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Snow lovers celebrate fresh season

November 30, 2016
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

Skiers, boarders, snowshoers, sledders and hunters celebrated as the first major winter storm of the season delivered more than a foot of fresh powder just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The winter season offers some of the most satisfying outdoor experiences available in the Adirondack region. With snow on the ground, I took advantage of the opportunity and skied into hunting camp on both Saturday and Sunday last week.

While the historic ski trails in the High Peaks Wilderness Area and the ever-popular Jackrabbit Trail system continue to attract a significant portion of backcountry skiers, there remain hundreds of miles of ski trails that are located throughout the park in places such a the Five Ponds Wilderness, Massaweepie and the sprawling Whitney Wilderness. There are also trails in the untracked wilderness lands located near Lows Lake, the Bog River Flow, Lake Lila and the Whitney Wilderness.

In addition, there are many miles of Wild Forest lands that are virtually untouched for the majority of the winter season. There's even a trail that is open to the public in Newcomb that leads skiers into a historic Adirondack Great Camp. The nearby Pharaoh Lake Wilderness also contains miles of lightly traveled ski and snowshoe trails, with numerous lean-tos that offer shelter from the wind.

There are many advantages to traveling the winter woods. There are no black flies, no mud and the crowded trails can easily be avoided. With the lack of foliage, the stark, black and white backdrop reveals the lay of the land is more evident and open than in any other season.

Wildlife is also more apparent as their tracks are recorded in the fresh snow. I recall the joy of discovering the tracks of otters that had been jumping and sliding across the snow-covered ice. Otter tracks consist of a series of dots and dashes that appear to be some sort of backwoods Morris Code.

The winter landscape is a canvas that is restored with every passing storm.

Cross country skiers can cover a lot of ground, with distances of 10 to 15 miles common over the course of an easy day trip. Snowshoers, the fastest-growing segment of all winter travelers, cannot effectively cover comparable distances. Snowshoes are especially useful for tackling steep, tight "off the track" terrain that most skiers would never consider. The learning curve for snowshoeing is negligible compared to nordic skiing.

Although the backcountry ski season has already kicked off, a firm base layer of snow has yet to take hold. This leaves skiers exposed to a combination of roots, rocks and bare ground that can shred ski bottoms, snap tips and generally wreak havoc on equipment. I found cover to be particularly thin in the conifers and along the south-facing slopes.


Ski hard, travel fast and hydrate often

Anyone planning a trip at this time of year should recognize that winter travel requires considerably more physical exertion than dry-land hiking. Typically, a person involved in winter travel can burn upwards of 5,000 to 7,500 calories per day depending on temperature, terrain and technique. Replacement of these calories requires a consistent effort that's performed regularly throughout the journey.

Constant snacking should be the rule, with high-energy bars, cheeses, nuts and dried fruit available at every break. Additionally, fluids are extremely important in the winter and efforts should be made to insure they are not neglected while on the move.

Daily intake should be about a gallon of water. Less than this amount can cause fatigue rather than thirst in cold weather.

It is impossible to carry the necessary amount of water, so a water filtering device becomes a vital component of winter equipment. Look for one that is easy to use and will not freeze up between usage. I like to use "The Gatekeeper," an extremely lightweight water filter that screws on to a standard plastic water bottle.

To fill it, I put the neck of the bottle in the basket of a ski pole and dip it into the water from a distance. The cap contains a mic-filter that purifies without chemicals. I've never had a problem, yet.

All backcountry travelers should carry a fully stocked repair kit, especially during the winter season. I pack only the essential spares for repairs of either skis or snowshoes. This includes extra baskets for ski poles, fresh batteries for my flashlights/headlamps, sunglasses and a complete binding repair kit with a spare bail, stove wire, compression straps, duct tape, multi-tool, Super Glue, screws, shoelaces and a slip-on replacement ski tip.

Nothing presents the potential for disaster more than an ill-prepared skier or snowshoer who is forced to hike out of the woods because he can't repair his equipment.

For longer tours or travel in extreme terrain, skiers should consider adding crampons and strapping a pair of lightweight snowshoes to their pack.

Remember, when traveling the backcountry, it is the traveler's responsibility to achieve a safe exit. A repair kit is a small measure of insurance in this regard.

While a cell phone is also advisable, it should not be considered a fail-safe measure. There are still plenty of blind spots in the region where cell coverage is either spotty or nonexistent.



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