Check the ice before skiing on ponds

Phil Brown skis across Long Pond in St. Regis Canoe Area. Photo by Carol MacKinnon Fox.

Recent thaws and rains ruined most of the trails for backcountry skiing over the holidays. The Barkeater Trails Alliance, for example, reports that no section of the Jackrabbit Trail is recommended for skiing.

Yet all is not lost. We went pond skiing in the St. Regis Canoe Area three days last week and found the conditions ideal: a few inches of fluffy snow over solid ice. The carry trails between the ponds had just enough snow to ski.

We also had a blast trying out our new backcountry skates on the ponds. Conditions were excellent for skating as well.

The forecast calls for snow later in the week, but it probably won’t be enough to cover all the popular trails with sufficient snow for skiing. If that’s the case, keep ponds in mind as an alternative. The Adirondack Park has hundreds of them.

Whether skiing or skating on ponds, though, you need to be sure the ice is safe.

Generally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation advises that pond  ice should be at least four inches thick. Click here for more details.

Keep in mind that ice near springs, outlets, and inlets will be thinner. I also have found that ice often is thinner at pinch points–where water is squeezed through a narrow strait. In short, be cautious wherever there is moving water beneath the ice.

To test the ice, I carry a six-inch tubular ice screw, the kind used by ice climbers. It’s lightweight and easy to use. The screw is hollow; as you twist it into the ice, a column of ice rises from the screw’s tube.

Initially, I poke the ice near shore with my ski pole. If I’m satisfied it’s solid, I step onto the ice and drill a hole. If the ice is at least four inches thick, l venture farther out and drill one or more holes.

I also have a footlong wooden dowel that I marked in one-inch increments. I stick this in the hole for a precise measurement. It’s also useful for clearing ice from the screw’s tube.

Click the video below to see the ice screw in action.

YouTube video




About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

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