When the snow finally stopped this week, we had about three feet of powder in Saranac Lake. On Thursday afternoon, I decided to check out the ski conditions on Baker Mountain, a small peak on the outskirts of the village.
My idea was to ski up the hiking trail and then descend through the woods. With this much snow, I wouldn’t have to worry about careering out of control and slamming into a tree.
Baker is a favorite of local residents (for hiking, not skiing), so I figured the trail would be broken in, and indeed it was. I followed a two-foot-deep trough about halfway up the mountain, removed my climbing skins, and prepared to descend.
I pushed off, glided for 10 feet, and came to a dead stop, sunk in powder up to my knees.
Hmmm … can there be such a thing as too much powder? In the Adirondacks?
I got back to the hiking trail and skied down that for a while. That was fun but not the same as schussing through unbroken powder.
I decided to give the powder another shot. On the way up, I had seen a steep line through open woods. Leaving the trail, I started descending along this line. All went well until my ski struck a hidden log. Luckily, I wasn’t going fast and the landing was soft.
I continued my slow descent without incident, popping out of the woods and back onto the trail shortly before the register.
My takeaway from this little excursion: if you’re planning to ski the backcountry this weekend, stick to trails that are broken in or, if you’re after unbroken powder, make sure the slope is steep enough to maintain your momentum.
Beware that the heavy snow has created an avalanche danger on slides and other avalanche-prone terrain. This warning goes double if you’re not familiar with the protocol for traveling through avalanche terrain or lack avalanche-rescue gear.
Brendan Wiltse, an experienced backcountry user, commented on the avalanche danger on the Explorer’s Facebook page Thursday: “Lots of whompfing and shooting cracks at 2100-2700 feet on south aspects in the high peaks yesterday. Wind slabs up high. Lots of signs of instability. Be careful out there.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation gives a more detailed warning: “The recent winter storm was accompanied by high winds and snowfall rates of 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) an hour resulting in more than 30 inches (75 cm) of snow on the higher peaks of the Adirondacks. The high winds transported snow to the leeward side of mountains producing deeper snows and cornices. Below freezing temperatures forecast through the weekend will slow bonding in the snowpack. Light snowfall continues to add to the total dropped from the storm and strong winds continue to add to leeward slopes, with potential for wind slab formation. Be cognizant of wind direction and those slopes prone to wind loading.”
Click here to read DEC’s advice for backcountry travelers in the High Peaks this weekend.
If you want to stay safe and avoid breaking trail, a popular trail like the Jackrabbit is a good bet. The trail runs 24 miles from Saranac Lake to Keene (there is another section near Paul Smiths).
Mike Lynch, who writes and photographs for the Explorer, ran into Josh Wilson, the executive director of the Barkeater Trails Alliance, which maintains the Jackrabbit, on the ski trail in Lake Placid on Thursday.
Josh expects that the most popular stretches of the Jackrabbit will be broken in by the weekend.
“Definitely the single biggest snowstorm I’ve seen in 10 to 12 years of living here, and certainly the best snow conditions we’ve had in a long time,” Josh remarked.
If you do find yourself breaking trail, be prepared to work up a sweat. Josh warns that it will be slow going: “Even for a fit person breaking trails, a half-mile per hour, perhaps slower if you’re not in good shape.”