2016 FEB - Nordic Skiing
Trends and Destinations
By Dick Carlson
Make it Snow! – Cross country skiing has been around for maybe 5,000 years, but we keep adapting it to a changing climate, equipment advances and technique progressions. In response to climate changes, including the warmest December ever (2015, by a lot – Albany since 1871), snowmaking might be a key ingredient in future cross country ski trail venue management. Snowmaking for cross country has been around for many years now, 30-plus years at Weston Ski Track outside Boston.
This year a cooperative effort by the Olympic Regional Development Authority, Gore Mountain, Town of Johnsburg (North Creek), and NYS High School Section 2 Nordic Skiing coaches and volunteers, transformed the North Creek Ski Bowl into a short track cross country ski race course. At least three races were held at the Ski Bowl, on primarily machine made snow with one race held under the lights. These races had hundreds of participants and with snow in short supply elsewhere, this was a godsend, turning a dismal race calendar of cancellations into exciting cross country ski racing, and a great experience for the racers. Expect a lot more from this venue next ski season.
Rise of Community Trails and Nonprofits – Ironically, The North Creek Ski Bowl (now, mostly part of Gore Mountain ski center) is the birthplace of New York skiing, and the site of one of the earliest ski lifts in the country. The iconic ski trains of the 1930s brought skiers to North Creek for the “Ride Up, Slide Down” skiing of the era. Skiers loaded into trucks and buses for the ride up to Gore Mountain via the Barton Mines Road, and the ski back down to North Creek via Rabbit Pond Trail, Raymond Brook Trail and others. This skiing has been revitalized today and falls into the realm of backcountry cross country skiing. With equipment advances like lightweight plastic boots and skis, this type of Nordic skiing has become very popular. Last winter the North Creek Business Alliance (visitnorthcreek.com) initiated the ride up, ski down shuttle as part of their free North Creek Shuttle Bus System; and they are prepared to begin this service again this season as soon as there is enough snow.
The ski trails of the 1930s era were maintained by volunteers and the nonprofit organization of the day, the original Gore Mountain Ski Club. Today, a new community organization, the Upper Hudson Trails Alliance (upperhudsontrails.org) is taking shape to coordinate trail maintenance on North Creek’s backcountry ski trail network, and the mountain bike and cross country ski trails at the Ski Bowl, and potentially other trail systems in the area.
The nonprofit trend for trails based recreation has followed a development pioneered by Jackson Ski Touring in the 1970s (jacksonxc.org) in New Hampshire, and Methow Valley Trails (methowtrails.org) in Washington state. A consolidation of organizations in the Lake Placid and Wilmington area has formed the nonprofit Barkeater Trails Alliance (barkeatertrails.org), incorporating the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, and the original Barkeater Trails Alliance. The rise of community and nonprofit mountain bike trail systems dovetails with winter trials for cross country skiing and fat tire mountain biking.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center cross country skiing (craftsbury.com) and Kingdom Trails Association cross country ski trails (kingdomtrails.org), both in Vermont, are leading this development of nonprofit community based trails for cross country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and mountain biking in winter and summer. Nonprofit status opens these organizations to grant, sponsorship and donation supported development and administration. So, rather than concentrate on profit, the trail system can become a community's economic engine driving the allied tourism businesses of food service, lodging, rentals, retail stores and services. By the way, nonprofit doesn’t necessarily translate into free. Many of the nonprofit trails systems charge for a yearly membership or daily trail fees.
Where to XC Ski, North! – Nordic is all about skiing, so the beauty and allure of cross country skiing is finding that perfect powder snow, blue-wax day skiing crisp tracks at a groomed ski center – or skiing through trees on a favorite backcountry ski route.
New York is blessed with a wide range of cross country ski areas offering groomed trails, rentals, lessons, retail and in many cases lodging and food service. This is the perfect place for beginners, usually with a discounted package for rentals, a beginner lesson and trail fee included. The flagship for Nordic skiing in New York is the ORDA-run Olympic trails at Mt. Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, with 50km of beautiful wide, groomed trails for all levels. The Lake Placid Nordic Fest is coming up on Feb. 18-23, including the 6.25 km and 12.5 Ski Challenge on Feb. 20 and Lake Placid Loppet on Feb 21.
The Lake Placid area is also home to Cascade Cross Country Ski Center with 20km of trails that connect to the MVH trail system, ski shop, legendary full moon parties and more. Just outside the village of Saranac Lake is Dewey Mountain Recreation Center, another great community cross country ski venue with groomed trails, ungroomed trails to the Dewey summit, four nights of lighted skiing, and a slew of events and races. The Jackrabbit Ski Trail, now part of the Barkeater Trail Alliance, offers skiing from Keene to Saranac Lake, and Lake Clear Junction to Paul Smiths. The Whiteface Club & Resort Nordic Center has 15km of gentle, groomed trails.
Moving south in the Adirondacks is North Creek – home to two cross country ski centers – Cunningham’s Ski Barn has 25km of trails in North Creek and the Garnet Hill Lodge Cross Country Ski Center in North River. Garnet Hill is a complete resort with 50km of groomed trails, ski shop, guest rooms, and a restaurant and bar overlooking the Siamese Ponds Wilderness. The groomed trails offer tracks and skating lanes, and the backcountry skiing and snowshoeing is almost endless, with options to ski all the way back to North Creek on the historic ski trails from the 1930s. The lodge offers a shuttle bus service for a unique “ski down, ride back” cross country ski adventure, great for families.
Another northern ski center, but just one hour from the Capital Region is Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center, a complete resort in Benson (near Northville), which is west enough to get some lake effect snows. Lapland Lake has a 38km of snowcat groomed trails for classic and skate, plus 12km of scenic snowshoe trails. The resort is famous for their Finnish hospitality with lodging, food and ski services. If the key ingredient for skiing is snow, the Tug Hill Region usually has plenty, and it’s true again – even this year. It is the highest snowfall East of the Rockies and when every other ski area is snow-starved, Osceola Tug Hill Cross Country Ski Center in Camden (40 miles from Utica), with 40km trails groomed daily for skating and classic, camp for rent and ski shop.
Where to XC Ski, South! – Alright, you know it’s going to snow, so get ready. When it does, discover some great skiing at the smaller cross country ski areas you have been meaning to ski for years! In the Capital Region, head to Pineridge Cross Country Ski Area in Poestenkill (east of Troy), with 50km of trails including 35 groomed, snowshoe trails and many events. Other options include Tree Haven Trails at Bob’s Trees in Galway (west of Saratoga Springs), and Oak Hill Farms X-Country Ski Center in Esperance (west of Schenectady).
In the Catskills, near Hunter Mountain, is Mountain Trails Cross Country Ski Center in Tannersville, and further south, Fahnestock Winter Park in Cold Spring (Putman County). These ski areas are a delight each with groomed trails, ski services, and their own special charm and winter views.
Snowshoeing – Snowshoeing is a close cousin to skiing with a zero learning curve – literally anyone can walk on snowshoes and get out and enjoy winter! Most cross country ski areas offer dedicated or shared snowshoe trails and rentals to get you started.
Find information on all the groomed cross country ski areas at crosscountryskiny.com including websites, directions and contact information. For ski reports and weather prognostication, visit the same website clicking on ski reports or call the I LOVE NY Snow phone at 800-CALL-NYS (option 3) for a voice report.
Richard Carlson (email@example.com) of North River is president of Cross Country Ski Areas of New York and Upper Hudson Trails Alliance.