By Phil Brown
I was disappointed that Saranac Lake saw little snow from the pre-Christmas nor’easter that tore up the East Coast and dumped 3 feet in places. We still didn’t have enough snow to ski in the backcountry around here.
We did experience several nights of cold weather, and that improved conditions for another winter sport: backcountry skating. Indeed, the combination of solid ice and sparse snow is just what skaters seek.
After reading reports of people of skating on Lake Champlain, Chazy Lake, Meacham Lake, Lake Colby and Lower Saranac Lake, Carol and I dug out our Nordic skates on Saturday and headed to the St. Regis Canoe Area. As newbies to the sport, we knew we’d feel more comfortable on a small pond than on a large lake.
We checked out Little Clear Pond first, but the ice seemed a bit funky. It probably was fine, but we were spooked by some of the cracks we saw. We then walked over to nearby Little Green Pond, which is much smaller.
Most of Little Green was covered by an inch of powder, not enough to inhibit skating. Yet we spent most of our time following paths of exposed black ice that crisscrossed the pond. On our drive to the St. Regis Canoe Area, we had noticed similar paths on Lake Colby and Lake Clear and wondered what caused them.
On Little Green Pond, the paths were roughly four to 6 feet wide, each with a narrow crack running down the middle. We surmised that water had forced itself up through the cracks, flooded the surface on either side, melting the thin layer of snow, and then froze. If someone has a better explanation, we’re all ears.
“They’re like natural skating lanes,” Carol enthused. “There are even median strips”—that is, the cracks.
We had skated on ponds enough to know that conditions can vary greatly. On the same pond, you might find ice as smooth as glass or as rough as a cobblestone street. Or you might encounter shell ice—a brittle veneer on top of solid ice (not skater-friendly). Never before, though, had we found a network of skating paths that seemed designed for lovers of wild ice. We delighted in exploring the pond by following their random curves.
After a while, we removed our skates and hiked a short distance to Bone Pond, which is even smaller. Unlike Little Green, Bone Pond was completely covered by snow. No skate lanes here. We wondered why and thought the answer might have to do with its diminutive size. We skated across the pond and back, stopping to examine some bobcat tracks, and then returned to Little Green.
As soon as we got home, we took out the map to plan our next skating adventure. We wanted to find other ponds with skate lanes. The next day we went to Polliwog Pond off Floodwood Road. We could see skate lanes, but it had started to snow and by the time we finished, they were hard to see. I expect they will disappear entirely after the next snowfall. Oh, well, there’s always backcountry skiing.