Late-April snowstorm provides a chance for one more ski
By Phil Brown
I had given up on winter. Put away my skis. Went rock climbing. Rode my mountain bike. Saw a few wildflowers.
And then it snowed in late April. Two days in a row. On the second day, I got my boards out of the closet and drove to the Whiteface Mountain Veterans’ Memorial Highway toll road.
I’ve done this trip many times. Since the highway needs only a few inches of snow to be skiable, it’s often where I’ll start the season and often where I’ll end it. One lesson I’ve learned: No matter how clement the weather in the valley, you may encounter full-on winter on Whiteface.
That was the case last week. Green grass was poking through the fresh snow in Wilmington, but when I turned off the main drag and started driving uphill, the snow deepened, burying all traces of spring. Arriving at the gatehouse, I was delighted to see the toll road totally blanketed in white. I knew the skiing would be good.
I wasn’t the only one with this idea. As I got out of my car, another skier was just returning to his. At the start of the five-mile climb up the toll road (closed to vehicles in winter), I met two other skiers making graceful turns on wide skis. Soon after, a woman on skinny skis whizzed past me.
From then on, I was alone, shuffling up the mountain in silence, keeping track of my progress by the mileage markers, letting my thoughts wander.
It felt good to be back in winter. Such a beautiful time of year—trees whitened by the storm, icicles clinging to the cliffs, whorls of snow animated by the wind.
I felt wistful, too, knowing that this would be my last ski trip of the season. My winter was coming to an end.
Then it occurred to me that this was Earth Day. My thoughts turned to melting glaciers and rising sea levels. We are seeing the effects of climate change already in the Adirondacks. Lakes freeze later (if at all) and thaw earlier. Ski resorts rely more and more on man-made snow. This past Christmas it rained most of the day.
The end of winter, indeed.
Recreation updates in your inbox
Sign up for our weekly “Backcountry Journal” newsletter, sent each Thursday. Click here to see our full slate of weekly and daily newsletters.
Just imagine the Adirondacks with cold rain instead of snow. No more joyful jaunts up the toll road to an incomparable view of Lake Placid. No laps in the bowl on Mount Marcy. No cross-country treks on the Jackrabbit. No skiing anywhere, no snowmobiling, no pond skating, no ice climbing. The tourist economy would be dead half the year, and the region would lose a big part of its heritage.
I felt angry. I remembered interviewing Al Gore when he ran for president in 1988. He was talking about global warming then. In the 33 years since, we have failed to come to grips with the crisis. Trump wanted to take us backwards. Fortunately, we now have a leader who wants to address climate change in a serious way. I hope it’s not too late, though it may be.
Eventually the beauty of my surroundings dispelled my gloom. I pushed on, the snow got deeper, and the wind grew more fierce. When I reached the Lake Placid Turn, at 3.5 miles, I debated whether to continue. The best skiing was now below me. The next mile, to the Wilmington Turn, is so mellow as to be snooze. Beyond the turn, the ski conditions are often poor on the final stretch of road to the Castle, a handsome stone building that’s home to a restaurant in summer.
To make the most of my last ski trip, I decided to go all the way to the Castle. Rounding the Wilmington Turn, I met the full force of the wind—45 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. Other than that, conditions were just fine: I had my choice of frozen crust, ice, or wind-hardened slab. I soldiered on, fighting the gale, until I could no longer feel my fingers. A quarter-mile from my goal, I turned around and side-slipped down the icy road until I found shelter among the trees in a pull-off. There I put on warmer gloves and waited in pain while blood re-entered my capillaries.
Once warmed up, I considered making another sortie on the Castle. Nah, I like my fingers, and I had had enough exercise for one day. I wanted my reward: the long downhill run back to the car.
Besides, there’s always next winter. I hope.
Explore with us
Support Adirondack journalism with a monthly donation.