(Above) © Jackie Greaney, @jackiegreaney
No, we’re not talking ski resorts, but rather snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, even snowmobiling – all outdoor winter pastimes that usually play second fiddle to downhill skiing that are currently surging in popularity in 2021.
The popular winter pastime of downhill skiing obviously looks a bit different this year. Advanced reservations are required to keep skier capacity in check, not to mention the car has become the new base lodge as the place to boot up, stash gear, and break for lunch.
But it has paved (er, should we say “groomed?”) the way for a couple of other sports to take the lead as this winter’s reigning pastime: Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, even snowmobiling. All easier to do in a socially-distanced fashion and often requiring less of an upfront cost, equipment, lessons, or a learning curve, the trio of outdoor activities are seeing a major boom in a COVID world. In fact, according to the major outdoor retailer of REI, sales of snowshoes have quadrupled in comparison to last year, while cross-country ski sales have tripled.
If you’re one of the many itching to get outdoors this winter but not looking for the commitment of ski lessons or dealing with the altered experience you’re bound to encounter on the hill, we’ve got just the locations in our Opal Adirondack destinations of Lake Placid or Lake George to try out snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling, plus what you need to know if this is your first time.
Level of Difficulty: Low. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.
Plan For: Opting to take a slightly shorter route than your average hike. Even if you’re a regular hiker who thinks nothing of a 10-mile trek, snowshoeing does require your body to work a bit harder (while snowshoes make walking on the snow much easier, it’s still never the same as simply walking on the ground).
Popular Snowshoeing Spots:
John Brown Farm [Lake Placid, NY]
Open to the public year-round, this state historic site is located less than a mile south of the Lake Placid Olympic Ski Jumping Complex. Home to four miles of trails – the Potato Field Loop Trail, Maple Grove Trail, and Ski Jump Trail – it offers a nice mix of mellow terrain, short loops, and a few healthy climbs. As an added bonus, many of the trails weave past historic buildings (the site was the last home of John Brown, a leading figure in the abolitionist movement) that you can check out. If you’re staying at the Lake Placid Lodge, guests have access to an array of snowshoes; otherwise, Lake Placid Ski and Board, High Peaks Cyclery, and EMS also offer rentals.
Up Yonda Farm [Lake George, NY]
If looking for more of a guided experience, for the first time this year, this 73-acre nature preserve in Bolton Landing is offering regular Saturday guided snowshoe tours during the months of January and February. The experience, which is offered four times a day, includes a one-hour snowshoe hike, rental, followed by hot cocoa at their on-site bonfire all for $13 per person. However, if you’re simply looking to explore the groomed trails of varying lengths (none exceeding more than a mile) by yourself, you’re more than welcome to during business hours, with rentals available for $5 and the scenic vistas of Lake George being free.
Level of Difficulty: Low to strenuous, depending on the grade of trail your choose to take. Descending and flat terrain will naturally be easier, whereas ascending terrain will require more stamina. If you’re at a cross-country center, trail signs will indicate levels (green equals easy, blue equals intermediate, black equals expert), but any flat, snow-covered public lands are a fine place to practice the sport.
Plan For: Starting out in the classic-style of skiing, as this is the easiest movement for beginners to master before moving into skate-skiing or ski-touring.
Popular Cross-Country Skiing Spots:
Jackrabbit Trail [Lake Placid, NY]
While there are plenty of cross-country centers in Lake Placid (including the Olympic Sports Complex, Cascade XC Center, Lake Placid Club Resort, and Whiteface Club Nordic Center), one of the most well-known among locals is this 50-kilometer (31-mile) public trail (that actually connects to several of the above centers). If you’re staying at Lake Placid Lodge, not only do they offer guests access to cross-country skis and equipment, but this particular trail actually passes right by the lodge’s front door. If you’re totally new to the sport, we suggest first getting used to the equipment and movement on the immediate trails and open spaces that surround the lodge before linking up with this Scandinavian-style path.
Lake George Recreation Center [Lake George, NY]
Come winter, you’ll find five to seven kilometers of groomed, sanctioned cross-country skiing trails at this community sports park located off Transfer Road in Lake George, along with five miles of mixed-use trails (which can also be used for cross-country, but you’ll be sharing the terrain with hikers, snowshoers, and fat-tire bikers). Trails are marked by level of difficulty (you can see a trail map here) and range from beginner to intermediate, and offer peeks of Lake George and surrounding mountains – like Buck and Shelving Rock – from various vantage points.
Level of Difficulty: While the physical demand of a snowmobile ride can be pretty minimal, the hardest part of this sport is sometimes getting comfortable operating the vehicle. If you’re a beginner, it’s great to take a guided tour with an operator.
Plan For: Always having a ride buddy. Don’t leave or move to a new location without eyes on your partner.
Popular Snowmobile Outfitters & Spots:
Farmhouse Snowmobiling [Lake Placid, NY]
This family-run outfitter is located on a historic farm in Lake Placid that offers rentals, as well as tours for both beginners and experienced riders through the wilds of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The most popular tour – the 1 ½-hour tour – starts in open farm fields to allow riders to get familiar with the mechanics of the sleds before heading into deep woods, hills, old logging roads, and a combination of private and public lands.
C+C Adirondack Snowmobile Tours [Lake George, NY]
Headquartered on Loon Lake in Chestertown (about a 22-minute drive northwest of Bolton Landing), this experienced outfitter supplies you with the sleds and gear you need to enjoy a variety of tours. Best for beginners, their one-hour guided tour putters around within the woods and straightaways surrounding Loon Lake, while their two-hour option gets a bit deeper in the Adirondacks on what’s known as the Northern Warren Trailblazers system.