Thursday, February 14, 2019

High Peaks Etiquette: Downhill Skiers and Bare-Booters

Allison Rooney skiing in the High Peaks Wilderness by Bill SchneiderEvery winter there are conflicts between backcountry hikers and skiers. While skiing I try my best to educate hikers on the trail, but it isn’t a time when people tend to be very receptive.

I realize there are many hikers who are naïve to the world of backcountry skiing. While there are those who will never alter their behavior, I believe that with considerate education most will realize that there are a few simple things they can do that will improve trail use for all users.

I thought a quick summary of the backcountry downhill skiing situation in the High Peaks Wilderness in particular might be helpful.

Where You’ll See Skiers in the High Peaks

There is a very limited time of the year where skiers can enjoy their sport, usually between December and April, but depending on the year and conditions it can sometimes be limited to a few months or even a few weeks. So far this year has been pretty good, but the last several seasons seem to be offering shorter and shorter windows.

There are really only four designated downhill ski trails in the High Peaks Wilderness, totaling less than 3.5 miles: Whale’s Tail Ski Trail, Wright Peak Ski Trail, Avalanche Pass Ski Trail, and Marcy Ski Trail. (By way of comparison, there are about 250 miles of hiking trails.)

To access and return from these four ski trails, there are a few hiking trails that skiers typically share with other users: The Marcy Dam Trail from Adirondac Loj, the trail to Wright and Algonquin, the Avalanche Pass Trail, and the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Trail.

Additionally, skiers heavily use the Marcy Truck Trail (from South Meadows) and the Lake Arnold Trail, and the North and Southside trails up the John’s Brook Valley which provide the access and exit for terrain on the Great Range.

If hikers want to have positive interactions with skiers, wearing snowshoes on these hiking trails will help ensure that.

Why Bare-Booting Matters

post holes on the VanHo trail coming down Mount Marcy in JanuaryExposed rocks and water are far greater hazards to skiers than to hikers. Rocks can destroy your skis and/or knock you off your feet. Water will freeze instantly to the bottoms of skis, leaving them useless until you painstakingly scrape them off with a tool.

Those without snowshoes or skis are far more likely to punch through frozen water bars and shallow snow, thus exposing rocks and water, making skiing and snowshoeing more hazardous and less enjoyable. One punch through thin ice may ruin the trail for skiers for the rest of the season.

Even if the trail is firm, stepping off the trail to pass other users, walking on the “edge” of the packed out trial, and walking in unconsolidated snow also creates postholes. Postholes prevent all users from being able to travel safely.

To play on the old adage: take only pictures and leave no post holes. Even one can be dangerous to not only skiers but also hikers. A few years ago, an Assistant Ranger broke her femur after her ski tip plunged into a posthole and flipped her over.

If you are actively creating divots in the snow (i.e. creating an uneven trail surface) you should don your snowshoes to help maintain the trail for all users. Skinning (skiing uphill) on lumpy, divotted trails can be extremely difficult. Snowshoers will also find divots difficult and unpleasant to walk on. Even if you only “punch through” the firm trail one out of 30 steps, that one posthole can remain for several days, weeks, or even the rest of the season.

Finally and most importantly, regulation (read: law) requires skis or snowshoes when there are more than eight inches of snow on the ground in the High Peaks Wilderness. Forest Rangers can and do write tickets for not being properly equipped with snowshoes or skis.

designated ski trails mapThe majority of skiers will be found on the highlighted trails on the map at left.

Images, from above: Map of ski trails, highlighting Marcy Dam trail, Wright-Algonquin trail, Avalanche Pass trail, VanHo Trail and the Truck Trail, post-holes on the VanHo trail coming down Mount Marcy in January by Allison Rooney, and Allison Rooney skiing in the High Peaks Wilderness by Bill Schneider.

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Allison Rooney is a resident of Keene, NY. When she’s not busy co-managing her business with her partner as caretakers, she can be found rock climbing or skiing. Allison is also part of the DEC High Angle Search and Rescue team and the Vice President of the Adirondack Climber’s Coalition, an advocacy organization for responsible rock and ice climbing.




30 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Like you say it’s a rule that has to be followed.
    Crazy. Who wants to hike in deep snow without snowshoes or skis anyway?

    • Boreas says:

      Paul,

      This is all part of the ongoing “backcountry education” discussion. Despite signs at trailheads stating the obvious, people will take off on a trunk trail without wearing snowshoes or skis because the walking is easy on the hard surface – at least initially. They may even be carrying snowshoes. As a trail becomes less firm they start post-holing until they feel the need to put on snowshoes. But at that point the damage behind them is done.

      Then, there are the people with no snowshoes or skis at all, just wanting to hike unfettered. After all, they usually don’t start sinking often in until they get off the trunk trail or have to move over to let others pass. They may not even have a destination in mind. But once they are seemingly half of the way to a goal – wet and tired- decide to forge ahead anyway rather than simply turn around.

      Whether we consider it poor etiquette, illegal, or downright stupidity (or both) lies in the eyes of the beholder, not the post-holer. For some reason, they often remain oblivious – until they are exhausted and hypothermic. Then a quick phone call to the DEC and they are hauled out of danger with a stern warning or ticket – assuming they are still alive.

  2. Ron Konowitz says:

    Thank you Allison for the very informative piece. Education is so important.
    The 250 miles of hiking trails vs 3.5 miles of designated Ski Trails is a very lopsided statistic that the Adirondack Powder Skier Association ( http://www.adkpowderskier.com ) has highlighted in many letters and presentations. Low Impact, Purpose Built Skier Only BackCountry Ski Trails are long overdue.

  3. Gebby says:

    The DEC still makes a weekly report and it isn’t quite as cut and dry as “it’s the law to wear snowshoes when there are 8 inches of snow”. The DEC release this week states: “Snowshoes, trail crampons and steel-tipped hiking poles should be carried on all hikes and worn as warranted”. Yelling at hikers who are wearing microspikes on the boilerplate around Marcy Dam doesn’t do anything to help the relationship between skiers and snowshoers, nor does threatening to make citizen’s arrests! Relationships are a two way street!

  4. Dick Carlson says:

    I call them (post-holers) hoofenators, and I think their reasoning is “I don’t need anything, no skis, snowshoes, nothing, how great am I?”

  5. Todd Eastman says:

    Hahaha…

    … been going on forever!

    First World probkem made worse by entitled skiers😊

  6. Kenneth Fischer says:

    Great points. I don’t ski, or hike on those trails but need to remember Im not the only person in the world. I have that issue with Snowmobiling. Spinning the track, unsteady throttle, not using momentum to get up hills all blow the snow off the trail and create mougles. How about saving the trail for the next guy, or maybe your return trip!! Most Sledders really don’t have a clue!!

  7. Richard says:

    Yes….but probably consideration and “education (see things my way)” are two way streets. There are some clueless hikers, and there some skiers who seem to consider themselves a bit entitled; and this article might reinforce that skier attitude just little bit.

  8. SLMPDefender says:

    Though I’m not arguing for or against the snowshoe rule right now, I do think it’s worth having a discussion about the implications of the rule for those who lack the means to purchase snowshoes, but want to enjoy the forest preserve. For the record, I always wear/bring my snowshoes in winter, because I can afford them and think it’s common sense to have such an important winter travel tool remote areas.

    Equipment requirements can be argued more easily as they relate to protection of the resource or for protection of the user (i.e. to prevent a ranger needing to extract someone who is unprepared). I think we get into slippery terrain when we argue for requirements based on preserving user experiences other than the wilderness values promised by Wilderness areas, as designed by the State Land Master Plan.

    Todd put it best… first world problems. For those skiers with $1500-2000 kits who feel aggrieved by those who may not own snowshoes, I have a tiny violin I can play for you.

    • Gebby says:

      Thank you SLMP. Here’s a contrasting interaction that happened last weekend. Several of my friends were around Marcy Dam last weekend when they were accosted by a skier for wearing microspikes and not snowshoes, with the threat, “You better hope you make it back to the trailhead before I do, because I’m turning you in to the ranger”. I ran in to five young men a day later at the dam in bareboots or spikes with plans for Colden, on top of half of them in jeans. I pointed out that it was quite cold and the jeans were going to make it a bit dangerous and also that without snowshoes in their possession, they could all be ticketed, as that was required. Which interaction do you think might be more likely to have been received in a positive manner? 🙁

      • Boreas says:

        Gebby,

        I understand your frustration. Until backcountry Rangers are staffed appropriately, these prickly interactions will continue, if not worsen. What are the chances any of these people – skiers or post-holers – will even SEE a Ranger during their outing? I have had encounters in the past where skiers have behaved poorly as well – assuming right-of way on level trails, etc. – so they are not the only trail users with a beef. Rangers tend to keep people on their best behavior, enhancing everyone’s enjoyment of the backcountry.

    • Pat B says:

      Is snowshoe equipment cost really a factor? I just did a quick search on-line search for snowshoes. I see “hiking” snowshoes with prices starting below $100. LL Bean pricing starts @ $109. p.s. I’m neither a skier nor a winter hiker.

      • Boreas says:

        Pat B,

        Snowshoes and skis can often be rented locally. There really isn’t much of an excuse. They also should be carried in spring and some fall conditions where there may be NO snow at the trailhead but waist-deep snow up high. Many people learn this the hard way, as I did on my first April climb on Street/Nye. Wasn’t even much snow on the Brothers, but pretty much snow-swimming at 50 F trying to find those damn registers on Street/Nye.

        • Boreas says:

          This also illustrates differing snow conditions in different areas and elevations of the peaks. We did the Brothers the previous day out of Keene Valley carrying snowshoes all the way, with only a little ice on the summits. That is why we ditched the snowshoes the following day for Street/Nye. Bad idea – big difference between KV and LP areas with regard to snow. This was in 1979-80 I believe – young & stupid. Nowadays, this is considered early mud season and hiking is often discouraged depending on conditions.

  9. drdirt says:

    Like my Mother-in-Law used to say.,.,., “Just get along Kids”. Courtesy on the trails is necessary in all seasons, and experience teaches us lessons we seldom learn from the ‘teachers’!!! Winter travel in the forest requires making mistakes you never forget ,.,..,,. like forgetting to replace the wax in your backpack. This week we were caught unprepared for the sticky noon snow and had to take our skis off and post-hole for a short while. “SORRY”.,.,. last week we didn’t strap our snowshoes on and began skiing up a trail .,., suddenly the snowpack changed and our tips were plunging through crust .,., SORRY again, we postholed back down a ways!!!

    You see, the ‘younguns’ or beginners have to make mistakes before they learn to love the forest and become experienced hikers and skiers and paddlers and even sledders. I’ll bet wearing ‘Jeans’ was the best selection from what was in their suitcase that week. (better than shorts). YES, education is a priority as we go forward in improving our backcountry experience. Staying smart, especially on ‘Ski’ trails, is valuable info. for all. Thanks for the article. Now, get out!!!

  10. rc says:

    now if we could only keep those darn coyotes and deer off my ski trails!

  11. Patrick says:

    Todd is on the money with the skier/post holer interaction going on “forever”… I don’t like admitting I’ve been around almost that long… Yes, I’ve been guilty of less than civil discourse with post holers in the past. Back in the day our skis were about the width of light touring skis because that was all we knew of. The skis did not perform well when a post holer or two was met coming up while we careened down whatever trail was the choice that day putting us at risk of a sudden cartwheel… You know, the Good Lord gave us shoes to walk the bare ground, skates (or crampons) to move across the ice, and skis or snow shoes to deal with snow… Common sense.

  12. Outdoor Fun Hog says:

    I’m a skier/climber/hiker…this all boils down to common sense and mutual respect. If you’re post-holing some of the most popular ski trails in the High Peaks (Mt. Marcy, Avalanche Lake, etc.) I’m going to (respectfully) say something to you if I see you. You’re choosing to wreck other people’s fun/safety with your ignorance or laziness. Hey…you can drive your golf cart, push your cart, or just drop your shoulder bag onto a green at the local golf course (out of ignorance or to make things easier on yourself)…but when other golfers start yelling at you, please don’t be surprised or upset. You’re choosing to damage a community resource that everyone must share (whether you choose to rent a cart, push your bag, or carry it on your shoulder). The flip side of the coin is pragmatism. When we’ve gotten an inch of rain or a big warm up, and the trails are a solid block of ice…I’ve worn bare boots or crampons myself on some of the trails above (and wouldn’t say a thing if I saw someone else doing it in the same conditions). There are also trails where no one is interested in skiing, once again…knock yourself out and wear whatever you want on your feet. The key here is use your brain, realize that there are times and places where snowshoes/skis MUST be worn, and don’t be a jerk and damage community resources.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Thanks for proving the point…😊

      • adkDreamer says:

        That’s right Outdoor Fun Hog. Common Sense rules the day. There are way too many that campaign for licenses, permits and state funds for education, etc. to control nearly every facet of their lives, let alone outdoor activities. Control for everything so people don’t have to use their brains for anything. The fact is that back country excursions are inherently dangerous and being prepared only mitigates those dangers but does not eliminate every danger or obstacle. No amount of licensing, permitting or so called education can possibly be brought to guarantee a risk free adventure. That’s why it is called a challenge. That’s why folks go out there, to challenge themselves. Heck, even getting out of bed in the morning isn’t risk free.

  13. Mary-Nell Bockman says:

    Another common problem in the winter is dogs on the trails in winter. I often see dogs both leashed and unleashed trampling across ski tracks. The owners seem to give no thought to the fact that large dogs leave deep postholes too. And unleashed dogs can be a real menace to skiers because they are not in anyone’s control. I crashed coming down a hill when a dog bounded out of the woods and jumped on me. The usual “He’s friendly” shouted at me from 200 feet away was not an effective warning. And trying to explain to a dog owner why their dog should be leashed or (better) left at home on winter trails is useless in my experience.

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