February 04, 2016
A Sluggish Start
It's a fact that our cross-country skiing season did not start quickly or with a lot of snow this year. While we have a had a few great days in mid-January, they've been followed by an icy, rainy affair with little white powder left to help hide the hard, silver ice beneath. Take a misstep and you soon find out that our snow in many places has only been a veneer which hides slick ice beneath. Keeping up appearances in this way does nothing for skiers and my skis have been quietly whimpering – neglected in the corner. I know how they feel. While I have been able to join the masses in enjoying winter hikes and walks, I have been hoping to break out the skis.
Finally, over the past week-and-a-half we have gradually picked up an inch or two here or there and the resulting skiing conditions have moved quickly along the spectrum from ice to bad to doable to pretty good. That is a welcome progression to all of us anxious skiers, and Wren and I have been out as much as we can in order to warm up our skiing muscles in anticipation of better days ahead.
With our coverage still a bit on the thin side, trail skiing has been impossible as rocks and roots stick through the layer of snow in search of an unwary skier to throw or a pair of skis to scratch. But ski centers have had improving conditions and places like Cascade Cross Country Ski Center and Mt. Van Hoevenberg are reporting good conditions lately. Since Wren can’t go to those places we’ve been sticking mainly to the Bloomingdale Bog Trail north of Saranac Lake. Skiers should be mindful of rocks in a few places as well as chunks of ice left behind by snowmobiles, but the bog trail has been quite decent of late and we’ve been there most days.
And while the weather has started to cooperate with our desire to ski, my schedule has not always done so and we’ve been pushing it a bit as we come in from work and then try to beat the daylight outside. Sometimes we pull that off. Other times we don’t. But the bog trail is a good place for night skiing since it is flat and wide and I keep a headlamp handy in my ski jacket in case we are out in the dark. Night skiing also gives us solitude on the trail.
Every Day's a new Adventure
During our chilly weather last week Wren and I bundled up (well, I was bundled up, Wren was in her usual nude mode) and hit the trail in zero-degree conditions, returning each time with exemplary ice beards and me with a frost-covered jacket. On one occasion we stopped to quietly watch a Ruffed Grouse glean buds from the branches of a birch and on another we alarmed a Snowshoe Hare whose white form raced across the trail and vanished into the pale twilight of snow-laden balsam. Each time out is different than the last.
A few days ago we had our best night outing – gliding along for 5 or 6 miles in the dark. Conditions were also good earlier in the week on Sunday afternoon when we headed out under a blue sky, pausing to watch Pine Siskins feed in the tamaracks. Siskins have been everywhere in the region this winter – at bird feeders, in yards, and in the woods – and I listened to their incessant chatter and then took a few photos of the landscape. I haven’t had much chance to take shots during our regular night skiing outings.
Such a beautiful day meant that we didn’t have exclusive rights to the trail, and we passed a number of dogwalkers, cross-country skiers, and a lone snowshoer, meaning we fit neatly into the trail’s demographics. It was certainly a day to be out exploring and not one for sitting inside. But even we had inside plans, and after we had covered a few miles I turned around to make it back in time for kick-off. It was time to watch the AFC Championship Game.