Village backs glade skiing in Saranac Lakes Wild Forest

SARANAC LAKE – The village wants the state Department of Environmental Conservation to allow glade skiing in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, but DEC officials say cutting or maintaining glades there may be illegal.

The village Board of Trustees, at its meeting Monday night, unanimously passed a resolution that says it “supports glade skiing opportunities” and “encourages DEC to consider such opportunities in its development of a (unit management plan)” for the wild forest, a 79,000-acre swath of state land that wraps around Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.

Mayor Clyde Rabideau said the resolution came out of a recent meeting with the Adirondack Powder Skier Association, a newly formed nonprofit group pushing the state to create more backcountry skiing opportunities on state land.

“We’d like to encourage DEC to allow glade skiing under reasonable conditions on a few trails in the Adirondacks, specifically one or two of the Saranac Lake 6ers,” Rabideau said at Monday’s meeting.

The Saranac Lake 6ers is the village’s new hiking program, which rewards people who climb the six mountains in the Saranac Lake area with a patch, a bumper sticker and an official 6er number. More than 110 people have hiked all the mountains since the program began in late May.

Only one of the six – Scarface Mountain – is in the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest. Of the remaining peaks, Baker, Haystack and McKenzie are in the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness, Ampersand is in the High Peaks Wilderness, and St. Regis is in the St. Regis Canoe Area.

There are existing glades on some of these mountains, cut illegally by backcountry skiers over the years, but whether the state will allow them to be maintained or new glades to be cut seems doubtful for now.

“Depending on the circumstances, there may be state constitutional concerns regarding cutting trees for maintaining glades for skiing on the Forest Preserve lands,” DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes wrote in an email. “The Adirondack State Land Master Plan does not recognize ski glades as a conforming recreational facility or type of trail except possibly on those lands classified as intensive use; and the clearing of trees, brush and other vegetation to maintain glades for skiing is a prohibited activity under the New York State Environmental Conservation Law and DEC regulations.”

Ron Konowitz, of Keene, president of the Powder Skier Association, argues that maintaining glades for skiing would be low impact and wouldn’t violate the state constitution’s “forever wild” clause.

“The concept of cutting is a little misleading,” he said. “We’re not really looking to cut an area; we’re looking to maintain an area that’s naturally open with a good canopy. We wouldn’t be cutting any trees. Anything less than 3 inches (in diameter) at breast height isn’t really considered a tree.”

If done properly, Konowitz said glades and backcountry ski trails would have less impact than hiking trails.

“It’s an activity that we like to do in the winter that doesn’t have the same impacts because we’re on top of the snow,” he said. “These are not foot trails. They’re ski trails, and they’re not going to be used in the summertime.”

In recent months, the Powder Skier Association has focused some of its efforts on Lyon Mountain, where it wants to preserve access to a large network of glades cut by skiers before the mountain was acquired by the state in 2008. It’s also been seeking resolutions of support from communities across the Park and talking with DEC and state Adirondack Park Agency officials, as well as the Park’s environmental groups.

Konowitz said he was pleased to have the village’s support. He noted that backcountry skiing has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years.

“The idea is this is going to be a Park-wide initiative of glades and ski trails as an ecotourism initiative and a healthy activity for families and people who live here to an enjoy,” he said. “It’s an activity that isn’t really being fostered by the state at all right now.”

This isn’t the first time Saranac Lake area officials have weighed in on the unit management plan for the Saranac Lakes Wild Forest, which has been in the works for more than 10 years. Last fall, the village and town of Harrietstown boards approved resolutions calling on DEC to finish the UMP and to include mountain biking trails in the plan.

DEC officials have blamed the delay in completing the plan on the complexity of the wild forest, which includes four popular DEC campgrounds, many miles of hiking trails and publicly owned shoreline, boat launches, snowmobile trails and fishing access sites. The agency has also said it’s been tied up trying to resolve “long-standing, overarching” management issues throughout the Park, like setting guidelines for snowmobile trails.

Constantakes said DEC hopes to have a draft Saranac Lakes UMP out for public review before the end of the year.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or