The state Adirondack Park Agency is reviewing a guidance document on cross-country ski trails. If it’s eventually approved, it could lead to an increase in skiing on Forest Preserve lands.
The APA board is set to vote on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Cross Country Ski Trail Design, Construction and Maintenance guidance at its monthly meeting this week in Ray Brook. The document is several years in the making, and if approved on Friday, it will go out for public comment before coming back to the board for a final decision.
“Existing trails within the Adirondack Forest Preserve provide over 1,000 miles of skiing opportunities,” the 16-page document says. “Trails such as the Whiteface Landing Trail or the Marcy Trail will have ski tracks from the first snowfall to the last fleeting cold temperatures of spring.
“Looking to encourage use and provide a pleasurable trail experience, land managers should consider how trail design and layout impact use levels.”
This document does not affect groomed trails such as those at Mount Van Hoevenberg near Lake Placid or the North Creek Ski Bowl. While cross-country skiing is allowed on any trail in the Forest Preserve, the DEC says this guidance should help improve existing ski trails while providing a better experience for backcountry users.
“Not all trails, however, can be improved to increase their recreational value for skiing,” the guidance says. “The goal of these guidelines is to provide specifications for cross country ski trail maintenance and construction that afford visitors a more desirable experience, facilitate an increase in use, and create sustainable trails.”
There are three types of trails identified in the document: ski touring, backcountry and skintrack. Ski touring trails are generally easy to use for most people and are relatively flat. Backcountry trails “provide skiers with an intermediate to advanced skill level in a setting that provides challenges and utilizes a variety of terrain.” Backcountry trails may be steep and fast. Skintrack trails are designed to allow access to slides or other natural ski slopes with a steady grade that gains elevation a steady pace.
The guidance calls for skintracks to be no more than 4 feet wide with vegetation cleared to a height of 10 feet. Touring trails can be up to 8 feet wide, and backcountry trails can be up to 9 feet wide, except where the grade exceeds 10 percent, in which case both types of trails could be 12 feet wide.
The document offers guidance to trail builders on what the surface of the land should be, how running water and runoff are handled, and the removal of woody debris and rocks. The guidance also recommends loop trails whenever possible. The document says bridges for skiers should be no more than 8 feet wide and that the decking “should have narrow gaps, or no gaps, between boards to allow for snow accumulation and compaction.”
The DEC also provides guidance on what factors should be taken into consideration when an existing trail is contemplated for improvement to a ski trail.
Josh Wilson, executive director of Barkeater Trails Alliance, which manages the Jackrabbit Ski Trail, said his group will submit comments on the guidance if it gets approved for public comment, but he added that BETA has been involved in the development of the plan and generally supports it.