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In search of winter alternatives

February 18, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

As the region sinks deeper into the depths of the winter that wasn't, snowless conditions appear to have persisted far longer than anyone had expected. While the lack of snowcover has greatly reduced opportunities to pursue such traditional outdoor activities as cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and snowmobiling, the conditions have also impacted the usual influx of downhill skiers.

It is interesting to note that similar snowless conditions occured throughout the winters of 1932 and 1980. In '32, snow was hauled into town via the railroad and spread on local trails. In 1980, a major snowstorm arrived just in time for the opening ceremonies.

Despite the current availability of snow-making equipment, many regional alpine centers are still struggling with a slow ski season. It is easy to understand why. The economy is still sputtering along and when snow is not falling where the visitors live, skiing is not on their mind. When grass is still green in their backyards, the temperatures are balmy and the streets and sidewalks are bare of snow, the winter season is simply not apparent. There is nothing to draw the travelers north, when it appears to already be time for golf and tennis near their house.

Article Photos

Noah John Rondeau
Photo courtesy of Adirondack Research Room, Saranac Lake Free Library

While I truly appreciate the efforts of local tourism officials to promote alternative winter activities, I simply don't believe the highlight of a trip to the "Winter Sports Capital of the World," should include walking a wooded trail while wearing a pair of Yak Trax underfoot to avoid slipping on the ice.

Fortunately, there has been good ice cover on the lakes and the cliffs. For those who enjoy such activities, the ice fishing season has been one of the most productive in many years, and there appears to be plenty of activity on ice flows on the cliffs in the Cascades and over Chapel Pond.

Although conditions on Mirror Lake didn't hold up for the annual Labatt's Pond Hockey tournament, they have been consistently good for ice skating on the Cascades and most other waters for a majority of the season.

Nordic ski centers have similarly suffered due to a lack of cover, and while Mount Van Hoevenberg and the Paul Smith's VIC have been fortunate to maintain fairly consistent snowcover, most of the local Nordic centers are simply limping through the season on a hope and a prayer.

Like many backcountry enthusiasts, I remain anxious for an opportunity to enjoy an extended backcountry tour. However, until more snow falls, it appears the only available option will be a ski/skate combination through the ponds of the St. Regis Canoe Area. Although skiers may have to walk the carries in places, there remains sufficient snowcover on the ice. As always, there is also the added attraction of viewing wildlife and having plenty of animal tracks to investigate.


Cabin fever and solitude

The apparent lack of available winter opportunities has led to numerous complaints of cabin fever. Although the age-old ailment is usually the result of having been shuttered up in a lonely snowbound cabin in a remote region, the affliction can also affect those suffering from lack of activity.

Without regular exercise and opportunities for regular socialization, it is easy for cabin fever to set in. It is characterized by a general malaise and a distinct lack of motivation. However, isolation is not always a bad thing.

In fact, many have found solace in solitude. Loneliness is a negative term that is often used to describe pain of being alone. However, the term solitude is an expression of the joys of being alone.

Noah John Rondeau, the self-proclaimed mayor of Cold River City, maintained a hermitage deep in the Western High Peaks Wilderness during a time when the wilderness was actually wild.

Rondeau was a rather unusual hermit in the respect that he actually enjoyed company. However, he remained a hermit for more than 30 years simply because he preferred being by himself rather than with others.

Between 1946 and 1947, Rondeau spent an entire year in the woods, without leaving for supplies or other reasons. He maintained a very detailed journal, and one of his finest entries was in respect to solitude.

After staying for a full year at his Cold River City hermitage, he wrote, "I have spent much of the time alone with myself. I find I am very good company."

There is much to be said for enjoying one's own company.

It is not always easy to be all alone, as it has become increasingly difficult to escape the hand of man. Regardless of the distance traveled, and no matter how remote the region, it is nearly impossible to become completely removed from the presence of all things man-made. Whether the evidence is from the distant din of traffic, the piercing pain of a train whistle or the wisp of a jet's contrail painted on the faint summer sky, the hand of man is omnipresent.

True solitude is achieved when the only sign of man is visible as a reflection in a shallow, streamside pool. It arrives when the only sound heard comes from our soul. It is the voice of personal conversation, which is most often audible in the wild because few man-made distractions are to be found among the natural surroundings.

Although the Adirondack region is renowned for having some of the darkest skies in the Eastern United States, there is no way to ensure the most primitive scene isn't spoiled by a wayward satellite.

A recent study indicates noise from vehicles and other human sources now penetrates even the most remote places in North America to a staggering degree. Last year at a scientific meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, researchers reported that transportation noise is audible in many wilderness areas during 30 percent or more of daylight hours.

In comparison to the national standard, the Adirondack wilderness is huge, with over one million acres of designated wilderness lands. New York encompasses more state-designated wilderness lands than any of the other 49 states. It is a place where solitude can still be achieved.



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