Winds, thaws and freezes combine for diverse trail conditions
By Mike Lynch
Outdoor enthusiasts this winter should plan for a wide range of conditions after a series of thaws in December.
In Saranac Lake, temperatures hit a high of 58 on December 16, then dropped to negative 5 Monday, according to Weather Underground. In between, high winds knocked down trees and at least five inches of snow fell in many places.
“It’s all over the place right now,” said Adirondack Mountain Club spokesman Ben Brosseau.
Here’s an overview what to expect currently in the Adirondacks.
Due to the inconsistent weather, skiers have had limited options.
“We got a good storm, but it all fell on bare ground.” said Josh Wilson, executive director of the Barkeater Trails Alliance.
Without a solid snow base, many trails are peppered with rocks and sticks. Wilson suggested sticking to early-season favorites such as the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway (known locally as the Toll Road) in Wilmington and the Hays Brook Truck Trail near Paul Smiths.
Flat terrain is generally the best place where snowpack is thin.
The road to Great Camp Santanoni in Newcomb is in good shape. So are some cross-country ski centers, including Garnett Hill in North Creek and Cascade near Lake Placid.
Many other places are still waiting for more fresh powder.
Brittany Depasquale, who works for the Inlet Information & Tourism Office, said the town hasn’t started grooming its cross-country trails at Fern Park.
“It’s definitely a late start to winter,” she said. “It’s been snowing, then it all melts.”
For an up-to-date list of skiable options, visit BETA’s ski conditions page.
Hard-core anglers and skaters have been out on lakes and ponds in December, but ice should be approached with caution due to the recent warm days.
Mirror Lake in Lake Placid just iced over again on Monday, the fifth latest freeze in more than a century, according to Ausable River Association.
The lake first froze on Dec. 9, stayed that way three days, and then melted on Dec. 12, according to a tweet from Adirondack Watershed Institute senior research scientist Brendan Wiltse.
Warren County spokesman Don Lehman said ice has just started to form in the Lake George region.
“I’m not aware of anyone ice fishing anywhere down here,” Lehman said.
His angling friends have instead headed north for opportunities.
Conditions are similar in the southwestern part of the park.
“None of the lakes are frozen over now,” Depasquale said.
There may not be much lake ice, but hiking trails have plenty due to the freezing and thawing cycles.
That means people should wear microspikes in the lower elevations and bring snowshoes above 4,000 feet in the High Peaks, where there is as much as two feet of snow.
“Treat it like it’s still shoulder season, with full-on winter conditions at the top,” Brosseau said.
He noted that rivers and brooks are still flowing.
“Any trail that doesn’t have a bridge that requires a major water crossing is probably not a good idea right now,” Brosseau said.
December storms knocked down trees throughout the Adirondacks.
Former Explorer Editor Phil Brown reported numerous trees down while skiing the Jackrabbit Trail near Paul Smith’s College Sunday. BETA cleared those Monday.
A state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 spokesperson described widespread damage from the recent wind storm. The agency hasn’t received reports of significant trail damage in the east and north.
The DEC did ask people recreating to watch for hanging branches or downed trees across trails.