Saturday, November 1, 2014

Support Needed for Backcountry Skiing on Forest Preserve Land

The Adirondack Park Agency (APA) is soliciting comments regarding their plan to amend the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP), the document which governs management of the state-owned “forever wild” lands of the Adirondack Park. It’s the first time the SLMP has been amended in more than 25 years, and represents a critical opportunity for advocates of backcountry skiing.

Among the changes that are being considered is a proposal from the Adirondack Powder Skier Association (APSA) to explicitly allow for the creation and maintenance of designated backcountry ski touring trails on Forest Preserve lands classified as Wild Forest and Wilderness.

APSA formed in 2012 to urge the state to allow them to maintain off-trail areas for backcountry skiing in the Adirondacks, but soon ran into issues with interpretation of the SLMP. Even though the SLMP allows for recreational amenities like hiking trails, horse trails, snowmobile trails and ski trails, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has maintained that the minimal maintenance sought by APSA – the clearing of blowdown, branches and brush for backcountry skiing – is a “prohibited activity.”

Key components of APSA’s proposal include:
  • Designated backcountry ski touring trails would be established within naturally occurring openings under a mature canopy on pitches that would require a minimal amount of maintenance to create safe and reasonable access.
  • Site selection and route design will utilize carefully planned out criteria which integrate the natural terrain features and contours. Designated backcountry ski touring trails will avoid summits and other environmentally sensitive areas. Site selections will be approved by DEC.
  • Branches and brush may be trimmed. Blowdown may be cut up and left flat on the ground to promote nutrient recycling but no trees shall be cut. These ski routes should be hard to identify in summer months, and would not, in and of themselves, create a destination or a means to a destination.
  • The use of skis or snowshoes will be required on designated backcountry ski touring trails. A designated skin track will be used for ascents. On trails where more than one descent line may exist, descent lines will be separated by “understory islands.”
  • Maintenance of designated backcountry ski touring trails will be performed between September 1 and April 30. These trails will be closed to foot traffic between May 1 and August 31.
  • Trained APSA volunteers will perform trail maintenance at little or no cost to the state under the DEC Adopt-A-Natural-Resource stewardship program.
  • Signage and outreach will educate hikers and other summer users to protect this resource.

The tradition of ski touring is deeply etched in Adirondack history. This photo taken in 1927 shows conservationist John Apperson skiing across the Lower Ausable Lake on his way to ski Haystack and Basin. Apperson is credited with the first ski ascent of Mount Marcy in 1910.

The SLMP was written in the 1970s, before improvements in gear motivated skiers to seek out challenging backcountry terrain in increasing numbers. While skiers in the Adirondack region have several excellent commercial ski areas to chose from, skiers who seek a wilderness experience face very limited options. In fact, only 9 miles of designated ski trails currently exist in the Eastern High Peaks, compared to more than 250 miles of hiking trails and 40 miles of horse trails. Low-impact backcountry ski touring trails selectively located throughout the Adirondack Park are not only a recreational use that is compatible with the SLMP, they will provide eco-tourism opportunities for communities within the Park.

Backcountry ski trails do no more harm to the environment - and probably less - than hiking trails. Hiking trails are built by removing soil and hardening the trail surface. Erosion results in additional soil removal as the hiking trail is used. Designated backcountry ski touring trails as proposed by APSA, on the other hand, leave all soil in place. Any cut brush is left where it falls. As a result, these ski trails are not attractive hiking routes in the non-winter months. In winter, when the ski trails are used, a deep layer of snow protects the vegetation and soil below. No trail erosion occurs and there is virtually no adverse environmental impact. Further, the establishment of designated backcountry ski touring trails separates skiers, who descend at a relatively high speed, from slower moving winter hikers and snowshoers, enhancing safety and the outdoor experience for both groups.

Time is of the essence. The APA will accept written comments on the SLMP amendment process through December 5. Now is the time to make your voice heard! Please take a moment to send an email in support of APSA’s proposal to: You can use the following template, or write your own letter of support:

Dear APA Planning Director Regan,
I want more access for backcountry skiers in the Adirondacks! Please consider the Adirondack Powder Skier Association’s proposal for an Amendment to the State Land Master Plan to promote low-impact backcountry skiing. Backcountry skiing is an environmentally friendly, traditional use of the Forest Preserve that deserves to be legitimized in the State Land Master Plan.

For the greatest impact, please also mail a written copy to Kathy Regan, Deputy Director, Planning, PO Box 99, Ray Brook, NY 12977.

You can also speak out at any of the 4 public listening sessions that the APA has scheduled between October 29 and November 18. Click here for a list of times and locations.

Every voice is important, so please speak out now to support APSA’s proposal. Powder to the People!


  1. Thank you for your efforts on this important matter. I see in this article ( ) that there is a demonstration zone on Mt Haystack. It seems odd to me that this would be in the heart of the sensitive high peaks wilderness area which is a long approach from any direction. Did the author confuse the high-peaks Haystack Mt with the Saranac 6er Haystack Mt? Can you provide any clarification on this?

    Is the APSA proposal document available for public review?


    1. Hi Dan. Thanks for reading. got the location wrong. I haven't visited the demonstration site, so I don't know the exact location, but I know that it's not on the Haystack in the High Peaks. APSA has led a bunch of interested parties to the demo site, so you might contact them directly (their website is linked above) to arrange a site visit.

      Regarding the proposal document, APSA is working with DEC and APA to finalize language. It will then be released for public comment as part of the SLMP amendment process.

      Thanks for reading!