Getting Outdoors and Active

Marijke Cook-Ormel helps adults stay fit in winter wonderland

Marijke Cook-Ormel, left, and Margaret Worden stand near the lodge at Dewey Mountain before snowshoeing to the top on Thursday in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — It’s no secret that a whole lot of people live in the North Country because it’s a region where the great outdoors is nothing short of amazing.

For those who haven’t discovered how wonderful our Adirondack Mountain environment really is, Saranac Lake’s Marijke Cook-Ormel is there to help — and at the same time add some fitness into the mix.

A longtime health care professional in the Tri-Lakes, Cook-Ormel as been running Outdoor and Active for the past half-dozen years. It’s a program designed to turn people onto fitness and the beauty of Mother Nature. In the past, Cook-Ormel has run the program almost on a year-round basis, but she’s found out that winter suites her and the participants the best.

Outdoor and Active is a six-week program based at the Dewey Mountain Recreation Center in Saranac Lake, offering adults the opportunity to enjoy snowshoeing and cross-country skiing once a week. Cook-Ormel, along with some help, leads the sessions, with snowshoers hitting the trails in the afternoon, followed by skiing later in the day under the lights.

This winter, three snowshoers and 10 skiers are participating. On Thursday, the groups wrapped up their second session of the season. Cook-Ormel said the snowshoers are usually older and retired, which makes heading out in the afternoon possible, while the skiers are normally the younger group who come to Dewey after working during the day.

Outdoor and Active participants are locked into their skis and ready to hit the trails at Dewey Mountain in Saranac Lake Thursday evening. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“I also used to do this in the summer, but it’s mostly a winter thing,” Cook-Ormel said. “Everybody is so busy in the summer. Quite simply, it’s all about introducing people to our glorious outside. The goal is showing people who live here, and people who are new to here how wonderful it can be outdoors, get them exercising and have goals they can work toward.”

Over the years, Cook-Ormel has had repeat participants but said it’s mostly all newcomers this winter. She said they gradually build up the intensity of their workouts over the six weeks.

“We get them familiar with what they all can do here and to teach them some skills,” she said. “Usually we will do strengthening exercises indoors in the lodge for half an hour, but it’s closed, so people can do that on their own now.”

Skiing participants usually break up into two or three groups based on experience. Cook-Ormel said longtime local ski coach Randy Young usually helps out each week with the newer skiers.

Some people weren’t able to come to this week’s session. In the afternoon, Saranac Lake’s Margaret Worden joined Cook-Ormel on a snowshoe excursion to the top of Dewey Mountain, about a 5-kilometer round trip, and six skiers took part in the evening session.

“I’ve done this before,” Worden said before heading out with Cook-Ormel. “Marijke asked me to join her to go snowshoeing, and I was happy to say yes. It’s absolutely beautiful here. I like to snowshoe, and I enjoy taking advantage of the winter.

“Last week we snowshoed, and it was fun,” Worden continued. “We went through the mountain bike trail, and it was beautiful because you just weave through the woods instead of being on the bigger trails. It was very nice. It will be a little more strenuous today. We’re game.”

Cook-Ormel said Dewey Mountain — owned by the town of Harrietstown and run by Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters — has been very accommodating over the years when it comes to providing an inexpensive recreational opportunity and affordable rentals of both snowshoes and ski setups. She said it’s great to see newcomers renting equipment the first year and then coming back with their own gear the following season. In the past, the Friends of Dewey Mountain group has even offered “scholarships” to participants who might not be able to afford the activity.

Although Dewey is the program’s home base, skiers traditionally enjoy one session each winter at the Mount Van Hoevenberg cross-country ski center in Lake Placid and another on the Paul Smith’s College VIC trails.

Obviously, the program has had to adapt this year to follow safety precautions dealing with the coronavirus. Participation is limited, and gone, at least for now, are the coffee and hot chocolate gatherings inside the lodge each week after the workouts.

“I didn’t want to turn anyone away, so 10 was the number of skiers I thought would be best, and fortunately 10 is what we got,” she said.

Cook-Ormel said the idea to begin Outdoor and Active grew out of the Fit For Life program that used to be run through the Adirondack Medical Center.

Growing up in the Netherlands, Cook-Ormel said she was a skater but never donned cross-country skis until she moved to the Adirondacks. For years she has skied at Dewey, and that’s were her kids got their start as well. Her daughter Annelies Cook advanced all the way to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, representing the United States as a biathlete.

“For me, this is just something I can do to give back,” Cook-Ormel said. “Being here in the outdoors, it’s done a lot for me and my children. When I came here the first year, I was just speedskating on the lakes. The second or third year, I started skiing, and I’ve never stopped. I love the winter. I want everyone else to see how great it really is.”


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