Backcountry Skiing on State Land

New York’s acquisition of Lyon Mountain has spurred yet another land use debate in the Adirondacks. Like many other discussions of this nature, the conflict is between established traditional uses of the land and the letter of the law as written into the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

Backcountry Skiing in New York State
Ron Konowitz on Saddleback by Rachel Wood

For years backcountry skiers have maintained and skied glades on Lyon Mountain, but initial indications are that the DEC may choose to take a hard line regarding this practice. According to a recent article by Adirondack Almanack, Tom Martin, the DEC’s regional forester considers glade maintenance on Lyon Mountain illegal and stated “it may violate Article 14 of the state constitution.”

Lyon Mountain is now classified as Wild Forest. According to the DEC “Wild forest areas are managed to provide opportunities for a greater variety of recreational activities and a higher intensity of recreational use.” Beyond this broad definition, there is precedent for an interpretation of the law that would deem glade skiing a compatible use of the Forest Preserve.

In various parts of the forest preserve across the Adirondacks — including wilderness areas — hunters have always pruned their traditional routes. The DEC is certainly aware of it; one ranger we encountered in the backcountry said “these families have been maintaining their routes for generations in these woods, long before the State Land Master Plan was written. How can you stop them?”  Rangers are locals too, and they understand this complex dynamic.

Skiing is one of the oldest winter activities in the forest preserve. Conservationist and ADK member John Apperson skied  Mount Marcy in 1911 and Haystack, Basin, and Saddleback all prior to 1920. William G. Howard, Superintendent of The Conservation Department from 1927- 1948, was a backcountry skier who approved widening the Mount Marcy Ski Trail and construction the Wright Peak and other ski trails cut by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930’s.  These trails were advertised in Conservation Department pamphlets and were used extensively until the arrival of ski lifts in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Adirondack Powder Skiers Association

Ron Konowitz (aka Ron Kon) has been skiing in the Adirondacks since the 1970s, and is generally thought to be the first person to have skied all of the tallest peaks in the state. He’s a regular skier of Lyon mountain who wants to work with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) within Forest Preserve rules to allow this traditional use to continue. Ron is leading an organization called the Adirondack Powder Skiers Association (APSA) that has a very specific vision about how glade skiing could be incorporated into the master plan in a way minimizes impact:

“Glade zones should be limited to naturally occurring openings in mature forests that can be minimally maintained to enhance the skiing experience.  The decisions on glade location should be a collaboration between skiers and DEC Foresters.  Skier input is critical in making sure that glade zones and trails have the appropriate aspect, terrain and natural snowpack needed to provide an enjoyable and responsible recreational pursuit. The final decision on approval of these zones would be made by the DEC.”

Ron envisions his group, the APSA, doing glade maintenance at little to no cost to the state as trained volunteers working under the DEC Adopt A Resource Program.  This system is already in place for leantos and trails throughout the Forest Preserve.

“GPS maps would be created to ensure that maintenance is being performed only within designated areas. All maintenance in these Skier Specific Zones would be performed between September 1 and April 30 and routes should be closed to foot traffic between May 1 and August 31.  Appropriate signage and outreach would be needed to educate summer user groups to insure the protection of this resource.”

Glade skiing isn’t a new sport but it’s popularity has increased dramatically in recent years due in some measure to advances in gear that make it possible to ski steeper and tighter lines. It’s time that the various Unit Management Plans for both the Catskills and Adirondacks be modified to accommodate this relatively benign use of state land.

We’re not advocating unregulated cutting by private groups in the forest preserve. While everyone knows that it happens, the state can’t, and shouldn’t, condone it. What makes more sense is adding one more specified and regulated activity to those are already permitted within Wild Forest. Currently approved uses within this classification include a wide variety of activities including hiking, fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, mountain biking and motor boating.

Backcountry skiing is relatively low impact compared to hiking or mountain biking.  There is no removal of soil or moving rocks creating trail hardening. Further when skiers descend through glades, soil and rocks are hidden and protected by a layer of snow.

Groups like the Adirondack Powder Skier Association (APSA) could be instrumental in helping the DEC identify the best terrain for this use. Our thanks to Ron Kon and APSA for working to create an officially recognized place for backcountry skiing on New York’s state land.

8 comments on “Backcountry Skiing on State Land

  1. It is a great vision by Ron Kon, far better than I originally understood.

    “Glade zones should be limited to naturally occurring openings in mature forests that can be minimally maintained to enhance the skiing experience.”

    I love it. And I also hope that he can work with the state to make them plentiful. There are plenty of places to ski backcountry terrain, but maintained sections take less snow and are more beginner friendly. It’d be cool if NY had it’s own BC mecca a la Tux. The community and economy would both benefit, too.

    This article needs more pictures.

  2. I consider myself a radical environmentalist. An “eco-nut” as some of you might say. I spent half of college thinking I was majoring in Environmental Studies and taking courses in that field. I first learned about the skiing at Lyon from a prof who skied there regularly and took classes there to learn about sustainable maintenance. I see no conflict with responsible glade maintenance and environmentalism. This sounds much more like bureaucratic red-tape to me than that anyone involved really honestly believes the practice should be outlawed. At least I hope that’s the case and I hope people in power are willing to wade through that red tape to help out a relatively small part of the population, since there’s not much gain in it for the people in charge.

  3. Where’s the byline on this story? Did you write this one, Harv? I like the general tone of the piece, and I agree with basically everything that Mike said in the comment above. As for the “more pictures” idea, I guess we’ll just have to do a little work next winter to ensure that the nyskiblog has plenty of stock photos to play with. 😉

  4. Maybe just bureaucratic red-tape, but this person doesn’t seem to have a grasp

    Peter Bauer executive director of the Protect the Adirondacks, said his organization has not taken a formal position on pruning glades. “It sounds like something that’s akin to clearing summits for vistas,” he said. “So it could be problematic, but it’s something that we’d have to take a closer look it.”

  5. It doesn’t appear that Protect the Adirondacks is currently involved in this? I might have missed something if they are.

    Again, hoping to err on the side of people being reasonable, I would like to think that if someone explained to Peter Bauer the details of glade maintenance and that it is nothing at all like “clearing summits for vistas,” he would be more accommodating.

  6. I’m trying to decide if Protect the Adirondacks is the Sierra Club of the ADKs (okay) or the Earth First! Of the ADKs (not okay)….

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