Skiers take Pine Pond Trail through quiet woods and along wild stream to a frozen lake ringed by mountains.
By Phil Brown
I once met a man on the Jackrabbit Trail who was skiing to Lake Placid as part of an arduous loop. He had skied from the end of Averyville Road outside the village to Oseetah Lake and across the lake to the village of Saranac Lake, where he followed local trails to the Jackrabbit for the return to Lake Placid.
Well, maybe it wasn’t a complete loop. I don’t know how he got from the village of Lake Placid to his starting point on Averyville Road. Anyway, it’s an interesting trip, but I figure most people probably aren’t up for an eighteen-mile ski that includes a mile-and-a-half climb on the Jackrabbit toward the end of the day.
Last winter, Carol MacKinnon Fox and I did just a portion of the loop using a car shuttle. From Averyville Road, we skied along an old woods road to Oseetah and then across the lake to our second vehicle. If you make a beeline, the trip is about nine miles, but we took side trips to a remote marsh and to pretty Pine Pond, adding more than a mile.
Whether you do the short or long variation, this can be a reasonable outing even for a novice skier in good shape. The terrain is mellow, and most people will find the downhills fun rather than scary. As a bonus, there is much more downhill than uphill. Nevertheless, we offer two caveats:
- The woods road is a snowmobile trail, but it doesn’t get a lot of use. You may find yourself breaking trail, which can slow you up and tire you out. Or you may find the trail packed hard by the machines.
- More important, don’t attempt the trip unless you are sure the ice on Oseetah is safe. It should be at least three or four inches thick.
Given last winter’s deep cold, Carol and I had no doubts about the ice. Indeed, we had skied across a number of frozen ponds and lakes on earlier outings. On this morning, the temperature was in the single digits when we started up the road through a corridor of snow-laden evergreens. We soon found ourselves going up a gentle rise.
“It’s the perfect way to start a ski,” Carol remarked. “Just enough to warm you up without being a slog.”
“This would be fun coming down,” I replied. “I hope it’s just as much fun on the other side.”
“I have a good feeling about that,” Carol said.
Carol’s intuition proved spot on. Less than a half-mile from the parking area, we reached a height of land. Over the next eight-tenths of a mile, we descended 230 feet in a series of easy schusses. Carol whooped the whole way down.
“That was awesome!” she said at the bottom. “Can you honestly hold this article till next winter? The people need to know. This is one of the best ski trips I have had up here.”
Skiing on the flats now, we reached a junction in a few hundred yards. Up until here, we had been following ski tracks. The old road, marked by orange snowmobile disks, veered right, but the ski tracks went left. We decided to follow the tracks to see where they went.
Carol took the lead, and I followed her down a few small hills to the edge of a large, beautiful marsh on the East Branch of Cold Brook. Judging by the many stumps and dead trees, the marsh has been significantly expanded by beavers. You could spend a half-hour or so poking around the frozen wetland on skis. Indeed, the marsh would be a great destination for a short outing (a round trip of just 3.25 miles). Although Carol and I didn’t have time to explore it, we were glad we made the short detour (0.6 miles round trip). The marsh was one of the day’s scenic highlights.
Once back on the woods road, we had to break trail through deep powder. Most of the forest along the trail is open hardwoods, but a mile from the junction we passed through a stand of large hemlocks. On the far side of the hemlocks we saw open air and sunlight—an indication that the trail was paralleling the stream valley.
Farther on, I pointed out a depression in the snow where leaves and dirt had been uncovered.
“A deer bed,” I said to Carol.
“I wondered what that was,” she said.
A bit later, we passed two more deer beds lying within a few feet of each other.
“They must be sweethearts,” Carol said.
Not long after this, we came across a half-dozen or so depressions.
“Now it’s starting to look like an orgy,” Carol remarked.
After a while, we came to the tracks of an all-terrain vehicle that had driven up the road from Oseetah Lake.
Ordinarily, I don’t like running across ATV tracks in the woods, but I have to admit it was easier to ski in the tracks than to break trail.
At 5.4 miles (not including our detour to the marsh), the woods road pulled alongside the East Branch. While stopped to admire the scenery, we were passed by three skiers who had been following in our tracks. Like us, they were doing the end-to-end trip to Saranac Lake.
The trail pulled away from the stream to climb a fairly steep hill. In another mile, we could see Pine Pond through the trees. We cut left through the woods to ski to its northeast shore (in summer, it’s a sandy beach), where we enjoyed a stunning view of Ampersand Mountain and other peaks.
From the beach, we followed a wide trail back to the woods road. Turning right (there is no sign), we reached another junction in a hundred yards, then turned left to descend on a spur trail to the south shore of Oseetah Lake.
What a spectacular finish! The ski across the lake and Oseetah Marsh is 2.3 miles. From the middle of the lake, we reveled in a panorama of mountains, including five of the Saranac Lake 6: Ampersand, Baker, McKenzie, Haystack, and Scarface. Hikers who climb these five and St. Regis Mountain earn a patch from the village of Saranac Lake. We also could see Whiteface Mountain, the Sawtooth Range, Algonquin Peak, and some of the western High Peaks.
We passed a small island with a cluster of camps, deserted in winter, and then followed snowmobile tracks through Oseetah Marsh, a vast wetland on the lake’s eastern shore that has been identified by the Adirondack Park Agency as a “special interest area.”
The snowmobile tracks led us to a beautiful pine forest, where we picked up an easy trail (again, no sign) and followed it for a half-mile to our car, which was parked near the railroad crossing on Route 86. It had been a great day, filled with marvelous scenery and fun skiing in a quiet woods. But ten and a half miles was enough. We were thankful we didn’t have to ski to Lake Placid to retrieve our other car.
DIRECTIONS: From Old Military Road in Lake Placid, drive south on Averyville Road for 4.2 miles to its end, where there is a parking area. Old Military Road runs between NY 73 and NY 86.