Warm weather delays Ski, Sled and Shoe Relay

TUPPER LAKE – The first-ever Ski, Sled and Shoe Relay is the latest casualty of recent spring-like temperatures.

The free event was scheduled for this Saturday at the Tupper Lake Cross Country Ski Center, but John Gillis, a trail maintenance volunteer there, said warm temperatures and rain have diminished the snow base.

“Unfortunately, it’s been a tough winter on everyone in the snow industry up in this area,” Gillis said. “Just look at the rain we got Saturday. It poured and there was standing water everywhere there’s not normally standing water because the ground is so frozen.”

Other ski areas in the region have suffered, too. Big Tupper Ski Area was slated to open after Christmas, but a lack of snow has prevented that from happening. Big Tupper has no snowmaking equipment.

Only about half of Whiteface Mountain’s 88 trails are open, and Mount Pisgah Ski Center in Saranac Lake is closed today with hopes of reopening at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Since the Tupper Lake Cross Country Ski Center relies on natural snow to blanket its trails, a snowstorm is the only way to replace what’s been lost. If recent weather forecasts are accurate, that won’t happen anytime soon.

“We want to have a good event,” Gillis said. “The sliding hill especially, we want to have enough snow cover to be safe. We want to make a good first impression with it.”

Gillis said 8 inches of snow is a good minimum base for skiing, sledding and snowshoeing. He said that amount isn’t a lot compared to how much snow the area usually gets.

Town Youth Activity Director Mike Fritts said the event will take place as soon as the weather cooperates.

“The first ever Ski, Sled and Shoe race is a relay catered toward the young and young at heart,” Fritts said. “We just want to give people a chance to shake off the cabin fever and come out for a day, but right now, we pretty much just have to wait.”

Gillis and Fritts said people in Tupper Lake have been excited about the event, and some have been busy putting teams together.

The relay is slated to have two divisions: family and open. Each team must have three participants: someone on cross-country skis, another on snowshoes and a third on a sled.

The lead leg will be the Nordic skier, who will complete two laps around a groomed course. The skier will then tag the team’s snowshoer, who will complete one lap.

Once tagged, the sledder will then race a sled to the bottom of the sledding hill, which Fritts said was groomed for the first time this year to provide a faster ride.

Time will determine the winners, and races will be split into different heats, with the top time being declared the victor.

A paintball target will also be set up for those who would like to unleash their inner biathlete, and a nearby bonfire will help attendees stay warm.

“Participants in the youth cross-country ski program have been enjoying and honing their biathlon skills for several years,” Fritts said. “Who knows? Maybe the future Tim Burke or Annelies Cook is out there.”

The event is more than about competition. Fritts said he hopes participants and spectators will check out the rest of the dog-friendly trail system, which encompasses more than 6 miles of trails, including a new trail that begins near the golf pro shop and connects with the network of trails around Cranberry Pond. The trails begin and end at the town-owned Tupper Lake Golf Club on Country Club Road.

The Tupper Lake Cross Country Ski Center is always free and open to the public day and night. The system is supported by the town and through donations and is maintained by a dedicated group of volunteers.