Ski trips on the new state lands

The former Finch, Pruyn tracts offer many options for cross- country tours with spectacular views.

By Tony Goodwin

Over the past five years, the unprecedented addition of sixty-five thousand acres of former Finch, Pruyn lands to the Forest Preserve has opened up many new recreational opportunities. To date, the most publicized opportunities have been for paddling and, more controversially, snowmobiling and mountain biking.  Opportunities for cross-country skiing have not been mentioned as often. Now that these acquisitions are complete, it seems to be a good time to take stock of what’s also now available for cross-country skiers.

The three main areas with new opportunities for skiing are the Hudson Gorge, Essex Chain Lakes, and Boreas Ponds tracts.  The good news for skiers, especially after last winter’s non-winter, is that all of these areas typically have abundant (or at least some) snow.  Furthermore, the Essex Chain and Boreas tracts have relatively smooth roads that don’t need all that much snow to be skiable.

While not as exciting to ski as some of the popular routes in the High Peaks and elsewhere, the views at the destinations make up for any lack of outright skiing interest.

Essex Chain Loop

The extensive network of old logging roads in the vicinity of Essex Chain Lakes offers many possibilities for ski tours, including a loop of nearly ten miles around Fifth and Sixth lakes.

Starting from Goodnow Flow Road, ski up the unplowed Chain Lakes Road to a gate on the right at 1.3 miles. Turn here. The road is mostly flat to a junction at 2.2 miles. This is the end of the loop if done clockwise as described here. Continuing straight, you ski through some gentle rolls and pass two lesser junctions before arriving at a bigger junction at 4.3 miles. Turn right and follow the road as it descends to a causeway and culvert between Fourth and Fifth lakes, reached at 5.0 miles.

The ice on Fourth Lake should not be considered safe anywhere near the outflow of the culvert.  The most scenic way to continue the tour is to ski to the upper end of Fifth Lake where a road can be seen a few yards up in the woods on the left shore. Alternatively, continue about two hundred yards past the culvert and go right on a road.  This section has some slightly steeper hills than encountered so far, but it is still suitable for even novice skiers.  At 7.5 miles, you reach a junction and complete the loop. Turn left and ski the 2.2 miles back to the starting point.

Note that leaseholders have permission to use snowmobiles on the roads until 2018, when their leases will expire for good.

DIRECTIONS: From NY 28N in Newcomb, turn onto Pine Tree Road marked by a DEC sign (about 0.5 miles west of the town hall) and then turn almost immediately onto Goodnow Flow Road. Go 4.3 miles to a junction with Woody’s Road and bear left. Go 1.3 miles to a parking area on the left. The gate at Chain Lakes Road is two hundred yards beyond the parking area. Note: the road to the Deer Pond parking area, used by paddlers in other seasons, is not plowed in winter.

Blackwell Stillwater

For a shorter trip on the logging roads in the Essex Chain area, skiers can visit the scenic Blackwell Stillwater on the Hudson River. The tour begins at the same place as the Essex Chain Loop. Ski up the Chain Lakes Road to the gate at 1.3 miles, but bear left. The road climbs gradually to an open area before making a long, gentle descent to a vehicle barrier at 2.6 miles.

Pass the barrier and continue downhill. The Polaris Bridge over the Hudson is reached in 0.3 miles. From the bridge, there are views in both directions of the stillwater, which freezes in winter. There are leaseholds beyond the bridge, so until the leases expire in 2018, you cannot continue to the other side of the bridge.

Upper Hudson Ski Loop

Opened in 2015, this ski trail offers a pleasant 4.2-mile tour near the confluence of the Hudson and Goodnow rivers. From the parking area on Goodnow Flow Road, walk or ski a short distance to an old woods road. Turning left, you come to a register in about a hundred yards.

At 0.7 miles past the register, you reach the start of the loop. It’s best done counterclockwise, so bear right, leaving the road, and descend a few moderate hills to the level of the Goodnow River at 1.4 miles. The trail follows close to the river until it takes a sharp left at 2.0 miles and begins paralleling the Hudson. Since the woods are open, it’s worth the effort to ski to the Hudson, but the ice on this large, flowing river should never be assumed to be safe.

Continuing on the trail, you encounter some slight ups and downs and one longer descent before climbing moderately to rejoin the woods road. Turn left and continue climbing to the junction at 3.5 miles where the trail split. Bear right to return to the trailhead.

Although competent beginners should be able to do this tour, skiers with at least a low-intermediate ability will feel more comfortable on the hills.

DIRECTIONS: From NY 28N in Newcomb, turn onto Pine Tree Road marked by DEC sign (about 0.5 west of the town hall.) and then turn almost immediately onto Goodnow Flow Road. Go 4.3 miles to a junction with Woody’s Road and bear left. Go 1.1 miles to a parking area on the left.

Boreas Ponds

The 6.8-mile road to Boreas Ponds is not plowed, so a round trip to the ponds is the longest tour on the former Finch, Pruyn lands. If you can handle fourteen miles of skiing, however, the view of the High Peaks from Boreas Ponds is worth the effort.

The grades on Gulf Brook Road are never particularly steep, so almost any skier with sufficient stamina should be able to do the trip. Given the interest in this new acquisition, there may be broken track soon after each storm.

The road starts off with a steady gradual climb, crossing Gulf Brook at 0.6 miles and finally leveling off at 1.2 miles. The road soon recrosses Gulf Brook, continues to a height of land at 2.0 miles, descends a bit, and is then mostly flat to the summer gate at 3.2 miles. Steer clear of the small camps in this area: they are leaseholds that won’t expire until 2018.

Continuing past the gate, you reach LaBier Flow at 5.9 miles. You could ski up the flow, but the canoe portage at the upper end is a bit rough, so it is probably better to continue another 0.1 miles to a junction and turn right. From here, the road is mostly flat. At 6.7 miles, a spur on the left leads to the former site of a corporate lodge. Bear right to reach Boreas Ponds dam at 6.8 miles.   

The view from the dam includes Haystack and the spectacular, bedrock slopes on the south face of Gothics. Skiing out onto the ponds (if the ice is safe) greatly expands the vista. It starts with North River Mountain and Cheney Cobble to the west and ends with Boreas Mountain to the east. In between, you can see Allen, Skylight, Marcy, Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, Gothics, Sawteeth, Colvin, and Blake. If you have the stamina for the round trip, the view is not to be missed.

DIRECTIONS: From Northway Exit 29, drive west on County 84 (also known as Blue Ridge Road or Boreas Road) for 7.1 miles to the start of Gulf Brook Road on the right. The parking area is at the start of the road.

OK Slip Falls

The unusual name for this waterfall apparently comes from the loggers’s warning cry of “OK slip” when releasing logs from OK Slip Pond toward the Hudson River. Long noted as the highest waterfall in the Adirondacks, its mystique was heightened by the fact that it was ever so close to the Hudson but strictly off limits to the public. Now a new trail provides access to a view near the top of the falls.

The three-mile trail traverses mostly gentle terrain, but it is narrow enough that skiers should be of at least intermediate ability to enjoy this tour.  While generally smooth, at least a foot of snow or close to it would be desirable.

At the outset, you follow an older trail that eventually leads to Ross, Whortleberry, and Big Bad Luck ponds. After 0.8 miles, turn right onto the OK Slip Falls trail, marked by blue disks. The trail gently rises and falls through an open hardwood forest and then reaches a dirt road at 2.2 miles from the trailhead. (The road leads to a boys camp on OK Slip Pond.) Turn left here, and after 250 feet, turn right, leaving the road.

The trail now descends gradually on an old overgrown road. In another 0.5 miles the trail descends more steeply, with some switchbacks, leading in a hundred yards or so to the best view of the falls.  Most skiers will opt to remove their skis before this section and walk down to the lookout.

DIRECTIONS: From the junction of NY 28 and NY 28N in North Creek, drive west 10.1 miles to a parking area on the left. Walk 0.2 miles west to the trailhead on the opposite side of the road. If coming from the west, the parking area will be on the right 7.6 miles from the junction of NY 28 and NY 30 in Indian Lake.

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