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I’d love to start this story off by telling you I had a magical time cross-country skiing in the wonderfully wild forests of the Adirondack Hub. I’d love to tell you that everything was perfect. If you use the internet at all these days, you’ve probably seen travel advertisements, where all the people are smiling, the sun is always shining, and nothing is ever wrong. No one ever shows the tears, the gear malfunctions, the tiring agony of breaking trail through feet of snow for miles and miles - that "Instagram vs. Reality" display.

I set out on Sunday morning, a mere two days after the Adirondacks received 12+ inches of snow, hoping to find quiet trails and a new adventure. And, now, I’m here today to tell you the real story, what really happened out there in the wild. Frankly, it wasn’t at all what I had planned, but, as a lover of the childhood drink lemonade, I tried my very best to make lemonade out of some very frozen lemons.

Ski tracks through a forest with trees with no leaves.

Here’s how the day began:

Stop 1

Saturday night I sat in bed trying to decide which trail I wanted to visit. I landed on Wolf Pond. Why? I have no idea. There was nothing online that said “this is a good trail for cross-country skiing.” For all I knew, it was going to be a hilly nightmare. But “Whatever,” I told myself. “I’m a strong skier.”

When I arrived in the parking lot it was a surprisingly warm 5-degrees. Call me crazy, but the sun felt good. Another vehicle was already there. Orange vests and beagles gave this group’s goal away: they were rabbit hunters. Hunting has never bothered me; I grew up in a hunting family, but when I realized I grabbed my backpack without my red bandana tied to it, I considered finding a new spot (even though I had a maroon coat, I like to make sure I'm very seen). The hunters told me they were going way off trail and not toward the pond, so I wouldn’t have to worry. So, I went for it. Not two minutes down the trail (which was a narrow, windy trail not really ideal for skiing as it turns out), I started to smell something familiar, something awful. It was dog poop, covered in snow in the middle of the trail, that I had just skied over. I took my ski off to remove the poop now stuck to the bottom, but it had frozen solid already. Great.

I don’t want anyone to think I am against dogs or anything. They can’t pick up their own poop. But we can. And we certainly don’t need to cover it with snow in the middle of the trail. The trails are here for us all to enjoy. The lesson learned here at the Wolf Pond trailhead is to always be aware of your surroundings. When in the woods with hunters, wear bright colors. When cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, mind the yellow and brown snow. Nothing sours your mood quite like a ski with a frozen chunk of poop on it.

A trail through the winter woods no one has gone down yet.

Stop 2

I ended up getting most of the poop off my ski in the Wolf Pond parking lot, but by that time I decided to head somewhere else. I stopped at Overlook Park in Newcomb so I could use the running water in the public bathroom to fully clean my ski. (This is also a great spot for a scenic moment of zen on a clear day, with the High Peaks in the distance.)

A woman smiling next to a trail sign.

Stop 3

An hour after I started skiing at Wolf Pond, I decided to check out two small ponds with small trails near Minerva. Twentyninth and Rankin ponds are not large and each trail is under a mile round-trip. Neither trail was broken out (meaning it was all deep, fresh powder ahead). Twentyninth Pond was the first I chose to visit (it's a waypoint on the route to Stony Pond). On the map, it’s only 0.3-miles from the trailhead, but breaking trails it might as well have been 300. I couldn't even see my skis for awhile under all the snow!

Cross-country skis in deep powder.

The trail consists of rolling hills. For the beginner skiers, I’d recommend avoiding this spot unless you’re ready for a workout. There’s a small tent site on the shore of Twentyninth Pond. On my way back to the car I realized how much fun I was having on the down hills. Having been skiing (downhill) for most of my life, it always takes me a little by surprise how awkward I feel on cross-country skis going down a hill. But today, I was having a blast on the downhills. In fact, I skied down and then went back up one hill just to do it again. And then I did that a few more times. Now, the woods were quiet, save a Hairy Woodpecker drumming away, the sun was shining, and I was all smiles. 

I never did make it to Rankin Pond, but all’s well that ends better. Even ventures outdoors that don’t start as romantic or transcendental as you hope can still turn into positives.

Deep snow around a brown box trail register, piled on top and high below.

Lessons learned

Not every trip into the woods goes as planned, but if you are prepared for different scenarios, it’s less likely to end badly. Here are some of my tips for how to have a good time cross-country skiing when everything else seems to go wrong: 

  • Have a “plan B” trail in mind. Sometimes trailheads are not plowed immediately after a storm, or they are full. Always have a few options in mind to help ensure you have the opportunity to get out there and ski!
  • Know how to safely share the woods with others, including hunters and dogs.
  • I always have snowshoes strapped to my backpack after a very traumatic experience cross-country skiing a few years ago. (I was 3-miles from the car and my binding broke so I had to tie a rope around my boot/ski, effectively making a long, skinny snowshoe. It was that or bare boot back to the car.) Gear breaks sometimes. It happens. Know how to fix it or have a backup plan in case something goes wrong in the woods.
  • Take a deep breath. I won’t sugar coat it: I cried on Sunday. But you know what? It all worked out. My skis are now poop-free and I ended up having a great day exploring some new trails.

A recipe for skiing success is not complicated: equal parts preparation and attitude, mix, and enjoy!

The roads to Boreas Ponds and Great Camp Santanoni are also excellent skis, but they are long. To combine skiing with another activity, the Roosevelt Truck Trail is perfect for birding and gliding! Or, hit the links and ski on the Schroon Lake Golf Course. After you’re done skiing, head into town for a warm meal and a cozy bed, and to start planning your next trip!

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