It’s official. The 2011-12 ski season was the worst in 20 years. That’s according to the National Ski Areas Association’s (NSAA) preliminary end-of-season survey released last week. Nationwide, skier visits were down by more than 15%, to their lowest levels since the 1991-92 ski season. The season was characterized by low snowfall and mild winter weather across nearly the entire U.S.
All this comes as no surprise to skiers or anyone who enjoys winter outdoor recreation in the Adirondacks. Natural snowfall was sparse, and a lack of cold temperatures hampered snowmaking operations all season long. By the end of March, every ski area in New York State had closed for the season, casualties of the month’s record-setting warmth. Jon Lundin, Public Relations Coordinator for the Olympic Region Development Authority (ORDA), which operates the Gore and Whiteface Mountain ski centers, estimates a 14% decrease in visitation across all of ORDA’s venues for the 2011-12 season. » Continue Reading.
It’s no secret that it’s been a difficult start to the ski season. Besides a notable lack of snowfall, the cold temperatures that ski areas need for snowmaking operations have so far been hard to come by.
I started my ski season on Thanksgiving weekend, when both Gore and Whiteface opened for the 2011-2012 season, and I’ve now got several days at both mountains under my belt. Although trail choices have been limited (both mountains are about 20% open as of this writing), conditions have been surprisingly good, thanks to efficient snowmaking plants and modern grooming equipment. You can check out my most recent visits to Gore and Whiteface here and here. » Continue Reading.
The Black Mountain Lodge is a motel, restaurant and bar located just minutes from Gore Mountain on Route 8 in Johnsburg and just around the corner from Peaceful Valley Road. The restaurant and tavern are located in the center of the strip of motel rooms, with plenty of parking. Built in 1953, the unassuming chalet exterior reflects that history, but the warm Adirondack lodge style of the restaurant and bar reflect recent updates. Kip MacDonald has owned the Black Mountain Lodge for the last six years and can be credited with the tasteful improvements.
Tiffany style lights and sconces add an air of sophistication and the heavy weave of the textured moose-themed curtains enhance the Adirondack flavor. Three-quarter pine paneled walls are accented by painted upper walls in a muted persimmon shade. An upended canoe suspended above the bar serves as overhead glassware storage. The stone fireplace, centered between the restaurant and bar, adds warmth to all patrons. Rustic pub tables provide seating beyond the dozen barstools at the bar. The angular, C-shaped bar is made from a pine slab with rough bark edges and occupies the back end of the restaurant. A deck off the back of the bar offers outdoor seating for up to 12 people in the summer season. A collection of 50 or so caps adorns the wall and ceiling near the bar. The story goes that one person tacked their cap on the ceiling and it just snowballed. Not to be excluded, we left a Happy Hour in the High Peaks hat for the collection. Tasteful outdoor-themed signs and beer advertising adorn the walls, accented by a display of antique woodworking tools.
The Black Mountain Lodge is a favorite among winter skiers and spring and summer rafters. A seasonal homeowner we interviewed describes it as reasonably priced, good food and family friendly, but did note that the bar and restaurant can get very busy during ski season. No official happy hour is offered, but some drink specials are available throughout the year. A selection of flavored vodkas inspired Pam to try something new suggested by the bartender, Sarah. A few draft brews are normally available, though the taps weren’t working at the time of our visit. Kim was disappointed, but chose something from the long list of the reasonably priced domestic bottled beers. The restaurant menu includes sandwiches, burgers, seafood and home-cooked favorites like chicken pot pie and meatloaf and, for the more sophisticated, duck and prime rib.
Live entertainment on a small solo or duet scale is occasionally provided. The Black Mountain Lodge is closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but otherwise is open 7 days a week year-round, serving dinner from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. If you’re staying in the area, the motel boasts 25 no-frills, clean, comfortable rooms at a fair price.
Well known by Gore Mountain skiers, the Black Mountain Lodge almost escaped us. We’re glad it was recommended to us. With friendly, welcoming patrons and staff, it is an Adirondack venue worth a visit any time of year.
Kim and Pam Ladd’s book, Happy Hour in the High Peaks, is currently in the research stage. Together they visit pubs, bars and taverns with the goal of selecting the top 46 bars in the Adirondack Park. They regularly report their findings here at the Almanack and at their own blog, or follow them on Facebook, and ADK46barfly on Twitter.
In a recent editorial, the Glens Falls Post-Star stated “it’s time for officials to re-think the financial and ownership model” underlying the New York State-owned winter sports facilities managed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), including the Gore and Whiteface Mountain ski centers.
The Post-Star argues that declining taxpayer support for these facilities (the state currently contributes $4.6 million dollars to ORDA’s $30 million annual budget, down from a $7 million contribution in 2008-09), jeopardizes their future viability. “For the sake of the Adirondack economy and for the towns and counties that thrive on the successful operation of these venues” the Post Star’s editorial staff suggests “a different approach is needed.” » Continue Reading.
The first few snowflakes of the year have already dusted the highest peaks of the Adirondacks, and skiers and riders are looking forward to opening day. Here’s a preview of what’s in store for this winter at downhill ski centers in the Adirondack region.
At Gore Mountain, 130 new high-efficiency tower guns will provide a major improvement in the mountain’s snowmaking capabilities. The new guns will be installed on trails that constitute some of the mountain’s most popular intermediate terrain including Sunway, Wild Air, Sleighride and Quicksilver. The new guns will also be installed on Sagamore, the expert trail which forms the core of Gore’s Burnt Ridge terrain pod that opened in 2008. Emily Stanton, Gore’s marketing manager explained the significance of the new guns: “It’s huge. Not only will the new guns allow us to better utilize our pumping capacity to make more snow, they will allow us to devote snowmaking resources to other parts of the mountain more quickly. It’s the biggest upgrade to our snowmaking plant since we tapped the Hudson in 1996.” There will be expanded glade terrain at Gore this winter as well, with two new black diamond glades at the Ski Bowl and an extension of the intermediate Chatterbox glade. The entire Ski Bowl terrain pod and the Chatterbox glade were themselves new last year. The new glades at the Ski Bowl will provide a by-pass to the headwall section of 46er, the expert trail that follows the line of the Hudson Chair. That headwall section of 46er was unskiable last year due to unfinished trail grading and a lack of snowmaking, and unfortunately it will likely remain unskiable this year. Stanton explained “with all the other work that’s been going on, we just weren’t able to get to 46er this year.”
Gore’s base lodge will see a complete renovation of the Tannery Pub, a new outdoor grille, and a new lower level patio. The grooming fleet has also been upgraded with the purchase of a new groomer at the end of last season.
And last, Stanton mentioned excitement over the Saratoga North Creek Railroad’s ski trains this winter. “The train isn’t just transportation, it’s an experience. They’ve really done a first class job. Ski packages for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, late December through late March, are already set up on the railroad’s website. It’s is a wonderful marketing opportunity for us, and a year-round asset for North Creek too.”
At Whiteface, General Manager Bruce McCulley and ORDA Public Relations Coordinator Jon Lundin gave an overview of what they’ve been working on during the summer months. In the lodge, the rental shop and retail store will be extensively re-modeled, as will the kitchen for the J. Lohr café. The rental shop will also be outfitted with new “rockered” Rossignol skis. Rockered skis are a recent ski design trend that allows for easier turn initiation, a plus for beginners.
A new winchcat groomer has been added to the fleet, terrain in the Sugar Valley Glades has been expanded, and four new high-efficiency automated fan guns have been added to the snowmaking plant. The fan guns are considered state-of-the-art in terms of their automation, consistency, and ability to make snow in marginal conditions over a large area.
Last year, Whiteface was plagued by a number of lift malfunctions, and the Little Whiteface double chair was taken off-line in late February for the remainder of the season. That lift has been extensively renovated this summer, including new towers from mid-station up. McCulley elaborated: “That lift had an awful lot of hours on it. Some of the towers were as old as 1958, others went back to the 70s. We’ve gone through the entire mechanism, overhauling or replacing just about every component. Functionally it’s the same lift, but the mechanism is essentially new.” The Little Whiteface double serves a key role as an alternate for when the gondola is on wind-hold, and as an option for skiers who wish to access upper mountain terrain without returning all the way to base to ride the gondola.
Whiteface had one of its most successful seasons ever last year, as measured by skier visits and revenue. “It was a perfect storm” said ORDA’s Lundin. “We had a favorable Canadian exchange rate, and all it did from Christmas until spring was snow.” Marketing efforts helped as well, with programs like the Whiteface Road Warriors and recognition as the East’s #1 ski resort (Ski Magazine, December 2010). Lundin is clearly excited for this winter: “We’re looking to ride the wave of last year’s snow and follow up with another blow-out year.”
Not every skier is looking for the big mountain experience – and price tag – offered by Gore and Whiteface. Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake and McCauley Mountain in Old Forge are excellent small-to-medium sized alternatives. At Mount Pisgah, the ski area’s 1940s-era T-bar is being replaced with a new T-bar lift. The lift replacement is expected to be completed by November, along with new lighting for night skiing. Big Tupper is another alternative for skiers, and the area is expected to be run again this winter by community volunteers. Surprisingly, there is even free skiing to be found at small, municipally operated hills like the Indian Lake ski slope and Dynamite Hill in Chestertown. The importance of these small- and medium-sized “feeder” areas can not be underestimated: besides providing an opportunity for beginning skiers to learn the sport, these areas also provide a positive regional economic impact.
Hickory Ski Center, in the southern Adirondacks, was recently brought back to life after having been shuttered from 2005 to 2009. Since the area re-opened in January, 2010, the lodge has been renovated, new grooming equipment and an electronic ticketing system have been purchased, and the lifts have been refurbished. Hickory relies exclusively on surface lifts (2 Pomas and a T-bar) to serve its 1200’ of vertical, and the lift upgrades have virtually eliminated breakdowns.
Historically, Hickory never really had adequate grooming capability, but a state-of-the-art winchcat purchased last year now allows the ski area to provide groomed corduroy conditions on its mid- and lower mountain terrain, broadening the area’s appeal to beginners, intermediates and families. Hickory’s challenging upper mountain terrain and its natural snow conditions (no snowmaking) have long appealed to advanced skiers, but Hickory is looking to emphasize the area’s appeal to families. “We’ve had many families associated with the mountain for a long, long time and I think that’s one of our strong suits,” said Bill Van Pelt, a shareholder. “Our target market is absolutely families.”
Just outside the Blue Line, West Mountain and Willard Mountain have been busy with improvements and upgrades as well. West is adding several high-efficiency automated fan guns (West’s snowmaking operation is 100% fan guns), and is looking to leverage its electronic lift ticketing system (new last year) to provide skiers with more convenience and flexibility. Willard is also adding fan guns to their snowmaking plant. Like most ski areas, both Willard and West make investments in their snowmaking operations every year. Chic Wilson, Willard’s GM and owner, calls snowmaking “the most important part of our business,” a sentiment echoed by Mike Barbone, GM at West Mountain.
ORDA’s Lundin summed up what every skier is already feeling: “Get out. Ski. It’s gonna be a great year.”
Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.
Belleyare Mountain Ski Center, located in the Catskills and currently operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), could instead be managed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), according to officials at ORDA. The idea comes from Governor Cuomo’s Commission on Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE), and could be implemented as early as next winter. If implemented, the proposal stands to benefit skiers and the economies of the Catskills and Adirondacks. » Continue Reading.
Despite some setbacks in January, the winter 2010-2011 season appears to be a successful one for the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) and its venues. The skiing and riding season at Whiteface and Gore officially came to a close on Sunday, April 17. As many as 480,080 guests visited the 1932 and 1980 Olympic venues in the Village of Lake Placid, Town of North Elba, the Town of Wilmington and North Creek, according to an ORDA press release. Last season there were 454,920 visits to the venues. These numbers do not take into account CanAm Hockey, Canadian Hockey Enterprise and several group tours. » Continue Reading.
NOTE: Pond Skimming Has Been Postponed Until Next Saturday, April 9
By Diane Chase, Adirondack Family Activities It certainly doesn’t seem like spring at my house. Snow is falling and my children are outside cutting ice blocks for a fort. We still have all the winter gear out and are still enjoying snow on the trails. Downhill skiing may not be for everyone, but there are ways to enjoy the fun even if you aren’t personally hitting the slopes.
This weekend Whiteface Mountain will celebrate its last Super Sunday Retro Day with $35 adult lift tickets ($30 teen/senior and $25/junior) for all. Crazy outfits will abound and I fear I could outfit quite a few people in really bad neon style choices and some unflattering stirrup pants. There will be prizes for best costume and from the sound of things “best” is subjective. Ticket holders can also participate in an on-mountain scavenger hunt.
The annual pond skimming contest will take place at the base with no entry fee required. Skiers and snowboards will try to gain as much speed as possible to “skim” across a man made pond to win prizes for longest distance, biggest and best splash and best costume.
Pond skimming at Whiteface is not just for ticket holders. Spectators can access the event for free. For those in need of accessibility, the event will have a limited view from the sun deck. Pond skimming can be viewed from the gondola but tickets are required. Gondola tickets will be available for any riders and I am told that is wheelchair accessible. It is best to call ahead to make sure the gondola is running. It is closed to passengers in cases of high wind.
Gore Mountain will conduct its pond skimming tradition on April 10 at 11:00 a.m. at the base of the mountain.
“This event is very spectator-friendly,” says Gore Mountain Marketing Manager Emily Stanton. “There is a five dollar entry free and the event is accessible from the sun deck. The best viewing though is right near the pond so sturdy walking shoes are recommended for those not participating.”
According to Stanton in the past spectators may get wet so it is best to prepare for that as well. The pond is about half the size of a hotel pool and participants will race downhill to waterski across the pond spraying spectators along the way.
“Costumes are highly encouraged,” says Stanton, “We will be crowning a Pond King, Queen, Prince, Princess and Pond Frogs and Frogettes. We have great prizes this year from a variety of ski and snowboard gear, gift certificates at the Log Jam Restaurant in Lake George, and Gore mountain biking tickets.”
Though West Mountain and McCauley will be open this weekend, they celebrated their own version of pond skimming earlier in March.
The long-awaited Gore Mountain Interconnect with the Historic North Creek Ski Bowl was opened, and then closed as a lack of snow hampered the celebratory first weekend of the newly installed Hudson Chair connecting the Ski Bowl with the upper mountain. The snafu was the latest in a string of problems that have plagued the area’s state-run ski areas.
Members of the public joined state and local politicians on Saturday for a ribbon cutting ceremony at the base of the new Hudson Chair, but Sunday morning a key trail connecting Gore with the Ski Bowl, the Pipeline Traverse to Little Gore, was closed keeping skiers on the upper mountain. Patrons using the Hudson Chair to access the Eagle’s Nest Trail at the summit of Little Gore could ski to the base of Burnt Ridge Mountain – where a quad provides access to the rest of Gore Mountain’s trail system – and then return to the Ski Bowl via the the Pipeline Traverse. By noon on Sunday however, the only trail leading from the Upper Gore area to the Ski Bowl was closed, severing the ski link with the lower mountain. Those wanting to take the new Hudson Chair were required to use a locally supplied shuttle to get to the Ski Bowl. The Hudson chairlift and Pipeline Traverse remain closed today, but are expected to reopen following this week’s snows.
“We had enough snow cover to run hundreds of skiers on Pipeline Sat, but it got a little too thin for Sunday unfortunately,” Gore Mountain’s press contact Emily Stanton, told the Almanack by e-mail.
The Gore Interconnect’s stutter start was one of a series of travails that have beset both state-run Adirondack ski areas. Lack of snow and an early January thaw at Gore has meant a slow start to the season, meanwhile lift problems have plagued Whiteface.
Just before the new year a chairlift malfunction at Whiteface stranded 76 people for up to two hours. Last week, the Kid’s Kampus chairlift malfunctioned and a lift operator suffered a fractured arm and was airlifted to Fletcher Allen in Burlington.
On Saturday, the Summit Chair malfunctioned eliminating access to the upper mountain. Whiteface personnel were relegated to using a snow cat to ferry riders to the top a few at a time. Then on Sunday, Whiteface’s Lookout Mountain chairlift stalled 45 minutes stranding patrons, although none were evacuated.
The Gore Mountain Interconnect is hoped to make North Creek’s downtown more accessible to Gore Mountain skiers and riders. A massive new resort by FrontStreet Mountain Development LLC of Darien, Connecticut, designed to take advantage of the Interconnect has not materialized. The project was first proposed in late 2005 and was approved by the Adirondack Park Agency in 2008. Only one model home has been built and none of the more than 130 condo properties have been sold.
Critics of the projects have claimed the estimated $5.5 million cost of the connection between Gore and the Ski Bowl would be an improper use of taxpayer money to help a developer.
For the second year the North Creek Business Alliance has organized a shuttle that facilitates access between Gore Mountain’s Base Area, the North Creek Ski Bowl, North Creek’s Main Street, and area lodging properties.
Gore opened January 25, 1964. The first ski train arrived in North Creek in March of 1934, and the Ski Bowl was home to one of the first commercial ski areas and ski patrols in the US.
Photo: The Gore Mountain Interconnect’s new Hudson Chair. Courtesy Gore Mountain.
Jeremy Davis is founder of the New England Lost Ski Areas Project (NELSAP) and author of two books on that subject. Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Davis about NELSAP, his books and lost ski areas of the Adirondacks.
Jeff: So, just what is a “lost” ski area?
Jeremy: It’s a ski area that once offered lift-served, organized skiing, but is now abandoned and closed for good. For NELSAP’s purposes it had to have a lift – it could be a simple rope tow or multiple chairlifts, but it had to have a lift. The size of the area or number of lifts isn’t important.
Jeff: And what is NELSAP?
Jeremy: NELSAP is the New England Lost Ski Areas Project, which I founded in 1998 in order to document and preserve the history of ski areas in New York, New England and elsewhere that are no longer in operation. Jeff: What was the inspiration behind your founding of NELSAP?
Jeremy: As a kid, not long after I had first learned to ski, we took a family trip to North Conway, New Hampshire. On the way up I saw this mountain called Mount Whittier that had closed down about five or six years earlier, and it made me wonder what had happened. At the time it was still pretty visible, but now it’s almost completely grown in. A short while later, on another family trip to Jackson, New Hampshire, we saw another lost area from the top of Black Mountain, called Tyrol. Seeing those two abandoned areas sparked my curiosity and made me want to learn more about them, but there weren’t any resources back then. After that, whenever we took family ski trips, if we saw an old area on a road map that we knew wasn’t open, I’d drag my parents there to check it out. They were really supportive about that and found it fun. Gradually I collected more and more information – postcards, brochures and trail maps, old ski books. Then, while I was in college, I decided to put what I had on the web. That was October of 1998. Gradually, more and more people began to see it and they would send me more information. The thing that really catapulted the website was a Boston Globe article in December of 2000 on the front page of the New England section of the Sunday paper. By 7am I had more hits than I had gotten in a year. The traffic shut down the site and overloaded my email. The AP picked up the Globe story and it ran in what seemed like every New England newspaper over the next few weeks. The project just mushroomed from there. What we have up on the site now is just a fraction of all the information that we’ve collected over the years. It’s a lifetime of work.
Jeff: You’ve got nearly 700 lost ski areas listed on the website now, 19 of them are lost Adirondack ski areas.
Jeremy: Right, in fact those 19 areas are just the start. I think the real number is probably between 50 and 60 areas within the Adirondacks. We’re always looking for more information. If we can get to the owners, or the people who ran the ski school or managed the areas, that kind of primary source information is invaluable.
Jeff: Are there any lost Adirondack areas that you’re particularly interested in, areas that you’re looking for more information on?
Jeremy: Paleface, near Jay, is one. Paleface was run like a dude ranch, an all-inclusive resort with lodging, a bar and restaurant, indoor pool, and skiing. There was a double chair, a T-bar, and a dozen trails with 750 feet of vertical. It operated from 1961 until the early 1980s, and had been re-named Bassett Mountain near the end. Mount Whitney, also near Whiteface, is another one we’d like to gather more information about. And there are lots of other Adirondack areas that we have to research.
Jeff: What factors led to these ski area closures? Were there any factors that were particular to the Adirondacks?
Jeremy: Well, you have the same factors that caused ski areas all over the Northeast to close down: insurance and snowmaking costs, the gasoline shortages in the ‘70s, bad snow years, competition and changing skier preferences. But there are some interesting cases in the Adirondacks: Harvey Mountain is a good example.
Jeff: What happened there?
Jeremy: Harvey Mountain was a classic, family-owned ski area on Barton Mines Road in North River, just a few miles up the road from state-run Gore. It had a T-bar, 400 feet of vertical, and operated from 1962 to 1977. It was a great alternative to Gore. But they weren’t allowed to have a sign advertising the mountain on Route 28 at the bottom of Barton Mines Road. They got around that by paying somebody to park a truck with a sign for Harvey Mountain each day at the turnoff for Gore, but eventually regulation and competition from Gore caused the ski area to shut down.
Jeff: It seems like there’s a good number of lost Adirondack ski areas that have been re-born: Hickory outside of Warrensburg, Oak Mountain near Speculator, Big Tupper. Is that unusual?
Jeremy: It is pretty unusual for a lost area to re-open, and there’s a unique, interesting story behind each one of those. Besides those three that you mentioned, several towns have their own rope tows that are still open: Indian Lake, Long Lake, Chestertown, Newcomb, Schroon Lake. A lot of people don’t realize those areas exist and are completely free. There’s also Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake, which is municipally operated and very affordable. You’ve also got places like Willard, West Mountain, Titus Mountain (near Malone) and McCauley Mountain (Old Forge) that still have that local, more intimate feel. So we’re really lucky in the Adirondacks to have these smaller areas that can introduce people to the sport and be an affordable alternative to the big areas. Hopefully the number of ski areas has stabilized, and short of some economic catastrophe, we won’t lose any more.
Jeff: Will there be a Lost Ski Areas of the Adirondacks book, similar to the books you’ve authored for the White Mountains and Southern Vermont regions?
Jeremy: Eventually there will be. I don’t know what region we’ll do next, but the series will probably continue with a new book every two years or so until we’ve covered all of New York and New England. That will be eight books in total, so that’s a lot of work.
Readers who may have information to share with NELSAP are encouraged to visit NELSAP’s website or contact Jeremy Davis at [email protected] Reader input has been a critical part of NELSAP’s success over the years.
Photos: Top: Spring skiing at Harvey Mountain (courtesy Ann Butler and NELSAP). Middle: Paleface Mountain (courtesy NELSAP). Bottom: Davis at Gilbert’s Hill outside Woodstock, VT, site of the first lift-served skiing in the United States (courtesy Jeremy Davis).
Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.
Mountain biking, gondola rides, and hiking has begun at Gore Mountain. Operations will continue every weekend through October 10, Gore’s longest off-season operation, and feature more biking terrain, instructional camps, and an expanded barbeque menu.
There is progress toward the Interconnect with the Historic North Creek Ski Bowl. The bridge that joins the Ski Bowl terrain to Burnt Ridge Mountain has been completed, snowmaking pipe on the new Peaceful Valley and Oak Ridge trails has been welded, and the black-diamond 46er trail on the lift line has been graded. Installation of the new Hudson Chair has begun. The Gear Source of downtown North Creek has a supply of full-suspension downhill bikes available, and downhill camps that include all-day instruction, lift ticket, lunch, and an optional guided hike are available on July 24 and September 4 for just $59. Sunday, August 22 will be a second opportunity for 2010/2011 season passholders to enjoy free access to Gore’s summer activities.
Ruby Run, the trail off the top of the Northwoods Gondola, was top-dressed to offer bikers a smooth start to their ride. Trails such as the Otter Slide Glades and Tannery are now included in available riding terrain.
Photo: Aerial view showing the 46er trails that runs along the new Hudson Chair lift line. This trail was named for the 1946 T-bar that serviced skiers of the Historic North Creek Ski Bowl. The profiles of the trails and lift have retained their original routes, and offer views of North Creek Village and the Hudson River.
My first backpacking trip was on an abandoned trail.
It was around 1981 or so, and my uncle Evan Bergen of Grafton was keen to take his girlfriend and me on a two-day trip in late November to Cliff Mountain, one of the trail-less high peaks. And he wanted to do it on a trail that had been closed – a route that was originally called the East River Trail.
At the time, I hadn’t realized that my first attempt at backpacking would involve a wet snowstorm, a low of zero degrees, crossing bridge-less rivers on boulders glazed in ice or a snow-covered fallen log, bushwhacking skills and no actual view. Hey, what did I know of backpacking? Included in my external-frame backpack were a full box of raisins and a pair of binoculars – I had not yet realized how heavy a backpack gets after a half-day of walking. It was an Experience. Traveling along part of that route several weeks ago – as reported here – got me thinking about that old trail. Why was it closed? Did anybody miss it?
So I called Tony Goodwin, executive director of the Adirondack Trail Improvement Society, to see what he knew about it.
Turns out the trail was once the primary southern route into the High Peaks. It followed an old road, made of logs, built to accommodate winter logging sleds. The road was built around the 1920s, about the time that the state acquired much of the land from the Adirondack Mountain Reserve (which once owned 40,000 acres and some of the state’s highest peaks).
When hiking became popular, this was the main hiking trail in. Later, the ghost town of Upper Works became the main southern route in via the Calamity Brook Trail, and the longer East River Trail fell into disuse. Goodwin says the trail was closed around 1980, not long before I hiked it.
“There were long stretches of sidehill bridging and corduroy,” he said. “And those were finally collapsing. The DEC didn’t feel there was any reason to restore those bridges or cut lengthy reroutes around them.”
I can certainly speak to the corduroy. On the second day of our hike to Cliff – we made it far as the height of land before the short day forced us to turn around – I was constantly slipping on the trail. Not because I was becoming hypothermic, as my uncle suspected, but because my rubber “Micky Mouse” Army surplus boots kept slipping over the snow-covered logs of the old roadbed.
My 1962 copy of the ADK’s Guide to Adirondack Trails: High Peak Region, describes this trail in the dry prose of the day. The trail at the time departed from Sanford Lake, closer to the Tahawus Mine, and not at the present-day parking lot near the old blast furnace. “The footing is quite treacherous, especially in wet weather, due to slanting, slippery corduroys,” the book even warns (a warning that, apparently, my uncle chose to ignore).
Reading about it today, I’m amazed to see that what took us a day and a half of walking was only eight miles (but there was those slippery rocks and logs, and Lynn did fall into a stream at one point, and then there were those damn raisins, which I didn’t even eat, and those binoculars, which I didn’t even use …).
It also got me wondering about other lost trails. Goodwin spoke of a few in the High Peaks, including some ski trails around Whiteface built for the 1932 Olympics, and a now-defunct route to Dix near the current trail from Route 73. There’s also the trail from Mt. Van Hoevenberg to South Meadow, now closed due to blowdown and a bridge that was washed away, but Goodwin says efforts may soon be underway to reopen it.
Elsewhere in the park there are other ghosts of trails. A 1930s-era map from the North Creek area shows dozens of miles of ski trails used by those who took the Ski Train up from Schenectady, now either part of Gore Mountain Ski Area or lost to roads or overgrowth (several routes still exist that follow the historic routes — one even goes by a 1930s shed for a rescue toboggan).
Further to the south, a route to the top of tiny Cathead Mountain near Northville was lost due to a dispute over private land access.
Do readers know of other abandoned trails? Should the state bring some of them back?
Amazing how fast the winter landscape can change. On Sunday we were hiking Algonquin in the High Peaks, with winds so strong rime ice formed on our clothes as we made for the summit.
A day later, Roaring Brook Falls looked like Niagara, as 1.5 inches of rain turned the Adirondacks into a tropical rainforest with snow. While the weather put a damper on winter sports, it shouldn’t take long to get things back to normal, say those in the business.
Gore posted this on their Web site on Tuesday: “Although recent severe weather in the Northeast has limited the opening of several trails today, please stay tuned because groomers and snowmakers are getting Gore back in great shape as soon as possible!”
Meanwhile, Whiteface optimistically described its frozen, rain-saturated snow as “loose granular,” and promised 73 trails a day after the storm. No doubt, both mountains will be blowing snow to improve the damage, and snow showers predicted over the next few days may help make the slopes more user-friendly.
As far as backcountry skiing, you’d better be good. “Those trails are going to be really ice,” said Ed Palin, owner of Rock and River guide service in Keene. “It will be fast.”
Speaking of ice, the rain decimated some of the most popular ice climbs in the park. But other routes — those not below major runoff channels, or fat enough to withstand the one-day warm spell, should still be climbable, he said.
“With all this water running, we might get some climbs we don’t see for a while,” he said. In the meantime, good bets for climbers include Multiplication Gully, Crystal Ice Tower and the North Face of Pitchoff, he said.
We take our children every where from plays to play dates. Sometimes because of the experience and other times out of necessity. Our interests vary with what is available to us. One moment we may want to try new foods, the next time perhaps enjoy an award-winning show. In betwixt and between we always find time for the snow.
The Adirondack Art Center is bringing back an encore production of Almost Maine by John Cariani on January 22 at 7:00 p.m. at Indian Lake Theater and January 23 at 2:00 p.m. at Old Forge Arts Center.
Assistant Director Laura Marsh encourages all ages to attend, “We have had children as young as four come and enjoy this production. It really depends on the child and if they can sit still for 1-½ hours. The play is a series of vignettes, all set in the same small town in Maine. Almost Maine is about finding different ways and means of love.”
According to Marsh some other activities to look forward to will be held on site at the Art Center. Chef Mary Frasier from Camp Timberlock will start the first of a cooking series with “Soups and Breads” and on Sunday, the 23rd will be the beginning of Winter Tales, a live reading of a chosen play.
“These are all family-friendly events,” says Marsh. “A member was the inspiration behind Winter Tales. The first play we will be reading is Romeo and Juliet. Anyone that comes in will get a part and we then read the play out loud.”
On January 23 the Upper Hudson Musical Arts of North Creek brings award-winning pianist Eugene Albulescu to the Tannery Pond Community Center from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for an evening of solo piano and chamber music. Tickets are $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for students. Children pre-school and under and free.
According to board member Jane Castaneda, Albulescu has been performing in the community for the past few years though he lives in Pennsylvania where he is an associate professor at LeHigh University.
Born in Romania, at age twelve Albulescu won Romania’s national music competition, the “Golden Lyre.” In 1984, he and his family emigrated from Romania to New Zealand where he made his concert debut at fifteen. One year later he won the Television New Zealand’s Young Musicians Competition. At sixteen-years-old, he was the youngest winner of record.
By nineteen he had completed his musical studies at Indiana University and became the youngest person to teach as an assistant instructor. Albulescu continues to receive awards and accolades throughout the United States and abroad. On his website he states that some of his most memorable moments have been playing at Carnegie Hall and during the White House Millennium Celebrations.
For those wishing for a bit more of an outdoor twist, starting on Monday the 25th, it’s “Bring Your Daughter to Gore” week. All daughters 19 and under can ski, ride and tube for free with a full paying parent. It actually specifies “parents” so anyone out there wishing to borrow a child is not eligible. Season pass holders, frequent-pass holders and Empire cardholder are included in this promotion. So enjoy a bit of bonding with your daughter and let your son stay in school.
Grab your ice skates and go to the pavilion at the North Creek Ski Bowl for free ice skating. The rink is open as long as the Bowl is open.
To round out the schedule is Gore Mountain’s Full Moon Party on the 30th at the North Creek Ski Bowl where Gore Mountain is opening the doors to night skiing discounts and tubing with a warm-up of hot chocolate and those gooey campfire treats. Participants can ski or tube for $10.00 for two-hours between 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. and then warm up inside by the fireplace with free s’mores.
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