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Monday, December 17, 2018

Adirondack Park poised to allow wider ski trails

Keene resident Ron Konowitz has long been an advocate for better ski trails in the Adirondacks. Photo by Phil Brown.

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:

Kevin Prickett

Environmental Program Specialist 1, Natural Resources

NYS Adirondack Park Agency

P.O. Box 99

Ray Brook, NY 12977

Email – SLMP_Comments@apa.ny.gov 

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

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4 Responses

  1. howard says:

    Oh geez where is the outrage from the protect adirondack folks or the tree huggers, you’re making the ski trails as flat & wide as high speed auto lanes. Skiiers will now be flying all over the place. Oh the outrage!

  2. Wally Elton says:

    At the least, there should be different standards for Wilderness.

  3. J McCormick says:

    For shame how many tree’s ( over/under 3″) will be cut down??
    that wide will be good for the snowmobile rescue units
    to use but only in an emergency ok course

  4. Arthur W Haberl says:

    This is the same trick used by snowmobile advocates. Start by using machines on the hiking trails. Widen the trails and make them not for forest access, but rather for playing with the machines. As factories turn out faster and more powerful machines, then widen and smooth the trails. With that accepted, add mechanized snow trucks for grooming the trail-roads to allow for high speeds. In both cases, this is turning “forever wild” into “forever wild-eyed recreation yards”. The Wright flyer morphed into 747 aircraft, but that does not alter the fact that jet airstrips do not belong in the forest preserve.

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