It’s December 21 in the Adirondacks, the sun rises at 7:30 a.m. and sets at 4:30 p.m.; it seems it wouldn’t leave much of a window for anything to be done. Don’t let those short winter solstice hours fool you — they assuredly will not put a halt to adventure in the Adirondacks.
A few years ago, on this same day, my family set out on an adventure that would start a tradition for years to come. Now, many years later, we have skied on winter solstice from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake via the Jackrabbit Ski Trail. (Full disclosure: this year’s ski had to be put off for a few days due to the sudden tropical heat wave of 50-degree weather and rain)
This all came about one year when I decided my gift to my brother for his birthday was a cross-country ski adventure from Lake Placid to a birthday dinner at Casa Del Sol in the next town over, Saranac Lake. A tradition was born.
Winter solstice is known as the shortest day of the year, but that also means the longest night of the year. It is a time for rejuvenation, rebirth, and the beginning of the days growing longer. In many ways it represents the closing of the year for me. Then, as the New Year approaches, the light begins to shift, casting its vibrant energy longer each day creating room for growth. What better way to close the last chapter of each year than by getting out and moving all day on a pair of skis with friends and family? To celebrate another trip around the sun for my brother and to be out all day feeling connected with the people and this amazing place we love and live in.
Every year on the morning of December 21 we all rise and rally, usually late, just as the sun, and set out for our ski on the Jackrabbit Trail. This 34-mile-long trail covers a vast expanse of the Adirondacks, with multiple trailheads that are easily accessible in multiple locations from Keene to Paul Smiths. For this ski, we start on the trailhead located on Whiteface Inn Lane in Lake Placid. The trail here will take you all the way to Saranac Lake, with a pretty impressive climb in the beginning (for a cross-country ski trail) that ascends the lower slopes of Haystack Mountain, one of the Saranac Lake 6ers.
The goal was to ski and meet the rest of our family for dinner at Casa del Sol, a long-standing, well-sought-after Mexican restaurant that opened its doors and planted its delicious Mexican roots in Saranac Lake the summer of 1978. The Mexican food goal-oriented ski ended up being so much fun it stuck for years to come. The entire family is not able to ski that distance, so whoever is unable to ski waits at the restaurant eating snacks, having a margarita, and enjoying themselves and the cozy-warm atmosphere while waiting for the fearless skiers to come cruising up and crashing down over that hill.
Since the entire first 2 miles of the ski is straight uphill, it is sure to warm you up in no time. If that doesn’t do the trick, there is a nice lean-to about 2 miles in. This is a highly-recommended place to stop, warm up a bit, and have hot tea, coffee, or whatever else you may have brought along. Enjoy the woods, the lean-to, and the people you are with. If you have your dogs with you, they’ll enjoy this stop as well! When you reach this lean-to, you know you are getting close to the good part — the downhill.
The trail soon comes to an opening and suddenly you can see just how far downhill you are about to go. The downhill proceeds for miles. Be prepared to move fast and get ready for a lot of laughter mixed with wonderfully hilarious cross-country ski falls that usually result in pretzel-like combinations of legs, skis, and poles. After a lot of laughs and downhill cross-country ski thrills, we arrived where the trail meets McKenzie Pond Road, the halfway point between Saranac Lake and Ray Brook.
We removed our skis to cross the road and entered an entirely different landscape. The trail winds through towering trees as it heads toward the railroad tracks in Saranac Lake. Once on the railroad tracks the trip was almost over, right along with the setting sun — it was just a short ski down the tracks to Casa del Sol.
Once arriving at the restaurant, we were beyond ready for food! There is nothing like eating the best Mexican food in the Adirondacks after skiing for about four hours in the cold. The sun was down and the shortest day of the year was already behind us. We sat down with the warmth and love of our family and friends all around the table, sharing stories from our day’s adventure, celebrating my brother's birthday, and closing in on the best note with another successful winter solstice ski in the books.
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