Tread lightly: Ice thickness can be deceptive

Ice floes like this one on the Ausable River took shape during a thaw in January. (Provided photo — Joe Hackett)

I’ve been enjoying some of the season’s best ski conditions in recent days. The deep woods currently retain a deep, firm snowpack that allows skiers and or snowshoers to go just about anywhere.

While the bulletproof base makes for fast travel, there is still enough powder to slow down the pace, especially in the upper elevations. In addition, the firm conditions make for outstanding ski-skating across the lakes and ponds, which are still sporting a secure top hat.

However, travelers are advised to stay clear of riverbanks and stream beds, as I recently discovered. Over the weekend, I enjoyed a long tour up and over the shoulder of Scarface, where the only tracks evident were not human.

I spent the better part of the day following in the furrows left by otters that had been sliding off high banks along the streams. It was as if I had discovered a hillside of miniature bobsled runs, and I took full advantage of the situation before the warm sun softened the firm, fast crust.

The small streams and brooks are currently sporting a fascinating collection of ice jams and flooded lands. The shore ice is inviting, especially for the volume of tracks that the fresh snow has captured.

Although there may appear to be a foot or more of solid ice covering a river or stream, it should never be considered safe. (Provided photo — Joe Hackett)

Although the ice-covered flows present an attractive scene, don’t make the mistake of attempting to cross them. I nearly made the obvious error as I snowplowed down a small riverbank. Fortunately, I stopped short of venturing farther. It was a good call. As I stepped back and tapped the ice with a solid shot, the entire stream bed exploded for 20 or 30 yards in all directions.

As the grand crystal palace came crashing to the ground, the concussion of the main collapse sent a series of smaller crashes that spread out in all directions. I now know what it feels like to be the proverbial bull in a china shop.

Although I know better than to trust any river ice at this time of year, it sure is entertaining to watch from a safe distance.

It’s always nice to uncover the unexpected, especially when it’s nearly under your nose. Such was the case last week, when I stopped by the Cascade Ski Center after a long day in the woods. I only stopped to pick up some ski wax, but I uncovered so much more.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed stopping to visit with Art Jubin, the former proprietor of the place. Although Art is still around, he has turned over the reins of the operation to his daughter Jennifer and her husband. While it’s evident they will have some mighty big ski boots to fill, I expect they’ll fit quite well. It will be a family affair where the same old comforts, customs and customers will remain the same.

Although I had only intended to stop by for wax, I ended up staying for dinner … and what a dinner it was! It was actually the first of three, “fresh from the farm” dinners that are scheduled under Cascade’s popular Food for Thought series.

The dinners are intended to provide guests with good food, new friends and some stimulating dinner conversation, while the focus remains on conservation and outdoor recreation. Fortunately, the bar offers an excellent selection of local brews from the Ausable Brewing Company in Keeseville. Remaining programs on the schedule will include a presentation on Backcountry Skiing, Avalanche Safety, and it concludes with a scheduled fundraiser for Planned Parenthood on Feb. 9 in conjunction with the Young Farmers Coalition-Adirondack Chapter.

The comfortable and relaxed ski lodge provides an ideal setting for the series, especially for an upcoming presentation that will be offered by Jerry Isaak, chair of Plattsburgh State University’s expeditionary studies program.


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