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UPPER WORKS — In the Adirondacks, where the snowpack can be thin in the valleys and several feet thick in the higher elevations, backcountry-ski trips are sometimes met with a bit of apprehension for fear that conditions will be poor.

   So when we drove past the abandoned mining village of Adirondac, it was reassuring to see a couple feet of snow on the rooftops of the dilapidated buildings near the trailhead for our trip, a scene that was a sharp contrast to the brown valleys I had passed earlier in the Lake Placid area.

This morning, Saturday, March 7, I was tagging along with one of the trips set up by the Backcountry Ski Festival, which is organized by The Mountaineer in Keene Valley. The plan was to ski the 13-mile traverse from Upper Works in Newcomb to Heart Lake in North Elba.

Considered one of the Adirondack classics, this trip combines natural scenery with history and wilderness skiing.

“The Tahawus-Heart Lake traverse is probably one of the most classic traverses in the Adirondacks,” Mountaineer owner Vinny McClelland said.

“It’s a good way to learn how to ski uphill and how to negotiate downhill and catch some of the beautiful terrain in the process.”

Because this ski through the High Peaks Wilderness has different starting and ending points, transportation logistics are a key element in planning this trip. Arrangements were made through the festival to drop us off at Upper Works at about 9:30 a.m. and pick us up at the Adirondak Loj at 4 p.m.

But usually there’s a bit more planning to do than that. Often people take this trip in two groups, with each starting at opposite ends. When the groups meet during the trip, they swap car keys and drive back in the car the passing group drove to the trailhead.

Luckily, we didn’t have to concern ourselves with these logistics.

Instead, as we started the trip, under a clear blue sky with temperatures well above freezing. The only serious consideration we had was skiing in warmer than average early March weather.

As the eight of us made our way along the first stretch of trails, it became apparent that sunscreen, sunglasses and quick-drying layers would be a near necessity. It was warm heading up the first half of the journey.

One of the group leaders for the day was Keene resident Tony Goodwin, who is executive director of the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, one of the beneficiaries of the ski fest, which is a fundraiser. At the trailhead, Goodwin commented that there would be plenty of stops to shed some layers.

Skiing in this type of weather has an influence on gear one would need for this trip. Everyone, at least that I noticed, was skiing with waxless skis. Because of the warm and varying temperatures in the bright sun and cool shade spots, finding the right wax could prove difficult. Waxless made sense.

As for skis, Karhu metal edged skis were worn by the majority. They ranged from my GTs to 10th Mountain Division and Guides worn as demos by other skiers. The latter two skis are especially good backcountry skis for beginners on this type of trip because of their widths, with the Guides being the wider of the two. That allows for better control during the downhill sections, which can be tricky to negotiate because of the drops and turns.

As we skied along, Goodwin offered tips for skiing uphill most efficiently and under control on the descents. Goodwin has been skiing these trails for decades and is the author of Ski and Snowshoe Trails in the Adirondacks.

“Put your tail on the high side of the trail,” Goodwin told one skier sidestepping uphill.

For Maureen and Mike Garnsey, high school science teachers from Pierrepont Manor in the Tug Hill region, it was their first real backcountry ski experience.

As the two approached some of the steeper downhill sections, they proceeded with caution, as most do when they are on unknown terrain.

Goodwin demonstrated a technique for descending the steepest of hills.

This required the skier to hold both ski poles together on one side of his or her body, with one hand on top, pressing the pole into the powdery snow next to the trail. The technique helps skiers slow their momentum and remain under control as they head down the steeper hills.

Afterward, Maureen said the instruction was helpful.

“(The trip) exceeded my expectations in that I actually had someone helping me with ski instructions, honing some skills and techniques,” Maureen said.

   For those who were signed up for the trip, it was a learning experience in one way or another. Matthew Reich and his son James, a graduate student at Harvard’s Divinity School, are from Hastings on the Hudson, a town just north of New York City. In that region of New York state, the Hudson River is salt water and several miles in width. Here, when our group crossed the river less than a quarter mile from the trailhead, the Hudson was a freshwater stream no more than 20 feet across .

   This trip also provides a history lesson. Several miles into the trip at Calamity Pond, there is a monument honoring David Henderson, who died there in 1845. At the time, Henderson was the owner of Adirondack Iron Works. He died shortly after duck hunting with the legendary Adirondack guide John Cheney. According to the story, Cheney failed to shoot the ducks with Henderson’s pistol. After the failed attempt, Cheney handed the loaded weapon to Henderson, who accidentally set it off a short while later, killing himself in the process.

   At the time of Henderson’s death, the High Peaks area of the Adirondacks was still a largely unexplored landscape. It was only eight years prior to Henderson’s death that geologist Ebenezer Emmons made the first ascent of Mount Marcy.

“That’s how little they knew about the area,” Goodwin said.

Soon after leaving Calamity Pond, we entered the Flowed Lands, the beginning of the most scenic stretch of the trip.

“This was all underwater (several decades) ago,” Keene Valley resident and trip leader David Thomas-Train pointed out as we glided through the Flowed Lands.

The Flowed Lands is a former man-made lake whose dam was breached by a flood in 1978. The 19th century dam was not replaced, the water levels have since dropped and the Opalescent River, its feeder stream, has returned to its natural stream bed.

From the Flowed Lands, the first sights of Mount Colden came into view. After leaving the Flowed Lands, we skied across the slushy surface of both Colden and Avalanche lakes, where our skis dipped below the surface water at times. Because of the warm weather, this was luckily not a problem. Often, there is a strong wind between the cliffs, but it was remarkably quiet and still this day.

Moving along at a steady pace, we passed a couple of landscape features worth mentioning: the Trap Dike, where several climbers ran out of daylight and spent the night several weeks ago, and the base of the Avalanche Pass Slide, a landslide that occurred during the 1999 Hurricane Floyd Storm. Then, finally, we arrived at the ski trail.

The Avalanche Pass ski trail is separate from the hiking trail. It is slightly wider and crosses the hiking trail twice before reconnecting with the trail to Marcy Dam. This ski trail is reffered to as “Misery Hill” on the way up but is more pleasurable on the descent.

Pointing the tips downhill, we skied through the corn snow, down the narrow windy ski trail, over the dips and bumps, until we emerged at the intersection with the hiking trail. From here, it was a gradual downhill to Marcy Dam, and eventually the Adirondak Loj parking lot via the Van Hoevenberg Trail and the Old Marcy Dam Trail.

Finding the snow base thin along the last section, we skirted some rocks in the trail, finally emerging at the parking lot near Heart Lake. From here, we skated along the icy road, until the snow ended. It was time to take off our skis.

The trip, ending more than six hours after it began, was over and none too soon. By the time we reached our cars in Keene Valley, rain had started to fall, quietly soaking into the corn-like snow we had just traversed.