Backcountry Cross-Country Skiing
I primarily like to cross country ski in the backcountry, meaning not at a ski area where you have groomed trails and pay for a ticket. This does not require you being an expert skier at all - pick an easy trail and even a beginner can be comfortable. Most of the time the more popular ski routes will already have broken trails. If snowshoeing is your thing you can certainly do that on any of the summer hiking trails I've written about or any of the ski routes in upcoming blogs. My own preference is to snowshoe only if it involves climbing a mountain where skiing, at least for my level of ability, is not a good idea if you want your body to stay in one piece.
I've cross country skied in the Lake Clear area for 25 years (and elsewhere for more than I'm willing to quantitate) and here are a few observations. Just like with paddling, hiking, and climbing, there are many, many nearby choices spanning all levels of difficulty. I haven't run out of new places to experience. Snow conditions are usually better than you would think. There have been numerous times we've driven up to Lake Clear expecting conditions to be terrible and, while they certainly were not great, the skiing was actually pretty good. There can be no snow at all on the ground around Keene and Keene Valley and we're fine. This is especially true if you head just north of the Lodge to the Paul Smiths College area, just 6 miles up route 30. The Hays Brook truck trail just north of Paul Smiths seems to have its own stealth snowmaking machines. The other favorable factor is that there are many trails that have a fairly smooth surface. So if there is not much snow depth skiing will still be fine on these trails because there aren't rocks that need coverage. One example of this would be skiing the ponds and canoe carry trails but, if pond ice is of a questionable thickness (and this is something that very important to question), there are other choices. There is a very good non-commercial, unbiased website for checking cross country trail conditions in the Lake Placid area - both at commercial ski areas and backcountry: http://www.jackrabbittrail.org/conditions.html. The site almost always mentions the Hays Brook and Fish Pond trails - the latter is located in the St. Regis Canoe Area just south on route 30 from the Lodge.
Now that you are no doubt incredibly psyched to get up to Lake Clear and start skiing, check out the upcoming posts where I'll get more specific about routes. Get your kids to rake the leaves - yeah, right!