After years of discussion, the Adirondack Park Agency has tentatively approved new criteria for ski trails intended to enhance the experience of backcountry skiers in the forest preserve.
The APA board voted unanimously at its December meeting to seek public input on the proposal. The cutoff for comments is Feb. 1. The board is expected to take a final vote in March.
If adopted, the proposal will authorize the state Department of Environmental Conservation to create skier-only trails ranging from 6 to 9 feet wide (and up to 12 feet wide on curves and steep slopes). This is considerably wider than the department’s current standards allow.
The Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan defines a cross-country ski trail as having “the same dimensions and character and may also serve as a foot trail.” Interpreting this language, DEC allows cross-country trails to be 4 feet wide in wilderness areas and 8 feet wide in wild forest areas.
The proposal is a recognition that Nordic skiing has evolved since the master plan was written in the 1970s. With the advent of beefier skis, plastic touring boots, and improved bindings, more backcountry enthusiasts are tackling mountainous terrain.
Ron Konowitz, president of the Adirondack Powder Skier Association, is thrilled about the proposed changes. “We’ve been waiting a long time,” he remarked.
He hopes DEC’s first priority will be extending the Wright Peak Ski Trail, which now dumps skiers onto the Algonquin Peak hiking trail, forcing skiers to dodge rocks, trees, and snowshoers. “We have a lot of volunteers willing to work for free,” Konowitz said.
The APA approved the Wright Peak extension when it adopted a revised unit management plan (UMP) for the High Peaks Wilderness earlier this year. Ski trails in other parts of the park will require similar UMP amendments.
The new guidelines define three types of ski trails:
Ski Touring Trails. These would follow relatively gentle terrain, suitable for novices and for people with narrow skis and lightweight boots. These would be six feet wide for one-way traffic and eight feet wide for two-way traffic.
Backcountry Ski Trails. These would be on steeper terrain, suitable for intermediate and expert skiers who typically have wide skis and beefy boots. They would be 8 feet wide for one-way traffic and 9 feet wide for two-way traffic. The Wright Peak Ski Trail, which was cut in the 1930s, is an example.
Skin Tracks. Backcountry skiers fasten synthetic “skins” to the bottoms of their skis when climbing steep slopes.The skin tracks would be used for uphill travel to access slides and other skiable terrain. They would be only four feet wide.
Skiers also have been pushing for permission to maintain natural glades for skiing. That is not allowed under the proposed guidelines but may be addressed in the future.
Comments can be sent to:
Environmental Program Specialist 1, Natural Resources
NYS Adirondack Park Agency
P.O. Box 99
Ray Brook, NY 12977
Email – SLMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov