A Beautiful Ski on the Jackrabbit Trail

A Change in the Fortunes of the Weather

Let’s be honest. January was a frustrating month in the Olympic Region for anyone who loves skiing and winter sports. Check that – January was a wildly frustrating month for anyone who enjoys such activities. Our variable and constantly changing temperatures gave us rain and warmth followed by frigid drops which froze everything solid – it was no fun for me and my skis. Add to that a month during which I seemed to constantly battle sickness, and despite my best efforts to get out, I didn’t succeed nearly as much as I would have liked.  Then came February and a return to more normal winter-like weather, followed quickly with a tease of spring. Luckily, we live in the mountains, and March looks to be coming in like a lion!

While the local cross-country ski centers like Dewey Mountain and Mount Van Hoevenberg did an admirable job in grooming and remaining open during our spell of crummy weather, good trail skiing was hard to find. But such is life in snow country where the fortunes of powder and snow vary – it’s often a matter of patiently waiting for conditions to improve, as they usually do.

And so my excitement rose as our weather turned more seasonable and winter began to flex its muscles once again. The snowy weather pattern soon covered up our ice and began to rebuild our base. And so the ground was well prepared when a recent storm dumped about 7 inches on us – and we suddenly had beautiful mid-winter conditions...again. Without hesitation, Wren and I headed to explore the Jackrabbit Trail.

Wren models her reflective orange vest which I put on her part way through our ski - it reminds me of a super hero cape.

A World of Snow

I had only been able to ski on the Jackrabbit one other time this winter, and Wren and I chose the trailhead along McKenzie Pond Road in Saranac Lake. Snow lay in heavy mounds on the boughs of the conifers along the trail – like confectioners sugar on some baked holiday treat – and Wren’s black fur was soon covered in white dust as she brushed limbs in her excitement to explore. The afternoon sun was too low to shine into the gray and white woods, but the dark blue winter sky above stood in contrast with the snow-laden spires of the spruce and fir trees.

This glacial erratic marks a portion of the trail.

Not surprisingly, the path had already been well kicked-in by skiers before us – we were not the only people excited to get out on the snow – and we met a few folks and their dogs on their way back out of the woods. All this meant that the tracks had nice glide and yet the snowy world around us was still fresh and seemingly untouched as if we were explorers in a new land. It was a perfect.

A Tricky Stream Crossing and McKenzie Pond

We moved along quickly, dropping down to the outlet for McKenzie Pond which crosses the trail a little less than a mile into the ski. I paused above the bridge – I knew that it had been badly flooded during our January melt and I could see enormous blocks of ice attempting to make the already tricky crossing of the bridge even more of a challenge to negotiate. But my scouting of the crossing didn’t amount to much more than that brief pause, and I dropped down the short slope only to realize that I suddenly needed to clear two successive ice ledges which dropped me close to a foot-and-a-half! My speed off the hill soon had me leaping over the ledges, but not without catching my tails on the ice, and it took a few quick moves on skis to keep me upright. Anyone skiing the Jackrabbit will be wise to check out the crossing before just diving into it like I did.

Wren eyes the large hill on the Jackrabbit a few years ago.

Safely across the stream, Wren and I continued through the low wet woodlands of cedar and other conifers before reaching the junction for McKenzie Pond another mile further along the route. We headed to the pond where Wren ate some snow and I snapped some photos in the gray light. A male Barred Owl called from the nearby trees as we returned to the main trail and I called back a few times – it answered me once. Back on the main trail, we continued a short distance beyond the junction so we could at least ski down a portion of the large hill which dominates that segment of the Jackrabbit – the snow conditions were perfect for enjoying our race down and Wren relished the chance to bomb down in front of me.

We heard a Barred Owl near McKenzie Pond in the late afternoon.

But we didn’t have enough daylight to ski much longer, and after rocketing down the bottom of the hill we began our return trip to the car – I taking a more careful approach to the ice on the flooded bridge, and eventually clicking on my headlamp to help me read the snow conditions more easily. We reached the car in the soft, pastel light of evening and we headed home tired and happy for a well-deserved dinner.

There is still a lot more winter and snow to come this year. Plan your outdoor recreation and cross-country skiing adventure today. Then head into town for a satisfying dinner and warm lodging — an ideal way to end a long day on the trails!

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