Novice skiers can enjoy breathtaking scenery at a wild pond north of Saranac Lake.
By Phil Brown
My daughter Martha used to love going down hills on cross-country skis. If she fell, she’d herringbone back up the trail and try again. That was before she took up indoor track in winter, before she enrolled in college, and before she went off to South Korea to teach English for eighteen months.
Now she’s back home but hasn’t been on skis in who knows how long. I ask where she wants to go.
“Someplace easy,” she says. “No hills.”
“How about Whiteface Landing? You’ve done that before.”
“Doesn’t it have a hill?”
“Yes, but …”
“I want to do something easy.”
Eventually, it dawned on me: Moose Pond. Located a few miles north of Saranac Lake, this large pond is an ideal destination for a novice skier or anyone trying to recover her ski legs.
The trail follows an old woods road so smooth that it needs only about six inches of snow to be skiable. For this reason, Moose Pond is an excellent trip early in the winter, but it’s even better when the pond is frozen and you can ski on the ice. The views from the pond— including Whiteface Mountain—are spectacular.
Skiing on the ice also allows you to extend the excursion, as it’s only 1.6 miles to the pond. On our trip, Martha and I skied a half-mile across the pond to the outlet. Altogether, we enjoyed a round trip of just over four miles.
Most of the year, people taking the trail to Moose Pond park next to a steel footbridge over the Saranac River, reached by driving a tenth of a mile down a grassy road.
The road is not plowed in winter, however, so Martha and I parked along Route 3 and glided down to the bridge.
On this day, the Saranac is running free, though the shores are lined with thick shelves of ice. The start of the bridge is a few feet above the ground, but some thoughtful person has created a log step, which makes getting onto the walkway with boards on your feet a little less awkward than it otherwise would be. We clatter across the metal surface and stop at the register on the other side of the river.
While signing in, I tell Martha to ski ahead as the trail is easy to follow.
Perusing the register, I note that many of the recent visitors have been locals (like us), but not all of them. Moose Pond, after all, is one of the fifty trips featured in Tony Goodwin’s Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks, published by the Adirondack Mountain Club.
The trail parallels the river briefly, then bends left and ascends ever so gently through a corridor of evergreens. In a few minutes, I catch up to Martha. Soon the evergreens yield to paper birch and other hardwoods. Through the branches, bereft of their leaves, we discern a cloudless sky.
Martha stops to take some photos with her new camera. “The sky is really blue,” she remarks.
I then ask her to pose for me. “I don’t want to be in any pictures,” she protests. With a little cajoling, however, she relents. I snap a few shots, and we continue on.
We couldn’t ask for better weather. Although backcountry skiers enjoyed fluffy powder much of the winter, it’s now late March, and recent thaws have transformed the powder into boilerplate. I had been worried that the trail would be icy, but the brilliant sunshine has softened the surface just enough to make the skiing quite pleasant.
At 1.25 miles, we reach a junction. Most people bear right here, skiing down a somewhat steep grade (relative to the rest of the trail) to Moose Pond’s southwest bay. Martha and I, however, take my preferred route: we bear left and continue two-tenths of a mile to a side trail on the right.
Now we face the only downhill that might test a beginner. It’s short, though, and wide enough for snowplowing. I go first and discover that the trail at the bottom, in shady woods, remains hard and fast. I wait anxiously for Martha. She comes around the corner, stemming her skis with a slightly panicked look on her face. She slides a few feet past me and comes to a stop. No harm done.
We are at a campsite on the west shore of Moose Pond, with a stellar view of Whiteface, Moose, and McKenzie mountains. Whiteface is especially stunning, with its snowy cap and long, white slide. Martha and I both reach for our cameras. We then schuss down a sloping outcrop of bedrock onto the ice and head to the middle of the pond to take more photos.
At my suggestion, we ski to the outlet at the south end of the pond. Along the way, a view of Catamount, a bald peak beloved by hikers, opens up over the shoulder of Whiteface. When we get close to the outlet, I caution Martha to stay behind while I make sure the ice is safe. I stay close to shore; when I reach the outlet—where there is a jumble of snow-covered logs—I see a large hole with wildlife tracks radiating from it.
“There’s a hole in the ice,” I yell to Martha.
“Then turn around,” she shouts back.
“That’s weird. I wonder if it was made by animals.”
“Dad, I want to turn around,” Martha replies.
Heeding my daughter, I leave the mysterious hole. We delight in the mountain views all over again as we ski across the pond. Once back at the campsite, we stop at a stone chimney, the remains of a house long since gone. It’s a nice piece of history, but some yahoo has spraypainted “ADK” on it in day-glo orange.
After climbing the little hill, we have an easy ski ahead of us. Although the trail is relatively flat, there is a net elevation loss of 170 feet in the 1.35 miles to the river. The downhill grades are not steep enough for coasting, but with effortless kicking and gliding we are back to the trailhead in no time.
DIRECTIONS: From the junction of NY 3 and NY 86 in Saranac Lake (near the Stewart’s Shop), drive north on NY 3 for 3.9 miles and park along the shoulder on the right. If coming from the north, the start will be on the left 2.2 miles south of the four-way intersection in Bloomingdale.