Early snow brings good base for ski season
Snow is covering the ground in the Tri-Lakes.
It’s not enough snow for most ski areas without the power of state-funded snowmaking to open officially yet. But for the dedicated, any snow is enough snow. The people who run cross-country ski centers in the area say the couple of inches the area got last week should create a good base for the season, and it’s given them a jump on early snow packing and even trail grooming.
State-operated ski centers in the Olympic Region opened for the season this past Saturday, and skiing has begun at the new Cascade Welcome Center, formerly the Cascade Ski Touring Center, now owned and operated by the Adirondack Mountain Club.
Andy Testo, the manager for the Saranac Lake village-owned Mount Pisgah ski center, said he plans to start making snow next week, weather permitting.
“I’m definitely thinking about it every day,” Testo said.
He hopes the T-bar lift will be running Dec. 26, the day after Christmas.
For now, workers there are upgrading the lights from pale bulbs to LEDs and doing other maintenance and prep work. It’s too early to make snow on Mount Pisgah, Testo said. The overnight temperatures are good, but on Tuesday morning, he pointed out that it was warm and sunny.
At Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, he said, the higher elevation brings lower temperatures.
“You can see the cloud” at the top of the mountain, he said.
But that hasn’t stopped a few dedicated skiers from skinning up and skiing down on the little natural snow there is on Pisgah. One of those skiers was Owen Keal, a Saranac Lake High School student, who got out for a ski with his friend Will Meimis as the snow was still falling last Wednesday.
“For me going skiing for the first time in the season usually doesn’t matter if there is 1 inch of snow or 10 getting out on the slopes the second there is enough snow to slide my skis is mandatory,” Keal wrote in an Instagram message.
Dewey Mountain Manager Jason Smith said it’s been nice to get the snow from last week packed to create a base, but he’s not satisfied and he’s hungry for more.
“We’re ready for more snow,” Smith said.
Actual grooming of the trails can’t happen yet, he said, and they’ll need a few more inches before the Harrietstown-owned mountain officially opens up. But the mountain is already getting some use.
“We see some tracks out there,” Smith said. “Not a lot. But, you know, some die-hards who have got to get it.”
The annual Dewey Mountain XC Ski & Snowshoe Swap is coming up two weekends from now. On Dec. 2, people can drop off their cross county skis, snowshoes and ski clothing at the lodge from 5 to 7 p.m. Then, on Dec. 3, starting at 9:30 a.m., people can rush into the lodge and buy discounted, used ski equipment to carry them on the trails throughout the winter. The sale goes until 11 a.m.
The ski sellers get 80% of the profits from the sales, and Dewey Mountain gets a 20% cut.
Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center had a busy weekend with lots of people taking advantage of the free ski days in the early season, VIC Director Scott van Laer said.
The center’s trails have been groomed a bit, but mostly, it’s been rolling the snow flat. The ground was warm when the snow fell, van Laer said, so it is still thin, but he hopes to form a pack that stays the rest of the season.
“Early-season rolling really helps,” he said, especially with some days above freezing ahead.
He’s looking forward to the 2023 FISU Games to be held in Lake Placid this January. The VIC is not hosting any competitions, but he’s hoping to attract some FISU athletes over to its trails, and for the VIC to be a place for locals to find refuge at, as many of the Mount Van Hovenberg trails will be in use for competitions.
The VIC lodge has free live music every Saturday, van Laer said, and and all week during FISU games. The center also will have horse-drawn rides and educational programming throughout the winter.
The VIC is also introducing a series of backcountry ski trails on Jenkins Mountain this season, Van Laer said. These trails are unique in the area, he said, to have marked trails specifically for backcountry skiing at a ski center. More information on these trails will be reported by the Enterprise in the near future.
Tupper Lake cross-country ski
“My arms are tired from grooming last night,” Tupper Lake Councilman John Gillis said on Tuesday.
He spent the evening grooming the lower trails while Eric “Shaky” Lanthier rolled them smooth.
It was the second time the duo had groomed the trails. After the first grooming on Friday night, the trails saw “a lot of traffic” over the weekend — skiers, snowshoers and, of course, dogs. The town-owned James C. Frenette Sr. Recreational Trails are the only free groomed ski trails in the region and one of a few which allow, and encourage, dogs.
Gillis called this past weekend a “bonus.” This year, he said, is a “very early” start to season.
“It’s nice to get that extra boost before the season really starts,” he said. “We remember the low snow winters as well. We learn to just take everything in stride.”
This is the earliest he ever remembers grooming in 12 years of working on the trails.
“I’ve groomed on Thanksgiving. I’ve never groomed the week before Thanksgiving,” he said.
Now that they’ve packed that first substantial snowfall in, Gillis hopes it becomes the base layer for the rest of the season.
The trail now has motion activated lights for night skiing.
“I still recommend you bring a headlamp and a dog,” Gillis said.
“The dog runs ahead and turns the lights on for you,” he explained.
Tickets for the Feb. 25 Tupper Lake Brew-Ski recently went on sale and can be purchased at square.link/u/SyXXb18q.
The town plans to sell up to 1,200 tickets for the event.
Gillis said nine of the 16 brewery slots this year have been filled.
The ticket price is up to $26.50 this year, Gillis said because the town is bringing in more breweries and more beer. The event has become more popular each year, and running out of beer has been a calamity nipping on the heels of the event each year.
“We’re like that country band. It took us years to become an overnight success,” Gillis said.
Town Recreation Director Laura LaBarge has been leading the organization of the Brew-Ski, one of several events formerly run by the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce which the town is taking on after the Chamber announced it is dissolving in September. Brew-Ski will be the first event to make the change-over. LaBarge said she’s been a “little nervous” but “more enthusiastic.” The Chamber had a strong foundation but not the bodies to make it work, she said.
LaBarge said she’s trying to get the word out to the Brew-Ski following.
Maintained by the Barkeater Trails Alliance, the Jackrabbit Trail runs from Keene to Paul Smiths, traveling through Lake Placid and Saranac Lake and extending from Paul Smiths to Lake Clear.
During the winter, BETA posts regular ski condition updates for the Jackrabbit Trail and the High Peaks online at betatrails.org/conditions.
Conditions of trail sections — including areas that have been updated, changed or closed — that are detailed are the Paul Smith’s College VIC to North Country Community College; NCCC to McKenzie Pond Road; McKenzie Pond Road to Whiteface Inn Lane; Whiteface Inn Lane to Mirror Lake/Lake Placid Club; Mirror Lake/Lake Placid Club to Craig Wood; and the ADK Cascade Welcome Center to Keene.
Mount Van Hoevenberg
Officials at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Nordic ski center announced Saturday that the additional snowfall on Friday was enough to help crews open the facility four days earlier than expected.
On Thursday, Nov. 17, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that Mount Van Hoevenberg would be opening for the season on Wednesday, Nov. 23. However, lake-effect snow accelerated the opening date.
“All it took was a little help from mother nature and just like that we are open,” read a post on Mount Van Hoevenberg’s Facebook page on Saturday.
The ski center opened with 5 kilometers of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing “on thin cover” starting by the Biathlon Range, the Mount Van Hoevenberg website reported. Rock skis were being recommended. The World Cup trails remained closed for snowmaking. Ski centers officials expect that — with a base being laid down by the snowmaking system — 1.5 kilometers of the World Cup Trails will open on Wednesday, Nov. 23. The facility will be closed on Thursday for Thanksgiving and reopen for the season on Friday.
Improvements at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Nordic ski center were completed in 2020. It is now a world-class facility with 5 kilometers of World Championship-rated cross-country skiing trails for training and racing.
The trail system includes snowmaking infrastructure with high-efficiency snow guns. For more information, visit mtvanhoevenberg.com.
On Nov. 17, the governor announced the start of the 2022-23 Alpine ski season with the opening of several ski centers operated by the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, based in Lake Placid.
The venues — Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, Gore Mountain in North Creek and Belleayre Mount in Highmount — rolled out their openings starting on Friday, Nov. 18.
“With the opening of these world-class ski areas, New York is entering into peak season for its $16 billion winter tourism industry,” Hochul said in a statement. “We have invested more than $550 million in our winter sports facilities, upgrading our infrastructure, preparing them for ski season, and giving them the lift they need ahead of the World University Games. I am thrilled to welcome visitors back to the slopes and encourage everyone to join us next year in Lake Placid for one of the largest winter sporting events in New York State history.”
Lake Placid’s 2023 FISU Winter World University Games will be held from Jan. 11 to 22 at various venues across the North Country, including Whiteface Mountain, Mount Van Hoevenberg and Gore Mountain.
ORDA continually improves its snowmaking systems at these ski centers. That means the ski centers can open earlier in the fall and stay open later in the spring.
“Our team has made terrific progress since snowmaking began, and we are ready to welcome our skiers and snowboarders,” ORDA President and CEO Mike Pratt said in a news release.
Snowmaking began at Whiteface Mountain on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 13.
Gore Mountain and Belleayre Mountain opened on Nov. 18, and Whiteface opened on Nov. 19. They were all open through Sunday, closed mid-week for further preparation, and expect to reopen on Friday for the season.
Whiteface Mountain will be opening two new trails this year — the Ausable Run, a beginner trail off the Warhorse Quad lift, and Yellow Dot, an expert trail connecting the top of Victoria to Lower Skyward. For its snowmaking operations, the ski center installed 35,000 feet of new pipe, 160 high-efficiency snow guns and 245 new hydrants. There are also two new Pisten Bully groomers. For more information, visit whiteface.com.
Cascade Welcome Center
The Adirondack Mountain Club’s Cascade Welcome Center on state Route 73 opened for the season on Nov. 11. It includes a retail shop with cross-country ski rentals.
By Sunday, tracks were set and the facility welcomed its first skiers of the season. The center offers 12 miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
“We are so excited to welcome visitors, locals, and ADK supporters alike to explore the family-friendly trails at Cascade Welcome Center,” ADK Executive Director Michael Barrett said in a press release. “As a part of our inaugural season, we are also announcing a new benefit for ADK members: free skiing and snowshoeing at the center.”
Cascade Welcome Center operators are also planning some programs this winter, such as cross-country skiing clinics, ski maintenance workshops and naturalist walks.
Up-to-date trail conditions and details about rates and services are available at www.adk.org/cascade-welcome-center.
The Adirondack Mountain Club’s Adirondak Loj outside of Lake Placid is also a hub for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing, as it is surrounded by state Forest Preserve. Staff at the High Peaks Information Center at Heart Lake can help visitors with recreational needs heading into the backcountry. Learn more at www.adk.org.
The owners of High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid, Brian and Karen Delaney, are planning to open a new cross-country ski center in December at the Craig Wood Golf Course, owned and operated by the town of North Elba.
The Delaneys said recently that they’ve named the winter trail system — using the golf course and the Jackrabbit Trail, which runs through the property — after the old downhill ski center operated there by the North Elba Park District from the 1938 to 1973: Scotts Cobble. They are calling it the Scotts Cobble Recreation Center. It is located off state Route 73.
Brian Delaney’s vision is for the center to offer cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, sledding, nighttime skiing and backcountry skiing. He also wants the 10k of trails to be free for residents in the Tri-Lakes communities. The golf course clubhouse would be the ski center’s lodge in the winter.
The ski center’s grand opening is tentatively planned for Dec. 17. Learn more by calling High Peaks Cyclery at 518-523-3764.