Great Camp Winter Weekends provide a warm welcome
By Brandon Loomis
The Adirondacks offer several woodsy windows into the Gilded Age, with opulent summer “great camps” whose urban owners are long gone and whose private halls are now open in one fashion or another.
These days every New Yorker owns one of these camps in the prettiest of settings, and on three winter weekends each year anyone capable of propelling themselves on a 10-mile round trip can point their skis toward it and count on getting warm above the shore of Newcomb Lake.
Camp Santanoni, the one-time mountain retreat of an Albany banker and a compound that extended a rustic-chic welcome to the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, is better known in summer, when visitors can ride bikes, horses or a horse-drawn wagon on the old dirt road to it, and even snag one of seven primitive tent sites nearby. The 15,000-square-foot main lodge is no longer a habitable home, as caution tape across a nonfunctioning toilet bowl made clear last winter. But it is open for walk-throughs and views of its hand-cut beams, log eaves and birch wall coverings—and views off the wraparound deck to and across the frozen lake.
Beyond its historic intrigue, though, Santanoni serves a more utilitarian purpose around two winter holidays and one March weekend: hot chocolate and a woodstove.
Santanoni was long known as an excellent but cold ski destination, where people would scarf lunch and speed back to the trailhead, said Jennifer Betsworth, a Friends of Camp Santanoni guide and board member with Adirondack Architectural Heritage. Since 2012 AARCH has teamed with the state to open the camp’s artist’s studio as a warming hut with free chocolate, coffee and tea on select weekends. This year’s dates are over the three-day weekends of Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day, and March 14-15. (It was so cold once last January, with a forecast of around minus-20, that they canceled one of the openings. The later dates were comfortably above zero.)
More than 700 people visited the cabin during the three weekends last winter, according to AARCH.
Besides offering a place to get warm and chat, AARCH hopes to inspire people to support protection of a historic site that had faced “demolition by neglect” when the state bought it in the early 1970s.
“It’s hard for anything to last 125 years,” she said, “especially in a place where the conditions aren’t always ideal for a building to be in, out on the edge of nowhere.”
For older, younger or inexperienced skiers, it’s also a place to break a sweat skiing through the woods without getting too vertical. The trail into camp rises 325 feet over the first three miles, and then drops 250 feet over the home stretch. It passes the camp’s old farm complex, and later offers bridge views across icy Upper Duck Hole. There are some places to pick up speed, but the route is wide and not especially curvy.
“I knew this was in our skill level,” Justin Kinney, 35, said while completing the ski out last January. The Fulton resident and former forester had helped a silviculturist study beech bark disease years ago as a student at a nearby state university research forest.
Still, his wife Christina Kinney, 28, admitted, “I fell six times.”
They had come from a day of alpine skiing at Gore Mountain, a sport she had mastered and could do all day without falling. Her husband wanted to see the old research grounds and try something new on the snow. They admired the hardwood forest, the lake views and the camp’s wooden details.
They especially appreciated the warm shelter at the midway point, Justin Kinney said.
“It’s nice to have a destination,” he said. “You know you’re going toward something.”
Getting there: From Route 28N near the west end of Lake Harris in Newcomb, turn north on Newcomb Lake Road to where it reaches the trailhead just beyond the Santanoni Gatehouse.