Friday, December 31, 2010

Gore Mountain: 12/31/2010

On the last day of the year, and the last day of a month in which Mother Nature has simply refused to let it snow at Gore, we got the next best thing. Blue sky and temperatures that warmed into the 40s turned the entire mountain into soft snow, pseudo-spring conditions from top to bottom. I'm calling it pseudo-spring only because of the calendar; everything else about the day was full-on springlike, including the handful of skiers who insisted upon skiing in shorts and t-shirt.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mount Van Hoevenberg XC: 12/30/2010

As often as possible I like to pay tribute to telemark skiing’s nordic roots by getting away from the lifts for a day of cross country skiing. Sometimes that means a backcountry day, other times it means hitting one of the groomed cross country touring centers. Today, we headed up to the Olympic cross country ski trails at Mount VanHoevenberg in Lake Placid, where snow conditions have been excellent over the past few weeks.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Regional Roundup: Snow For Some, Wind For All

While the big coastal storm Sunday and Monday brought lots of snow to some areas, with generally 16 to 20 inches across Southern Vermont, other areas (Gore, Hickory) got nil. Locally, Willard Mountain picked up around 14 inches and is enjoying excellent conditions. Up north, Whiteface got 5 inches Sunday night. But virtually all ski areas in New York and New England experienced complications from high winds on Monday and Tuesday, resulting in widespread lift closures and delays both days. And at Sugarloaf in Maine, high winds Tuesday caused a lift cable to derail, sending about a half dozen skiers to the ground.  Photo credit above: Magic Mountain, Dec. 27.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Gore Mountain: 12/26/2010

High Peaks under blue skies and interesting cloud formations

On the day after Christmas, while the kids played with new toys, I had a window of opportunity to head up to Gore solo for several hours of skiing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Regional Roundup: The Glass Is Half Full

Don’t get me wrong: I like powder skiing and lots of natural snowfall as much as the next skier. Maybe more. I really, REALLY want to get this season jump-started with a nice foot-or-more storm. But we have had a nice stretch of consistently cold temperatures with favorable snowmaking conditions, and it appears that pattern will stay in place for the remainder of the month and beyond. I’ll hold out hope for a significant storm, but I’m happy that the ski season is underway and base depths and trail counts are building: the glass is half full. Here’s how things look around the region heading into the Christmas holiday week.

Whiteface and the Lake Placid area have had snow. Jon Lundin, ORDA Public Relations Coordinator reported yesterday: “Mother Nature has been kind with over two feet of natural snow the past few days. Combine that with great snowmaking conditions and it’s a recipe for some great skiing and riding for the holiday weekend. In fact, last weekend Whiteface, in Wilmington, N.Y., opened the Whiteface summit and the quad lift to Riva Ridge, Paron’s Run, the Follies, John’s By-Pass and Victoria. There will be even more summit skiing and riding this weekend with the openings of Skyward and Niagara.” Whiteface also reports that snowmaking is expected to begin tomorrow (Thursday) on Lookout Mountain. Photo credit: Whiteface/ORDA.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gore Mountain: 12/19/2010

It's finally really starting to look like winter up at Gore. Even if the snow in the woods isn't deep yet, the ground is covered and the trees are white. We're beginning to have enough terrain open that there is some variety and options for skiers. And light pre-holiday traffic has helped to keep the surfaces in nice condition.

Snow-covered trees in the Straightbrook valley

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stratton Mountain, VT: 12/16/2010

Where is everyone?  Even the Waffle Hut is deserted at 9am.

I don’t ski in Vermont often, but desperate times call for desperate measures. With damaging rain earlier in the week, and little natural snow since then at Gore, I headed with 2 ski pals to Stratton today to take advantage of their superior snowmaking firepower and grooming capabilities. About a half foot of natural snow had fallen since Monday to sweeten the pot and seal the deal.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Gore Mountain: 12/11/2010

Typical early season conditions today (Saturday) at Gore: mid-20s and overcast, good coverage and mostly good snow surfaces, limited terrain, light crowds.

Since last weekend, options on the lower mountain have been expanded with Foxlair, Lower Sunway, Showcase / Lower Sleighride / Arena now online. On the upper mountain, we had been looking forward to Hawkeye and Cloud / Headwaters, however electrical problems with the Straightbrook quad kept the lift closed all day and prevented opening that terrain. Apparently those issues have been resolved and the Straightbrook chair ran on Sunday.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A visit with Lapland Lake's Ann and Olavi Hirvonen

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Olavi Hirvonen and his wife Ann, who own and operate the Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center in Benson, near Northville, NY. Olavi competed in the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Games as a member of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team., and in 1978 he founded Lapland Lake, which he and Ann have built into one of the East’s foremost cross country ski centers.

Jeff: What events led to you being selected for the U.S. Olympic Nordic Ski Team in 1960?

Olavi: Well, it’s a long story… I was born in Montreal and was brought to Finland when I was eight months old. I was raised there by my grandmother and learned to ski as a youngster. I came to this country in 1949 after serving in the Finnish Army. After being here a couple years and married for a few months, I received greetings from the U.S. Army with special orders to go to Alaska as an instructor in the Arctic Indoctrination School. In the wintertime I taught skiing, snowshoeing, and Arctic survival, and in the summer it was mountain climbing, rock climbing, glacier travel and arctic water training.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Gore Mountain: 12/05/2010

Most skiers would like to forget last week's rain and mild temperatures, and several days of cold temperatures and snowmaking have gone a long way towards erasing that memory.  However, that spell of unfavorable weather hampered progress in getting additional ski terrain on-line for this weekend. The only terrain that has been added at Gore is Pine Knot and Tannery, which at least provided some good snow and variety for today's skiing.  Foxlair and Lower Sunway both looked ready to ski, but the rope never dropped to open those trails, at least not as of 2:30 or so when we ended our ski day.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Bring on the snow!

Up to two feet of snow fell yesterday in Buffalo, forcing closure of the NYS Thurway.  In Europe, heavy snow and record-breaking cold have shut down airports and crippled travel from England to Switzerland to Poland.  As for winter weather here in eastern New York and New England this week, not so much. 

But skiers now have legitimate reason to smile:  colder weather has arrived and temperatures in the mountains should allow round-the-clock snowmaking for at least the next 15 days.  A series of low pressure systems over the next week will produce some snowfall over the mountains of New York and New England.  This combination of colder temperatures and periods of snow have the potential to allow ski areas to recover from this week's monsoon-like rains and warm temperatures and significantly expand their open terrain by mid-month.

Willard's new groomer sits ready on November 21, with evidence of early snowmaking efforts

Looking to this weekend, Gore expects to add Pine Knot and Tannery to Ruby Run / Sunway and Topridge by Saturday.  Whiteface also hopes to expand open terrain options.  Locally, Willard is resuming snowmaking operations and hopes to be open by the weekend of December 11 and West Mountain is looking to open by mid-month.  A pair of interesting articles in today's Saratogian profiles improvements for 2010-2011 and anticipated opening dates for both West Mountain and Willard.

Cold temperatures are finally here, bring on the snow!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Gore Mountain, 11/28/2010: Opening Weekend

I don't ski opening weekend every year.  Sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate, sometimes Thanksgiving plans with family interfere, and sometimes I just don't feel like elbowing my way through the crowds on the single icy trail that's usually open. 

Topridge skied great!

But today it turned out that the snow was excellent, some great additional terrain came on-line, and crowds were light. And yeah, we had some family visiting for Thanksgiving, but we just brought 'em along!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Whiteface Snowmaking Tour: 11/24/2010

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in the Whiteface Mountain Snowmaking Media Tour.  About a half dozen of us were met in the main lodge by Bruce McCulley, General Manager of the mountain, and Jon Lundin, ORDA Public Relations Coordinator.  We started with an overview of the past year, the outlook for this winter, and plans for opening day this Friday, the 26th.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pre-season Ritual: The Ski Movie

Right around this time every year, with ski season just around the corner, I break out my VHS copy of the 1988 ski movie classic "Blizzard of Aahhhs." My wife rolls her eyes and heads for a different part of the house (reality: she settles in for her show in the family room, and sends me and my tape down to the basement playroom).

Despite the '80s soundtrack, skinny skis (by today's standards) and neon ski wear, Greg Stump, Glen Plake, Rasta Stevie and all the other characters in Blizzard are as entertaining and fun as they were twenty years ago.  If you love skiing, in my opinion this is THE must-see ski movie.

I'll still break out my copy of Blizzard of Aahhhs, but this year we decided to catch one of the local screenings of Warren Miller Entertainment's 2010 ski feature "Wintervention."  On Friday night we headed to Glens Falls to meet up with a group of 20 or so of our ski friends from Gore and West Mountain to catch the well attended screening at the Charles Wood Theatre.  Like all Warren Miller ski movies, Wintervention featured lots of extreme skiing in beautiful locations all over the globe.  The highlights for me were the sequences filmed in Antartica and Norway: remote wilderness settings with stunning scenery.

For avid skiers, the ski movie is an essential part of anticipating the coming ski season.  Although the local screenings of Wintervention are over now (Glens Falls and Albany were this past weekend, Saratoga Springs was earlier in the month), you can still catch a semi-local screening at Killington this weekend and a few other remaining locations in the Northeast.  Or you can just borrow my copy of Blizzard of Aahhhs.  But I want it back.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A chat with Chic Wilson

Chic Wilson is the affable owner and General Manager of Willard Mountain in Washington County, NY.  He and I had a chance to talk earlier this week not only about the upcoming season, but also about how he and his wife Kris have invested in Willard over the years and how the mountain has not just survived, but thrived.

Jeff: Could you give us a brief history of Willard Mountain, and how you became owner and General Manager?

Chic: Willard Mountain was started in the early 1950s by a group of partners who had the vision of creating a ski area in Washington County. I became involved in 1994. At that time I was the General Manager of a small ski area in Central NY, Toggenburg Mountain. I was also the President of the Ski Areas of New York association, and I was looking for a ski area that was a size that I could afford to purchase. This winter will be our 16th year.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Bumblebees are Dead. RIP.

Like most skiers, two things get me stoked the most for the start of ski season: the first snowfall, and new gear. I got my first taste of snow earlier this month skiing the Whiteface auto road, and this past weekend I bought new ski boots.

The new Terminators:  bring on the snow.

The pair that is being retired, my old black and yellow Scarpa T1 “bumblebees,” have seven or eight seasons on them, which translates to roughly two hundred ski days. They probably should have been replaced at the beginning of last season, if not even earlier.

Since I already knew the exact model and my size, getting fitted and making the purchase at our local ski shop was a piece of cake. I’ll return in a week or two to have the thermo-fit liners molded to my foot. Frankly, I never even considered the possibility of buying online: if there’s an issue with fit or any problem with the equipment down the road, I know I’ve got the retailer behind me. What I hadn’t anticipated, but was a nice surprise, was that the local shop’s “everyday” price already reflected a nice discount to MSRP. My experience over the weekend served as a good reminder to look to your local shop first when it’s time to replace older equipment or add to your quiver:
 - The Alpine Sport Shop, Saratoga Springs
 - Inside Edge, Glens Falls
 - The Gear Source, North Creek 251-2357
 - Willard Mtn Ski Shop, Washington County

Monday, November 8, 2010

Whiteface and Esther: 11/06/2010

What a difference a day makes. We had originally planned this trip for Friday, the 5th, but the weather forecast for Thursday and Friday was so dismal we pushed back a day to Saturday. We couldn't have scored a more beautiful day to be in the mountains.

Just enough snow to ski from the Toll House

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Local Gems

For a good part of October, weekend weather and family commitments weren’t lining up to allow full-day excursions into the Adirondacks. Fortunately, there are many close-to-home options for a short outing when schedules and conditions allow. The Burl Trail and Bog Meadow Brook are two such local gems that we visited on spur-of-the-moment excursions with our two kids this month.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Minnewaska State Park: 10/11/2010

As a rock climber, most of the time I’ve spent in the Shawangunks has been on vertical rock, but a recent visit to the New Paltz area provided an opportunity to explore some of the excellent trail network in Minnewaska State Park. Minnewaska sits atop the Shawangunk Ridge, which rises two thousand feet above the Hudson Valley and is characterized by pitch pine forests, sky lakes and dramatic cliffs and rock formations.

Lake Minnewaska

Monday, October 4, 2010

Algonquin & Iroquois Peaks: 10/03/2010

Driving towards Lake Placid on Saturday afternoon, it seemed that virtually every trailhead parking lot we passed was overflowing with cars. With beautiful fall weather and near-peak foliage, it was no surprise. We had reservations for the night at Adirondack Loj, located just footsteps away from the popular Heart Lake trailhead, and planned to climb Algonquin and Iroquois Peaks on Sunday.

Crisp morning at Heart Lake

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thomas Mtn Night Hike: 09/24/2010

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a night-time hike, at least intentionally. This past Friday night, after a great dinner at a Lake George inn, we donned headlamps and hiking boots for the short 1.5 mile hike up to the Lake George Land Conservancy’s Thomas Mountain cabin near Bolton Landing for an overnight stay. A near-full moon almost made the headlamps unnecessary since the trail, a former jeep road, is relatively open to the sky.

The cabin at night

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mohonk Preserve: 09/14/2010

Skytop cliff and its tower

Driving towards the Shawangunk Ridge from New Paltz at this time of year, you can't help being struck by the bounty of late summer. Apples, gourds, sunflowers, early pumpkins and late-season corn seem to overflow from the orchards, fields, barns and roadside stands. Jason and I were after a different harvest, however: the Shawangunk Ridge contains the highest concentration of rock climbing routes on the East Coast.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Test

I met my wife-to-be in the late summer of 2002, and we became engaged the following April. The intervening 7-month period was “The Test.”

During that time, I found out that my wife-to-be could handle the sharp end of a climbing rope,

On lead, Roger's Rock, Sept. 2002

Climb the High Peaks in any conditions,

Early season snow on Sawteeth, Oct. 2002

Wright Peak, Jan. 2003

And of course, ski:




and backcountry

I knew I had a keeper, and so we were married exactly 7 years ago today, on September 13, 2003.

What’s it like to ski with her? She understands how important skiing is for me, gives me time when I need to do a few runs on my own, and puts up with me pointing out Mount Marcy EVERY time from the top of Cloud. But most importantly, she loves skiing herself. During the winter, there’s nothing else we’d rather be doing as a family.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Grand Teton, WY: 09/11/2001

Author’s note: I had been writing this story in my head for the past nine years. Today, the ninth anniversary of both the World Trade Center attacks and my Grand Teton climb, seems like the right time to finally share it.

Like the JFK assassination more than a generation earlier, the memory of the 9/11 terror attacks is etched in the memory of virtually every American. Ask almost anyone, and they invariably remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the attacks occurred. That day is etched in my memory as well, but my 9/11 story is different from most.

When Damon and I left Wyoming following our Gannett Peak trip in August 2000, we were already talking about coming back to climb the Grand Teton. With their jagged peaks, glaciers and hanging snowfields rising 7000 vertical feet straight up from the plains of Jackson Hole, the Tetons are America’s most recognizable mountain range and a magnet for climbers. There is a wide range of compelling climbing options in the Tetons, but sooner or later every climber feels drawn to the Grand Teton itself.

Teton range from Jackson Hole. The Lower Saddle is the col just to the left of the Grand Teton.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Belleayre, Whiteface & Gore: Together Under ORDA?

If you live in or spent any time in New York this year, it was impossible to escape talk of the state budget crisis, extender bills, state furloughs and park closures. Finding ways to streamline state government should be a top priority of our officials. One way might be to combine Belleayre with Whiteface and Gore under the ORDA umbrella.

The three state-owned ski areas are currently the responsibilities of ORDA (Gore and Whiteface) and DEC (Belleayre), and have two completely separate reporting lines. Some level of administrative efficiency and cost savings should certainly result from a single management structure. But the benefits would likely be more than just cost savings. Knowledge and resource sharing should produce a better overall ski product, resulting in an increase in skier visits and economic impact from operation of the state-owned ski areas. After all, if the State of New York is going to be in the ski business, shouldn't it do so in a coordinated manner? It would seem to be a win/win for everyone.

Belle would get more budget and infrastructure (hopefully), Gore/WF would get more people from the NYC region spending money in the Adirondacks with their season passes, skiers would have more options and value from their passes. There are potential obstacles. For one, ORDA was created by the State of New York to manage the facilities used during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games at Lake Placid. However, ORDA has operated Gore for many years, which has few if any ties to Lake Placid and the Olympic facilities. I see no reason why ORDA's mission couldn't be expanded to include operation of Belleayre. While some Gore stakeholders have criticized ORDA as being too Lake Placid focused, Gore has certainly gotten its fair share of improvements and promotion.

Belleayre skiers might understandably be concerned about Belleayre losing some of its uniqueness and identity. Plus, Belle has achieved an admirable track record of success on its own under the current management structure, more than doubling skier visits from 75,000 to 175,000 over the past ten or twelve years. So if it isn't broken, don't fix it. But Gore and Whiteface have been successful in retaining their own personalities under ORDA, and in the end I think the benefits outweigh the potential disadvantages.

Back when all three ski areas were under DEC management, a Gore/Whiteface pass could be used at Belleayre, and vice versa. I'd love to see that opportunity available again to New Yorkers.

What do you think? Add your thoughts to the discussion here. Of course, it's hard to have this discussion without also raising the question of whether New York State should be in the ski business at all. Since that's a complex issue, we'll save that topic for another time when all facets of that question can be explored.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thomas Mtn: 09/06/2010

For Sale: Cabin, approx 15 x 18, must be removed by purchaser from remote mountaintop.

Sound interesting? I thought so too. I’ll get to the cabin in a moment, but first the hike. The Cat and Thomas Mountains Preserve is a 1,850 acre parcel near Bolton Landing, recently (2003) acquired by the Lake George Land Conservancy to protect the watersheds of Edgecomb Pond (Bolton Landing’s drinking water source) and Lake George. A seven mile trail network on the preserve allows hikers to enjoy magnificent views of Lake George and the southern Adirondacks from the open summits of both peaks. Although the elevations of Cat and Thomas Mountains are relatively low (both top out at just over 2000 feet in elevation), there is an impressive amount of vertical relief due to the low elevation of the lake itself (350’ above sea level).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wind River Mountains and Gannett Peak, WY: August 2000

Author’s note: Yes, the date of the trip is correct: August 2000, 10 years ago. I finally decided to write up this TR before my memory fades or a hard disk crash takes away my photos.

Gannett Peak's summit snowcap above Floyd Wilson Meadows

Ten years ago, on August 21 2000, I hefted one of the heaviest packs I’ve ever carried onto my shoulders and headed into Wyoming’s Wind River range on a week-long backpacking trip with my friend Damon. Damon is one of my most frequent outdoor adventure partners, and over the preceding years we had done quite a few backpacking trips together, most frequently in California’s Sierra Nevada range. For this trip we had our sights set on Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest peak (13,804’) and probably the most challenging state high point in the Lower 48.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lower Wolf Jaw Mtn: 08/20/2010

Marcy, Colden, MacIntyre Range from Lower Wolf Jaw

Our climb up the Bennie's Brook Slide to Lower Wolf Jaw mountain almost didn't happen. We made it to the trailhead fine (and scored the last available parking spot at the Garden trailhead), hiked uneventfully up the Southside Trail for three miles, and began ascending what we thought was the tributary that would lead us to the base of the slide...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Provincetown Dunes Hikes: 08/13/2010

For the past 3 years, we've been taking a week's vacation at Cape Cod, near Provincetown at the outermost tip of the Cape. For me, one of the draws of this part of the Cape is the extensive dune landscape which is part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Provincetown Dunes view

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Castle Rock and Blue Mtn Lake: 07/17/10

When I was younger, hiking in the Adirondacks was all about the High Peaks. Now, with two kids ages 2 and 6, we've been exploring other parts of the Adirondacks. Castle Rock, a small peak near Blue Mountain Lake provides one of the best bangs for the buck, combining a moderate hike, great views of the surrounding lakes and mountains, and an added appeal whether you're 6 or 46: fascinating caves to explore near the summit.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Adirondack Slide Climb

Slide climbing can be an exciting way to explore the Adirondacks, combining elements of both hiking and rock climbing. The wide open expanses of rock provide outstanding views and as a bonus, many Adirondack slides become backcountry ski destinations in the winter, including the slides pictured here.

Our route ascends the third major slide from the left

Friday, July 2, 2010

Chapel Pond: 07/02/2010

With two young kids at home, we don't get as many chances to go climbing as we once did.  When we do get the opportunity, we often head up to the Chapel Pond area in the Adirondacks, where there are lots of great climbs in a beautiful setting. Today, we got in several climbs at the Jewels and Jems and Beer Walls crags.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Adirondack Climbs: Jeff's Favorites

I’ve always been a hiker, but about 10 years ago peak-bagging and slide climbing followed a natural progression that led me into rock climbing. Living north of Albany, most of my climbing has been done in the Adirondacks. Following are a few favorite Adirondack climbs.