Friday, January 4, 2013

Skiing the historic 1930s trails of North Creek and Thirteenth Lake

Skiing the Botheration Pond Loop, photo courtesy of Mike Arthur and Off On Adventure.
Skiing has a long history in North Creek, with roots in the early 1930s. Early “Ride Up, Slide Down” skiers arrived by train and then rode in flatbed trucks to the Barton Mines property on Gore Mountain where a network of ski trails led back to North Creek. The trails were immensely popular, with hundreds of skiers arriving in North Creek on weekends with good snow conditions to ski trails like Halfway Brook, Raymond Brook, Pete Gay and Rabbit Pond. Those early trails even gave rise to the first Ski Patrol, experienced skiers who assisted injured skiers with first aid kits and toboggans and swept the trails at the end of the day. Eventually World War II intervened, interest shifted to development at the North Creek Ski Bowl, and the old Ride Up, Slide Down trails fell into disuse. Until Steve Ovitt came on the scene.

Ovitt, a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Ranger for more than 20 years (he recently retired), recognized the potential these trails had for backcountry skiers. In the 1990s, while developing DEC’s Unit Management Plan for the area, Ovitt incorporated plans to restore the historic 1930s ski trails, and finally in 2004 Ovitt and a group of inspired volunteers – the Siamese Pond Trail Improvement Society – started building.

Starting with the old Halfway Brook trail, which runs from Barton Mines Road, past Garnet Hill and on to Thirteenth Lake, Ovitt and his crew did more than just clear brush. “The trail was originally used by miners traveling between the Hooper Mine and Barton Mines,” Ovitt explains, “so it wasn’t originally laid out with skiing in mind.” So they kept the best parts of the original route and re-routed other sections to make the trail suitable for backcountry skiers. “A great example is between Balm of Gilead and Harvey Mountains. We moved the trail from the north side of the pass – where the slope faces south – to the opposite side. Now the snow stays dry and powdery.”

The Raymond Brook trail, from the Halfway Brook trailhead on Barton Mines Road to Route 28, was next. In order to avoid private property, Ovitt’s crew created two miles of new trail from Barton Mines Road to a notch between Pete Gay and South Mountains and down the other side to where it eventually joins the historic 1930s Raymond Brook trail. At that spot stands of one of the 1930s Ski Patrol toboggan sheds. Ovitt claims it’s likely the oldest Ski Patrol structure in existence. Again Ovitt’s crew put extra effort into designing and constructing the new trail for a great ski experience. “If the trail had to go through the worst imaginable blowdown, then that’s where it went. The guys on the crew worked really hard, but I kept a chainsaw running in case they mutinied,” Ovitt jokes. “I told them, you’ll thank me in the winter.” They do.

Ovitt calls Raymond Brook one of the best tours in the East for advanced skiers with backcountry gear and a telemark turn in their quiver of skills. The new section of trail switchbacks down a steep, north-facing drainage that holds some of the best snow in the area. Run-outs and glades allow skiers to take best advantage of the terrain. Ovitt enthuses “Where else in the East can you get almost 1400 vertical feet of downhill in three and a half miles, with just 70 feet of climbing? It’s just a hoot with decent snow and good skills”

But the trail system isn’t just for expert skiers. Beginning backcountry skiers can start at the Ski Bowl and ski the Raymond Brook trail all the way up to the old Ski Patrol sled shed. Turning around and retracing your tracks, it’s a beautiful but gentle glide all the way back.

The Botheration Pond loop is another tour that makes a great introduction to backcountry skiing. The loop can be skied in either direction, starting and ending at the Old Farm Road trailhead near Garnet Hill Lodge. The loop utilizes part of the Halfway Brook trail and a completely new trail created by Ovitt and the Siamese Pond Trail Improvement Society crew. Skiers will find dramatic views of Gore Mountain and the surrounding wilderness from Botheration Pond, plus two new bridges spanning the East Branch of the Sacandaga River.

During the UMP planning process in the ‘90s, Ovitt recognized the importance of having trails located where people could use them. “When you looked at a map of the area back then, there were no trails between Thirteenth Lake and North Creek. Now there’s a loop around Thirteenth Lake, the Botheration loop, plus Raymond Brook that connects all the way back to the Ski Bowl in North Creek and the multiple trails that go out from there. Having trails where people want them and can use them – that’s been the key for building support in the community.”

Although Ovitt considers the trail network to be just about complete, there’s still a section or two he hopes to add. “What we’ve got here is true, high quality backcountry skiing. With the right gear, you can kick-and-glide, get a few turns and kick-and-glide some more through great scenery for miles and miles.”

Skiers should make sure they’re prepared with extra socks, gloves and warm clothing. Metal-edged backcountry skis are appropriate for these tours. Parties should carry a first aid kit and basic repair kit. A headlamp is essential, as are map & compass and the knowledge to use them correctly.

Maps of the Thirteenth Lake to North Creek Trail System are available at The Gear Source, located on Ordway Lane in North Creek. The Gear Source stocks a full line of backcountry ski gear, has rental equipment available, and is a great source for current backcountry conditions and local information. Garnet Hill Lodge in North River, is another resource. Garnet Hill occasionally offers guided Gore to Thirteenth Lake backcountry tours, partly traversing some of the restored 1930s ski routes.

Two recent trip reports:

Map and photos courtesy of Steve Ovitt and Additional photos courtesy of Mike Arthur and


  1. This is a very nice write up. We read about this area in Adirondack Explorer a year ago, and explored up the Raymond Brook trail with snowshoes to the first bridge. This year on New Years Day my son and I climbed up with AT equipment to above the ski shed. The ski down was difficult, due to the need to repeatedly apply and remove skins. Your advice re. backcountry type cross country skis is vary appropriate, as is the advice for headlamps. We literally saw the stars as we came out of the woods to our car! This type of trail system is a refreshing change from the ski area scene, the only issue is there is a steep learning curve and it seems that much of the experience that is gained is by trial and error. It would be great if the Gear Source or similar would organize some instruction and tours.


    1. Hi John, thanks for your comments and input. I think AT gear would be great on the steeper section of Raymond Brook (i.e. above the sled shed), but would have been difficult on the low-angled terrain that you skied. Sounds like you've caught the bug for doing some backcountry skiing - good luck and happy trails!

  2. Great report. I have been skiing the 13th lake area for many years. I skied Old Farm Clearing to Rte 28 last Monday (12/31). It is a great trail and I love the history of the area. A really unique resource in the Adirondacks. I look forward to exploring this area for years to come.

  3. Great writeup. One of these years, I gotta get me some backcountry skis.

  4. Herb and I hiked into Rabbit Pond a few summers ago (and were a little unimpressed - it's not much of a pond) but haven't been back to try the skiing. We'll have to put it on the list. I'm with John, though - it would be great to find someplace that teaches backcountry ski skills. I'm determined to take some downhill lessons to see if that helps, but I'm stuck on easier trails for now.

    1. Gillian - try the Botheration Loop. It's comparable in difficulty to the ski into Pharaoh Lake, so no real downhill skills necessary. I think the ADK may teach a backcountry skiing course with some telemark instruction up at Adk Loj.