Posts Tagged ‘Cross-Country Skiing’

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Skating, Skiing in Lake Placid

Skating and skiing are the hot events this week in Lake Placid. Last weekend, speed skaters flocked to the Olympic Speed Skating Oval to participate in the second of the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club Racing series, the Charles Jewtraw All Around.

Named for the first Winter Olympic Games gold medalist Charles Jewtraw, the oval hosted approximately 45 competitors from the US and Canada, competing in four different events throughout the weekend. For complete results, visit www.lakeplacidoval.com.

The Lake Placid Ice Skating Institute (ISI) Championships is taking place this weekend at the Olympic Center. Hosted by Ice Skating Institute, which is “an international industry trade association encompassing all aspects of the ice skating industry”. ISI also promotes the sport of figure skating for recreation and hosts several competitions annually. The event is fun to watch, especially because of certain events such as synchronized skating (several skaters skating in a group together) and artistic, which emphasizes artistry. For more about ISI, visit their website www.skateisi.com. For more information about the Lake Placid ISI Championships, visit www.riverdaleice.com.

Skiing will be taking over Whiteface Mountain January 13th-15th for the St Lawrence University Winter Carnival, in which skiers from the Northeast and Canada compete in cross country skiing. For more information, visit www.whitefacelakeplacid.com.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chain Saws in the Adirondack Wilderness

When we needed to do an early-season ski tour for the Adirondack Explorer, we opted for the Hays Brook Truck Trail north of Paul Smiths, which needs only about six inches of snow to be skiable.

On December 7, four of us from the office spent a good part of the day gliding through fresh, fluffy powder on our way to the Sheep Meadow at the end of the truck trail and to Grass Pond via a side trail.

With snow adorning the tall pines, the forest was serene and beautiful, and we had a wonderful time. I’ll post a link to the story when it’s available online.

Apart from two fairly steep hills, the truck trail traverses gentle terrain suitable for novice skiers. It’s a fun outing anytime in winter.

The biggest difficulty we faced was getting past two nasty pieces of blowdown about three miles from the trailhead. In one case, we thrashed through the woods to get around a large tree fallen across the trail.

Blowdown is something skiers and hikers put up with in the Adirondacks. It’s not a huge deal. Still, when I skied to the Sheep Meadow again with my daughter the day after Christmas, I was glad to discover that someone had cut through the blowdown with a chain saw. Hat’s off to whoever did it.

As we continued down the trail, it occurred to me that the doer of this good deed would have broken the law if the blowdown had been in a Wilderness Area instead of a Wild Forest Area. (The Hays Brook Truck Trail lies within the Debar Mountain Wild Forest.) Generally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation forbids the use of chain saws in Wilderness Areas except from April 1 to May 24. DEC can grant permission to use them from September 15 to April 1 as well, but this is not usually granted for routine blowdown such as we encountered on the Hays Brook Truck Trail.

I understand the rationale. A Wilderness Area is supposed to approximate nature in its primeval state. No motor vehicles, no snowmobiles, no bicycles, no motorized equipment.

As much as I support this management objective, I couldn’t help wondering what harm would have resulted if someone had cut through this blowdown even if it had been in a Wilderness Area. If the job were undertaken on a weekday, it’s possible that no one would have been around to hear the chain saw other than the person running the saw. In any case, the short interruption of natural serenity would serve the greater good. Although a few people who happened to be nearby might be bothered briefly by the noise, skiers would benefit all winter from the clearing of the trail.

I am not suggesting that forest rangers and others be allowed to use chain saws in Wilderness Areas anytime and anywhere. I do wonder if the regulations should be loosened somewhat to permit more clearing of trails before and during the ski season. I don’t have a specific proposal. I’m not even sure the regulations should be loosened. I’m just throwing out the idea for discussion.

Photo of the Sheep Meadow by Phil Brown.

Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Free Cross-Country Skiing at New Land Trust

You can ski for free on hundreds of trails in the Adirondack Forest Preserve, but if you’re looking for a few more creature comforts—such as groomed trails and a clubhouse with a wood stove—check out the New Land Trust trails outside the hamlet of Saranac. They’re free, too.

The New Land Trust got its start in 1977 when some Plattsburgh State College students and friends purchased an old farm. Today the land trust is a non-profit organization that maintains twenty-eight trails (totaling about ten kilometers) on 287 acres.

While skiing at the New Land Trust over the weekend with my daughter Martha, we ran into Steve Jenks, a member of the trust board who lives nearby and maintains the trails. He led us down some of his favorite routes. We saw only a few other parties.

“People, why aren’t you here?” Jenks lamented. “The skiing here is fantastic, and it’s only a half-hour from Plattsburgh.”

He told us that the trust has improved its fiscal fitness in recent years but still needs money for a new roof for the clubhouse. The trust relies on donations from the public and on membership fees ($75 a year) to cover its taxes and other expenses. (Although the trails and lodge are open to the public for free, there is a donation box at the trail register.)

Most of the trails are mellow and don’t require a great deal of snow to be skiable. On Sunday, Martha and I skied the Saranac, a very attractive trail that led us past snow-covered balsams. Saranac is one of two main routes. We then took Night Rider to Solstice (the other main route), where we encountered Steve, who led us back to the clubhouse via a number of shorter trails.

The trails are all signed. Other amenities include two lean-tos, a bunkhouse, and a nifty outhouse. You can find a trail map and driving directions on the trust’s website. Trails maps also are available the register.

Photo by Phil Brown: New Land Trust lodge.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Phil Brown: The Future of the Whitney Wilderness

On Saturday I went skiing on the Burn Road in the William C. Whitney Wilderness. It’s one of those ski routes that don’t require a lot of snow, ideal for early-season outings.

My ski trip was uneventful. I enjoyed a few glimpses of Little Tupper Lake through the trees, saw lots of snow fleas and several deer beds, and discovered an unusual outhouse decorated with paintings of evergreens. When the warming snow started clumping on my skis, I decided to turn around after three and a half miles.

The state bought Little Tupper Lake and surrounding lands—nearly fifteen thousand acres in all—from the Whitney family in 1997. After the purchase, there was a public debate over whether the tract should be classified as Wilderness or Wild Forest.

One of the arguments against designating the tract Wilderness—the strictest of the Forest Preserve land classifications—is that it just didn’t look like wilderness. The woods had been heavily logged and were crisscrossed with logging roads, of which the Burn Road is only one. And then there were the buildings on the shore of Little Tupper.

The anti-Wilderness folks had a point. Skiing the Burn Road is the not a breathtaking experience. The above photo of snowy evergreens shows one of the more attractive scenes from my trip. Most of the forest is skinny hardwoods. A wide road cut through a logged-over forest is a far cry from my idea of pristine wilderness.

But let’s face it: there is very little pristine wilderness in this part of world. The Forest Preserve is full of evidence of human history: abandoned woods roads, rusting logging machines, foundations of farmhouses, old orchards, even gravesites. If we were to require that Wilderness be free of all signs of the human past, we might end up with no Wilderness at all.

The aim of Wilderness regulations is not always to preserve wilderness; perhaps more often than not, it is to restore wilderness. In time, the trees will grow big, moss will cover the crumbling foundations, and nature will reclaim the old roads.

Skiing back to my car, I was cheered by the thought that in fifty or a hundred years, this wide road may be a narrow corridor passing through a forest of stately yellow birch and red spruce. Skiers of the future will thank us for restoring this place to its natural condition.

Photo of the Burn Road by Phil Brown

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Adirondack Stats: Winter Sports

Year of the first known winter ascent of Mount Marcy: 1893

Number of recorded “Winter” 46ers as of May 2010: 467

Year volunteers cut the first trails on Gore Mountain: 1931

Approximate number of ski facilities, downhill and cross-country in the Adirondacks today: 30

Year in which Jim Goodwin and Bob Notman made the first ascent of the Chapel Pond Slab: 1936

Approximate number of ice climbing routes today: 100 on 13 major cliffs

Year in which Polaris Industries’ introduced the “Pol-Cat,” the first modern snowmobile: 1954

Approximate number of miles of groomed snowmobile trails on state land today: 800

Year of the first winter sports festival in Lake Placid: 1914

Amount of state taxpayers money ORDA received in 2010: $5.6 million

Amount ORDA contributes to the local economy: about $300 million

Estimated number of people employed by the winter economy in the Old Forge area: 500 to 1,000

Sources, Press Republican, Climate Change in the Adirondacks, ORDA, Lee Manchester, “Santa’s Historians” [pdf], John Warren “Adirondack Snowmobile History“.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Lapland Lake Ski Center’s Olavi and Ann Hirvonen

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Olavi Hirvonen and his wife Ann, who own and operate the Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center in Benson, near Northville. Olavi competed in the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Games as a member of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team., and in 1978 he founded Lapland Lake, which he and Ann have built into one of the East’s foremost cross country ski centers.

Jeff: What events led to you being selected for the U.S. Olympic Nordic Ski Team in 1960?

Olavi: Well, it’s a long story… I was born in Montreal and was brought to Finland when I was eight months old. I was raised there by my grandmother and learned to ski as a youngster. I came to this country in 1949 after serving in the Finnish Army. After being here a couple years and married for a few months, I received greetings from the U.S. Army with special orders to go to Alaska as an instructor in the Arctic Indoctrination School. In the wintertime I taught skiing, snowshoeing, and Arctic survival, and in the summer it was mountain climbing, rock climbing, glacier travel.

Jeff: Alaska must have been an incredible place in the 1950s.

Olavi: I liked Alaska, yes. Good fishing and good hunting, and lots of lingonberries in the woods! [lingonberries are a Scandinavian food staple].

Jeff: Your service in the Army led to you being selected for the U.S. Olympic Ski Team?

Olavi: After the Army I had a ski lodge in Vermont that I was leasing. I had an invitation to go to the U.S. Olympic training camp in Colorado, but we were adding on to the ski lodge in ’59 and early ’60, and I couldn’t take the time to go because of all the work that I needed to do at home. So I trained by myself, until a week before the tryouts, and then I went out to meet up with the team in Winter Park, Colorado, which is at 10,000 feet. I had headaches night and day and didn’t do very well at all. On the fifth day, at a race in Aspen before the tryouts, I came in 26th and I thought I’ll never make it. The day after that we drove up to Steamboat Springs, and I went out to check the course for the first race of the tryouts. All of a sudden I felt like somebody turned the power switch on, like my old self. I came in second in the tryouts.

Olavi: Well, there’s more to the story. Because I hadn’t been trained by the Olympic coaches I was something of a black sheep. I didn’t get to race my best distance, the 30K, which was the first race. I found out the night before the race, and I was very disappointed. Instead I raced in the 15K and the 50K.

Jeff: Which event did you do better in?

Olavi: Well, the 50K, but I had never skied 50K in my life. I didn’t medal, but I ended up being the second US finisher, after breaking my ski. I had to ski on a single ski for more than a mile. I got a ski from a spectator and finished the race. That happened in the first 10K.

Jeff: That’s an incredible story, how did that happen?

Olavi: I stepped out of the track to make way for a Finnish competitor and that’s when I broke my ski. That was Veikko Hakulinen, and he won the silver medal. We became good friends after the Olympics. In the 40K team relay, he came from 20 seconds behind in the last leg to win the gold medal by just one meter. [Veikko Hakulinen was the only athlete at the Squaw Valley games to win three medals. The third medal was in the 15K].

Jeff: And what led you to eventually found Lapland Lake?

Olavi: We were living in Vermont in the 1960s and 1970s, and I had seen Trapp Family Lodge, the first cross country ski center in the United States. My late son worked there as an instructor in the 1970s, and it had been in my mind since the Olympics to one day start something like that.

In 1977 I had built two houses, one that we were living in and one that I was still finishing, and they were both for sale. I thought one of them might sell, but they both did, and so in the spring of 1978 we were homeless and we headed out. My plan was to head into upstate New York, but farther north than here. Driving north on Route 30, I saw the sign for Benson and I thought “I have to make that left.” It was like a magnet, I had not planned to come here. Eventually we found this place. It had cabins, lots of land and a lake, and it was for sale.

When we finally made the deal to buy the property, the lady who sold the property to us, the former owner, wanted to take us out to dinner. On the way to the restaurant she asked me what sports my late son had been involved in [Olavi lost his son Esa in an accident in 1977]. I said biathlon and cross-country skiing, and she said her nephew was on the U.S. biathlon team. So I asked her what’s his name, and she said John Hall. Well, I could hardly believe it because John Hall had been my son’s good buddy in college. That connection must have been the magnet that pulled me here.

Jeff: What were the early years like? Did you operate Lapland Lake as both a touring center and a vacation resort right from the start?

Olavi: Originally, this place was a farm. The lodge was a barn, for cows. In the 1930s, the owner put up some summer cottages but they weren’t winterized. We closed on the property August 3, 1978 and we had the first ski race December 15. There wasn’t much time to work on the trails that first year. We had to jack up all the cottages and put in foundations. I got a backhoe and I dug all of the water lines underground. We worked round the clock to get the place ready.

Jeff: Last year was a really tough year for snow. How did you do?

Ann: We average 117 days of skiing and over 11 feet of snow per year. Last year was our lowest snow year ever (80 inches), but we had over 100 days of skiing. We worked the snow and we were lucky with what we got.

Jeff: How much snow do you need to open?

Olavi: Well it depends on what type of snow. The best is a wet snow, and then cold after that. We can ski with just 2 inches on the lake trail. But six inches of wet snow lets us open just about everything.

Jeff: What’s involved in the trail grooming?

Olavi: At this time of year before the snow comes there’s clearing limbs and trees that have come down, and clearing drainage pipes. In the summer we mow the trails. It’s continuous maintenance. In the winter we groom every day. I’ve got a new 2010 Prinoth Husky Snowcat groomer, I think it’s our fourth snowcat groomer, plus a couple snowmobiles.

Jeff: Do you do all the grooming yourself?

Olavi: Yes, I still do. I have a young man who just started who I hope I can get to groom with the snowmobile, so at least I’ll have a backup if I get sick or hurt. It depends how good he is.

Jeff: How has the grooming evolved?

Olavi: When we first started I just had a snowmobile and track sled. We used mattress springs to break up the snow if it got hard or there was freezing rain. The trails were narrow, and groomed with tracks for classic skiing. Then people started skating, and I complained that people were destroying my tracks. So I widened the trails, bought our first snowcat, and started grooming for both skating and classic.

Jeff: Has anyone taken you up on your “Groomer’s Challenge?”

Ann [explaining to Olavi, who apparently hasn’t seen this on the website]: That’s online. We checked with the Cross Country Ski Association, and we don’t think there’s anyone who has more hours of grooming experience than Olavi in North America. One gentleman said he had been grooming as many years, but he was from downstate where the seasons are short. So in terms of total number of days grooming, we haven’t heard of anyone who’s got the depth of experience that Olavi has. It’s been on the website for three years now.

Jeff: The grooming and the design of the trail network seem to have given Lapland Lake the reputation of being a skier’s ski center.

Olavi: From the start I had the idea of making the trails all one-way loops, other than some connecting trails. We have a limited amount of acreage, and I wanted to get as many kilometers of trail as possible and take advantage of the natural terrain. We also get lots of beginners. We have a great ski school and we do a lot of lessons.

Jeff: Olavi, do you still ski?

Olavi: I don’t ski much anymore. I work days, and usually when I do ski it’s in the evening with lights on the Lake Trail or the easier trails with a headlamp. But I find my balance is nothing like what it used to be. I’ll be 80 on December 26. You know your limitations.

Jeff: A number of cross country ski areas have installed snowmaking: Trapp, Mountain Top, and others. Is that something you’d consider here?

Olavi: No, I think it’s too much of an expense to be worth it for us, it wouldn’t pay. So far we’ve been very lucky with our natural snowfall.

Jeff: Where do your customers come from?

Olavi: We get day skiers from the Capital District, Johnstown and Amsterdam, even Kingston and New Paltz. Overnight guests from Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio. We get lots of Canadians and Europeans. About 65% of our skiers are experienced skiers. We get racers early in the season, but later they travel to races. We also have a great volunteer Ski Patrol.

Ann: On weekends we’ll have 300 to 400 skiers. We hit 1,000 once, but it was just too many: people were elbow-to-elbow in the ski shop.

Jeff: How does this winter look?

Ann: Our reservations and our season passes are up. People seem to feel more comfortable spending money.

Jeff: Do you think a ski center can exist on its own as a viable business, or does it need to be paired with an inn or lodging business to be successful?

Olavi: I think it works best with lodging. It gives you something to fall back on, something for the summertime. And lodging in the winter without the skiing doesn’t do very well either. You have to have that combination.

Jeff: One thing that has always stood out is your website and the way you communicate with skiers.

Olavi: That’s Ann. When we met she was a PR person at Ellis Hospital. She doesn’t want to miss a ski report, and quite often she’ll update it more than once during the day. I’ll give her a report while I’m grooming. We try our best to be honest, but sometimes you still get it wrong.

Ann: At the time, I thought I was taking a big gamble spending money on the website, but it’s really paid off.

Jeff: How do you two share the work: the ski trails, the retail shop, the cottages and the restaurant?

Olavi: Ann is really the manager, and I do most of the outside work, the trails. In the winter, after the trail grooming, I come in and work in the ski shop selling skis and doing repairs. Ann gives me a to-do list.

Ann: Olavi may say I am the manager, but he’s really the heart and soul of the operation. He puts so much of himself into the trails and the grooming… Olavi says “I groom it the way I want to ski it.”

Jeff: Thanks very much Ann and Olavi for your time, and congratulations on your continued success with Lapland Lake. Olavi, congratulations on your upcoming birthday, and your Olympic anniversary. Kudos!

Photo of Olavi and Ann courtesy the Finland Center Foundation.

Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.



Thursday, December 9, 2010

A New Contributor: Ski Sports Writer Jeff Farbaniec

Please join me in welcoming Jeff Farbaniec as the newest contributor here at the Adirondack Almanack. Jeff is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures. This winter, Jeff’s emphasis will be on the ski sports – everything and anything related to Adirondack skiing.

His first piece for the Almanack runs at noon today, an interview with Olavi and Ann Hirvonen founders of the Lapland Lake ski touring center in Benson (near Northville). Olavi is a former Olympian (1960 Squaw Valley) and at age 80, may be the most experienced groomer in the country.

For now, check out Jeff’s blog. He recently took a look at the pre-season ski movie ritual, took the snowmaking media tour at Whiteface, and spent opening weekend at Gore.

Jeff Farbaniec lives in Wilton, just south of the Blue Line in Saratoga County, with his wife and their 2 young children.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

DEC: Be Prepared For Winter Conditions

Visitors to the backcountry of the Adirondacks should be prepared for snow, ice and cold, and use proper equipment, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) advised today. Winter is an opportune time to take advantage of all that the Adirondack Park has to offer, however, the season can also present troublesome – even perilous – conditions to the unprepared.

Snow cover in the Adirondacks is now several feet deep at higher elevations. Visitors to the Eastern High Peaks are required to use snowshoes or cross-country skis for safety. It is strongly recommended that visitors to other parts of the Adirondacks do the same.

Snowshoes or skis prevent sudden falls or “post-holing,” avoids injuries and eases travel on snow. Ice crampons should be carried for use on icy mountaintops and other exposed areas. In addition, backcountry visitors should follow these safety guidelines:

* Dress properly with layers of wool and fleece (NOT COTTON!) clothing: a wool or fleece hat, gloves or mittens, wind/rain resistant outer wear, and winter boots.

* Carry a day pack complete with: An ice axe, plenty of food and water, extra clothing, a map and compass, a first-aid kit, a flashlight/headlamp, sun glasses, sun-block protection, ensolite pads, a stove and extra fuel, and bivy sack or space blankets.

* Drink plenty of water — dehydration can lead to hypothermia.

* Eat plenty of food to maintain energy levels and warmth.

* Check weather before entering the woods — if the weather is poor, postpone the trip. The mountains will always be there.

* Be aware of weather conditions at all times — if weather worsens, head out of the woods.

* Contact the DEC at (518) 897-1200 to determine trail conditions in the area you plan to visit.

Visitors should also be aware that waters have begun freezing over, but are not safe to access. Ice that holds snow may not hold the weight of a person.

Adirondack trail information can be found on the DEC website and the Adirondack Almanack provides weekly local conditions reports as well each Thursday afternoon.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Some Early-Season Adirondack Ski Trips

I got back from a long holiday weekend Sunday night to find a few inches of snow in my driveway in Saranac Lake. It won’t be long before the cross-country-ski season begins in earnest.

So far, I have been out only once—on the Whiteface highway, the traditional first ski of the season in the Adirondacks. The highway needs only a few inches of snow to be skiable.

A few years ago, the Adirondack Explorer published an article by Tony Goodwin—the author of Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks — on other places to ski that don’t require a lot of snow. He came up with ten early – season suggestions in addition to the Whiteface road.

Click here to read Tony’s story. You’ll find some other old favorites, such as the road to Camp Santanoni, as well as lesser-known destinations, such as Bum Pond in the Whitney Wilderness.

If you have other ideas for early-season ski trips, let us know.

And if you’re planning ahead for trips later in the season, bookmark this site. I’ll be adding links to more ski trips as they become available.

Photo by Phil Brown: A skier on Whiteface Memorial Highway.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: ‘Long Distance’ by Bill McKibben

I recently read Bill McKibben’s book about cross-country-ski racing and wrote the following review, which will appear in the next issue of the Adirondack Explorer.

Several years ago, we asked Bill McKibben to ski the entire Jackrabbit Trail in a single day and write about it. Saranac Lake to Keene. That’s twenty-four miles, but that wasn’t enough for McKibben.

When he turned his story in, I learned he started instead at Paul Smith’s, where there is an orphan piece of the Jackrabbit. By following this trail and then a railroad bed, he was able to make it to Saranac Lake and add ten or eleven miles to the trek.

Why extend an already-lengthy trip by slogging along a boring railroad track? I thought Bill must be a bit nuts, but now that I’ve read Long Distance, I understand what motivates him.

Long Distance chronicles McKibben’s yearlong quest to become the best Nordic ski racer he could. He trained like a pro, working out for hours each day, and competed on three continents. Originally published in 2000, the book was reissued in paperback by Rodale this past fall.

Early on, McKibben visits the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid to undergo a series of unpleasant tests involving a treadmill, a snorkel-like device, and numerous blood-lettings to ascertain his VO2 Max—a measurement of how efficiently his body uses oxygen. The tests reveal he has a higher-than-average VO2 Max, but it’s still far below that of elite athletes. And no amount of training will change that. The upper limit of his VO2 Max and thus of his competitive potential are determined by genetics.

It is not McKibben’s destiny to become a champion. Nevertheless, he diligently puts in six hundred hours of training over the year, all to prepare for a grand total of maybe twelve hours of racing. In one event in Lake Placid, he manages to come in first in his age group, but usually he’s closer to the middle of the pack.

What’s the payoff then? McKibben describes the “absolute immersion in the present” that he feels during a fifty-kilometer race in Ottawa, when all the cares of modern life fall by the wayside. “Everything really had come together for a moment,” he writes. “Or perhaps a better way to say it is that everything had disappeared.”

McKibben, of course, is best known as an environmental writer, the guy who sounded the alarm about global warming in The End of Nature and who founded a worldwide movement to try to get politicians to do something about it. When I saw him speak a few months ago in Saranac Lake, he struck me as an Old Testament prophet with a sense of humor.

Long Distance reveals the private side of the public intellectual. Despite all his accomplishments—as a Harvard graduate, staff writer for the New Yorker, best-selling author, and global activist—McKibben still longs to be what so many males long to be: an athlete. Growing up, he felt like a wimp, because he wasn’t much good at basketball, hockey, baseball, or the other crucibles of boyhood. He writes that “gym became a recurring bad dream, highlighted each year by the President’s Physical Fitness Test, when I got to prove to myself that I still couldn’t do a pull-up.”

He feared he didn’t measure up to his athletic father, who went out for baseball and climbed mountains in his youth. Bill gravitated toward intellectual pursuits. While still in high school, he covered the school’s basketball team for the local paper. His father picked him up after the games. “He was proud of me, I knew, but I think some part of me always wondered if he’d have been prouder had I been out on the court myself,” he writes.

Part way through his training year, McKibben receives word that his father has a malignant brain tumor. He spends the next several months shuttling between Vermont, where he lives, and Boston, where his father is dying. He continues to exercise and ski, when possible, but the ordeal of watching his father deteriorate, physically and mentally, puts cross-country skiing into perspective. Training for a race becomes a metaphor for training for life. Our real tests are the difficulties thrown in our path—depression, illness, the demands of human relationships.

“The most profound test, of course, is the last one, dealing with your death,” he says. “But if you’ve done the training, the race will take care of itself—or so it seemed, watching Dad.”

After his father’s death, McKibben travels to Norway with his wife, Sue, and their daughter, Sophie, to enter one last competition, the Birkebeiner, a grueling fifty-eight-kilometer race that attracts several thousand serious skiers each year. He’s happy to finish in the middle of his age group.

“The next morning dawned clear and cold, so Sue and Sophie and I went for another ski,” he says. “For the first time in a long time, it meant nothing at all, and that was nice, too.”

Don’t expect to find lots of tips about wax, poling technique, and such in Long Distance. You’ll learn more about life than about skiing.

Click here to see a video of a downhill run on the Jackrabbit Trail.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Golf Tournament to Benefit NY Snow Sports Athletes

Supporters of the New York Ski Educational Foundation (NYSEF) efforts on behalf of New York snow sport athletes will be hitting the Mountain Course at the Lake Placid Club for the 12th Annual NYSEF Open golf tournament on Sunday, June 6, 2010. With the event less than a month away 24 teams and 26 sponsors have already registered, with an expected 35+ teams to compete.

Last year’s event raised over $10,000 for area athletes competing in snow sports – alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping, cross country skiing, nordic combined and biathlon. This year’s 2010 Olympics boasted 7 former and current NYSEF athletes representing the United States, including: Nick Alexander (Ski Jumping), Lowell Bailey (Biathlon), Tim Burke (Biathlon), Bill Demong (Nordic Combined), Peter Frenette (Ski Jumping), Haley Johnson (Biathlon), and Andrew Weibrecht (Alpine Skiing). » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Demong’s Olympic Silver, Final Competitions, Local Parades

More Olympic metal is heading for the Adirondacks. Silver this time, with an American second place finish in the Nordic Combined 4 X 5K relay yesterday, anchored by Vermontville’s Bill Demong. Added to Lake Placid’s Andrew Weibrecht’s bronze performance in the Men’s Super-G last week, Demong’s silver brings the Adirondacks even with Slovenia, Croatia, and Belarus (and surpassing Great Britain) in the medal count.

Demong competes again Thursday in Nordic combined long hill/10k (1 p.m. Eastern time competition round and 4 p.m. final). Tim Burke of Paul Smiths and Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid compete in a 4 x 7.5k Relay at 2:30 (Eastern time) Friday.

Lake Placid is holding a welcome home parade for Super G bronze medalist Andrew Weibrecht at 4 p.m. Friday. Saranac Lake will hold a parade for its Olympians at 1:30 p.m. Saturday March 13. Demong, who will still be competing in Europe, will be honored in absentia.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Adirondack Ski Videos: Avalanche Pass and More

The tour from Adirondak Loj to Avalanche Lake in the High Peaks Wilderness may be the best day trip for intermediate skiers in the Adirondacks. Both the scenery and skiing are superb.

The scenic highlight is Avalanche Lake, a sliver of frozen water walled in by the cliffs on Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain. This iconic Adirondack landscape is stunning in any season, but skiing across the ice offers a perspective impossible to obtain in summer.

The skiing highlight is a half-mile downhill on the return from Avalanche Pass on one of the few trails in the High Peaks designed for skiing.

How hard is the descent? That’s a question asked by probably every skier contemplating the trip for the first time. Of course, the answer depends on conditions, but you can get some idea of what’s involved by watching a video I made this past weekend. I strapped a point-and-shoot camera to my chest before making the descent.

Note: I pretty much pointed my skis straight down the trail. Others may prefer to check their speed by making more turns or stemming their skis.

Mine isn’t the only YouTube video on Adirondack backcountry skiing. Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides has posted two lengthy clips, with music. One was taken on the Whale’s Tail and Wright Peak ski trails during the 2008 Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival. The other is from the Angel Slides on Wright Peak. Their links follow.

Backcountry Ski Festival

Angel Slides

You also might be interested in another video I posted last week: a five-minute clip of my descent from McKenzie Pass on the Jackrabbit Trail. Again, I had the camera strapped to my chest.

You can find a number shorter clips, usually less than a minute, by searching for “Adirondack ski” on YouTube.

Incidentally, I took several short clips during my ski to Avalanche Lake. I plan to stitch them together in a video montage. If and when I do, I’ll let you know.

For more articles on skiing and other outdoor adventure, visit the Adirondack Explorer website.

Photo by Phil Brown: Looking toward Avalanche Pass from Marcy Dam.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Cross-Country: The 28th Annual Lake Placid Loppet

This past Saturday cross-country skiers enjoyed the 28th Annual Lake Placid Loppet at the Olympic Sports Complex Cross-Country Ski Center. Novice and expert skiers alike skied the same track as the 1980 Olympic athletes.

So what is a loppet? Basically, it refers to a long-distance cross country ski race in which participants mass-start and skate various marathon distances. Like most marathons, a lot of food is consumed during the event, and a party, banquet and awards ceremony is held after the races. The term “loppet” originated in Scandinavia, where cross country races are an important part of the culture. For example, approximately 15,000 people participate in the Mora Vasaloppet in Sweden and nearly 2 million Swedes watch it on television. The sport originated as a mode of transportation and became a national pastime. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Siamese Ponds: The New Botheration Pond Trail

The 114,000-acre Siamese Ponds Wilderness Area has always been one of the premiere places to cross-country ski in the Adirondacks. But this winter, the region offers something even more compelling: a new trail.

This is the first winter that skiers can travel the eight-mile Botheration Pond Loop, a route that circles around the Balm of Gilead Mountain and several lesser hills. The route begins and ends at Old Farm Clearing, located near the Garnet Hill cross-country ski resort.

The loop combines existing trails with more than a mile of new trails and two bridges, 35- and 55-feet long, that were built last summer by nearly a dozen volunteers and DEC staff under the supervision of Ranger Steve Ovitt. » Continue Reading.