Recent windstorm created a solid amount of blowdown on region’s trails, making for a challenging ski
By Phil Brown
Typically, my ski season starts with a trip up the Whiteface toll road, but the backcountry ski season starts with my first trip in the woods.
Last weekend we got just enough snow to ski mellow terrain. On Sunday, my girlfriend Carol and I headed to the Jackrabbit Trail south of Route 86 between Gabriels and Paul Smiths.
I chose this stretch of the Jackrabbit because it’s mostly flat and free of rocks and because other volunteers and I had cleared the route of blowdown in late November. I wanted to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
We parked on an unplowed side road, stepped into our Madshus Eons and started down the trail, gliding through about five inches of fluffy powder. Lined by evergreens, the trail is beautiful after a snowfall. It’s like being in a snow globe.
A half-mile in, we came to a fallen tree that we easily stepped over. Then we came to another. And another. And yet another. In all, we encountered more than dozen downed trees. Some we stepped over, some we ducked under, and some we went around.
Evidently, the high winds of last week wreaked havoc on trails in the region. Scott van Laer said it took three days to clear the trails at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretative Center (which he manages).
Despite all the blowdown, Carol and I were delighted to be skiing in the woods. After 1.25 miles, we reached a logging road. Our plan had been to turn around here, but we decided to continue up the road a short distance. The conditions were so superb that we kept going for another mile and a half.
A wide logging road doesn’t gratify the aesthetic sense as fully as a trail bordered by snow-laden evergreens, but this one had its charms. The silence. The isolation. And the skiing! We shuffled through the untracked powder with no worries about scraping rocks or roots. We were in heaven.
We turned around where a power line crosses the road. The Jackrabbit turns off the road here, following the utility corridor toward Charlie’s Inn. For a fun outing, you might consider a one-way trip from the VIC or from Route 86, ending with lunch at Charlie’s. The tavern is about nine miles from the VIC or six miles from Route 86. Of course, you will need to arrange a car shuttle. For a longer trip, you could pick up the Adirondack Rail Trail corridor (which is also used by snowmobiles) and continue to the village of Saranac Lake.
Yes, the snowfall had us dreaming of longer outings later in winter. On this day, though, we were happy to get in five miles of skiing. It was a fine start to the season.
Until we get more snow, I’d advise sticking to flat, smooth trails in the backcountry. Old roads and truck trails are good choices. And be prepared to deal with blowdown.
When we got home, I emailed Josh Wilson of Barkeater Trails Alliance, which maintains the Jackrabbit, about the blowdown that Carol and I encountered. The next day he cut through all the fallen trees with his chainsaw. “All clear to the power line,” Josh reported back. “That was a doozy.”
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