Debar Wild Forest) and the Old Farm Clearing Trail (Siamese Ponds Wilderness).

Backcountry Ski Trails would be located on more demanding terrain and designed to accommodate challenges associated with intermediate to advance level skiers. Steeper slopes and tighter curves will be features of these ski trails. Existing trails which exemplify this category include the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Trail in the High Peaks Wilderness (HPW), the Avalanche Lake Trail (HPW), and the Wright Peak Ski Trail (HPW).

Skintrack routes will be designed to provide skiers will access to existing slides and other skiing opportunities. Skintracks will have steady, sustainable climbs to ensure elevation gain is safe and not overly strenuous. The width of vegetative clearing for skin tracks will be limited to four feet.

Design standards and criteria in the proposed ski touring guidance includes:

Trail layout
Clearing width and height
Trail surface management (drainage, grading, wood and rock removal)
Side slope management
Turn radius
Trail grade
Sight distance
Tree cutting
Water crossings (bridges and boardwalks)

The guidance also proposes integration of design standards into the management of existing multiple use trails.

For more information or to download the proposed Adirondack Forest Preserve Backcountry Ski Trail Development Guidelines please go to the Agency’s website (

The APA and the DEC are soliciting comments on both the proposed management guidelines and their conformance to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. All comments will be shared and reviewed by both DEC and APA staff.

Address all written comments on the specific management guidelines and your position on their conformance to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan to:

Kevin Prickett
Environmental Program Specialist 1, Natural Resources
NYS Adirondack Park Agency
P.O. Box 99
Ray Brook, NY 12977
Fax: 518-891-3938
Email – (

Submit all written comments by February 1, 2019.

For more information, call the APA at (518) 891-4050 or visit their website.

Map showing trails managed or promoted as cross-country ski trails in the Adirondack Park provided by Adirondack Atlas.

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14 Responses

  1. Justin Farrell says:

    Just a thought & perhaps a knee-jerk reaction here but…
    Better prevention against post-holing, bare-booting, or whatever you want to call it, should be near the top of the list for things to consider.
    Once again there have been lots of complaints so far this wintery season on social media about people not being very considerate or cooperative with the ski or snowshoe regulation. Does DEC even enforce this anymore?

  2. Linda Drabova says:

    We need more trails and allow people to enjoy the nature

  3. Todd Eastman says:

    Perhaps allowing these routes in Wild Forest might be OK, but placing them in Wilderness Areas is wrong.

    Aside from volunteers, what is the maintenance provisions to support these routes?

    These mountain have provided great skiing for decades with out being softened for tourism.

    • Matthew says:

      How are skiable trails any less suitable for wilderness than hiking trails? First, skis are permissible in *every single wilderness area*, period. Second, how is a ski trail, where rocks and vegetation are left in place to hold snow cover “bad”, but hiking trails or horseback trails are “good”? The amount of trail hardening is actually higher for a hiking trail.

      I get it. You’re not a skier, and you want to keep the wilderness skier-free.

    • Boreas says:


      I agree. It is basically the same idea as Class 2 snowmobile trails. Promote the activity to gain tourism then widen or add infrastructure to handle the tourism influx. Both types of infrastructure tout speed with safety, but is there any such thing? It would be interesting to see the statistics. How many members of the Ski to Die club met have with serious accidents with NO trails?

  4. Arrgee says:

    First off, I’m a backcountry skier, and I ski in the Adirondacks.

    I am very wary of the idea of building ski trails in designated Wilderness areas within the Forest Preserve. I am completely opposed to maintaining so-called ‘natural glades’ anywhere in the Forest Preserve — because there is no such thing in the Adirondacks. (A birch glade is transitory, an early stage of forest succession that appears after a major disturbance such as a fire or clear-cutting, and gets filled in by later succession forest types.)

    However, I think building ski trails is perfectly appropriate for designated Wild Forest areas, and I think we should do that. I believe Wilderness areas should be left a challenge for those who have worked their way up to the challenges presented by true wilderness conditions. Tight trees, off-trail navigation, route-finding, sighting a line through rough terrain (and skiing it), finding more easily skiable terrain are all worthy challenges. There’s no need to put 4-foot wide skin tracks in to show people how to get to the top of 45 degree drops down avalanche-prone slide paths. That’s just asking for lots of trouble. If the DEC does that, just watch, there will be bad accidents involving relatively inexperienced skiers taking their new alpine touring gear into serious terrain. Difficult approaches keep the inexperienced humble. I think that’s a good thing. It’s not the ski skills that are most important in the backcountry–it’s the backcountry skills. I say leave the slides for those who’ve worked there way up to the challenges they present.

    I think it would be great to take some fire tower trails (which often were jeep trails to begin with) in Wild Forest areas, and make them into CCC-style ‘down-mountain’ ski trails. There are trails like that in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire that are very popular. They’d be very popular in the Adirondacks too.

    I’m not sure what I think about ‘Nordic’ trails in the Wilderness areas. My feeling is that if there is an existing old road that people use as a trunk trail in the snow-less seasons, then designating those as Nordic ski trails would probably be fine. The problem will be keeping bare-booting hikers off of them. Like the main haul road down to the Seward Range — if the DEC designates that as a Nordic ski trail, how will they keep its snow in skiable condition?

    Obviously, no matter what happens, the DEC should spend their money on hiring rangers so they can better supervise use of the Forest Preserve. I mean, if they build lots of low-angle ski trails all over Wilderness areas, how are they going to keep the ATVs off them in the summer?

    Look, New York is not Vermont. If you want a ‘backcountry ski trail’ that’s managed for skiing the whole way and kept clear of trees, there are lots of that kind of trail in Vermont. The NYS Forest Preserve Wilderness Areas are for true wilderness skiing. When there’s enough snow, there are lots of great places to ski. Backcountry skiers don’t need big signs proclaiming “THIS IS A BACKCOUNTRY SKI TRAIL — SKI HERE!”

    • drdirt says:

      Thanks for your comment ,.,. your points are all very true for experienced back-country skiiers. Whenever there is good snow, there are tons of great trails for every ski level. I have to think that designating and maintaining ‘ski’ trails is an APA-DEC effort at boosting winter tourism. Experienced x-country skiiers need only look at topo maps to evaluate the difficulty of the terrain. .,…,.. Happy Sliding and here’s to some real snow pack in the new Year!!!!

      • chris says:

        “The map is not the terrain.” ADK forests seem much denser than VT, so maps are less useful.

        The explosion of “backcountry” skiing in VT probably does look like a good model for the ADK’s but the terrain, both physically and socially, seems to be quite different. There’s a lot less real backcountry in VT. And most of its forest skiing is quite accessible, relatively concentrated, and not penetrating more than 2 miles from the car park.

        Without judging its relationship to designations, in VT it certainly does provide a great outdoor experience for lots of participants and created a noticeable uptick in locals being engaged with the outdoors.

        • Arrgee says:

          chris, you bring up an interesting question. Why are the ADK forests much denser than in VT? I think I can answer that for you. It’s mostly because of human land use.

          In VT, there is very little forest that has not been logged and/or pastured, and most of the forests in VT have been logged more than once, often times repeatedly, and in many cases burned.

          Pastured lands are usually clear of dense undergrowth. I guess that’s because the sheep, goats and cattle kill the root systems of shrubs and saplings, leaving the standing trees with relatively clear areas in between, which is desirable for skiing. Also, repeatedly burned high elevation forests will have a high proportion of paper birch, forming ‘birch glades’ which are very desirable for skiing.

          In the Adirondack Park, the public Forest Preserve lands have been protected from any logging, mining, pasturing for livestock, or other human economic use. Most of the Forest Preserve lands were logged once or perhaps twice, some large tracts were burned once, and then taken over by the state to be included in the Forest Preserve. Many of these lands were logged 50 to 150 years ago, and are now ‘climax forest’, closely resembling pre-settlement forest. Other parts were logged and then burned, then abandoned by their owners, and finally incorporated into the Forest Preserve. These lands are often in a mid-succession stage, with the paper birch dying off and being replaced by northern hardwoods (including hobblebush) or spruce-fir (often densely treed). These more natural forest types tend to have denser undergrowth, and so are not as friendly to skiing as the more disturbed forests of VT.

          Note that the proposed idea of maintaining so-called ‘natural’ birch glades is not compatible with land use rules in the NY State Forest Preserve. A birch glade is in a short-lived, transitory, early successional stage in a forest’s development that does not last more than about 40 years. Maintaining a birch glade by definition means maintaining the forest in a ‘young’ stage and not allowing it to mature in its natural process of forest succession. It is forest management actively carried out by humans, plain and simple.

          So, while skiers might want to change parts of the Forest Preserve’s forests to make them more desirable for skiing, the fact remains that the more ‘natural’ forests of the Adirondack Park Forest Preserve are simply more difficult to ski than the human-tamed forests of VT. (Sorry if that upsets people. It’s just how it is.)

          I like the challenge of skiing in the NYS Forest Preserve. It’s a different, unique kind of skiing. You have to find the good ski terrain. There’s no sign pointing at it for you. Just like the off-trail hiking in the Adirondack Park (and the Catskill Park), the backcountry skiing is a real challenge.

          • Todd Eastman says:

            Soils and geology, combined with the higher elevations of the Adirondack plateau all combine to create a different forest pattern.

            The Adirondack High Peaks have offered excellent skiing opportunities for decades. Altering the forest to suit backcountry skiing seems to reduce the “backcountry” part of that term…?

    • Patrick Munn says:

      That sign could be placed at the top of every drainage in the High Peaks… Plenty of stream beds that offer a fair measure of adventure … I do appreciate a nice glade ski once in awhile though…

  5. Lauren Watson says:

    I think it a little hilarious that y’all think these trails are actually going to happen (being a skier I am interested). DEC Lands and Forests can’t even come close to maintaining the hiking trails and rely on volunteer groups to chip away at the deficiency. Don’t hold your breath, DEC is great at writing proposals but flunks when getting manpower and $$. Examples all over the place, such as 10 years ago there was supposed to be primitive campsite along the Kunjamunk River — reality, not in my lifetime.

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