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Ski festival provides late-season boost

March 10, 2012
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

Although spring is scheduled to arrive in less than two weeks, it appears winter is attempting to make a slow exit. Despite evidence of the coming season, we've recently been blessed with some of the best backcountry skiing conditions of the year.

Over the weekend, I visited and skied on a small, private ski hill that is still serviced by an old rope tow. The experience brought back numerous memories of my youth when a rope tow was the way to go.

Whether skiing at Otis Mountain in Elizabethtown, Paleface in Jay or Fawn Ridge in Lake Placid, nearly everyone of my generation was introduced to the sport with a rope tow. And while the rope would occasionally shred a wet glove, or steal a frozen mitten or two, they were great contraptions.

Article Photos

Photo by Joe Hackett
Steve Harris of Cobleskill enjoys the view from Avalanche Lake.

Unfortunately, there are very few still left in service. For beginners, a rope tow allowed novices an opportunity to "get the skis under you," while going up the hill. It was less threatening to go uphill balanced by a rope than ski down without any support.

My visit had more to do with checking out modern ski equipment, rather than the antique contraption itself. The atmosphere was certainly nostalgic, with groups of skiers huddled at the bottom of the small hill chatting and chuckling while others cut sharp turns on the steeps.

The group was gathered at North Country School's ski hill for telemark clinics, avalanche beacon demos and a host of other offerings. While there certainly was a lot to learn, it seemed everyone was just out for the pure pleasure of being with a group of like-minded individuals.

Hosted by The Mountaineer and Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides, the Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival was celebrating its 10th anniversary, with great snow, great weather and an energetic and enthusiastic crowd. Locals and visitors, students and ski industry reps mixed easily at the base of a small ski hill.

One of the first people I ran into was "Ron Kon" Konowitz, a local ski legend hailing from Keene Valley. Ron urged me to demo with some of the newest ski equipment on the market, and I promptly took him up on the offer.

It was an interesting transition as I swapped the old leather boots and skinny skis for stiff plastic boots and "fat skis," which were nearly twice as wide my regular ride. The prototype skis floated well in the soft snow conditions. As I dropped into a telemark turn, they turned almost too quickly. Before I knew it, I had carved a full 180-degree turn and I was facing uphill.

Although I've been skiing for years, it was eye-opening to experience the new technology and design. The advantages are incredible. I never knew it was possible to get whiplash while making a turn. The new designs are that responsive.

While I'll likely never part with the old reliable "wood and woolies," it's obvious there is no comparison with the flotation and ease of turning provided by the modern wide boards. Now I understand how they manage to ski the steeps.

International ski celebrity Glen Plake was obviously enjoying the day. He had high praise for the event, and nothing but good words for the region.

"I've never been up this way before, but it sure is beautiful," Plake said. "This is a great event and it's put on by some great people. I know I'll be coming back."


Into the backcountry

Although I didn't attend the Ski Fest's annual benefit dinner Saturday evening in Keene Valley, the event prompted me to get back to the backcountry before the season's over.

After a few phone calls, I rounded up some old friends for a trip to Avalanche Lake, where we watched a group of skiers huddle together about halfway up the side of Wright Peak. Although we waited for almost an hour to watch them ski the slides, they never launched off.

Finally, as the wind picked up and snow continued to fall, we decided to turn tail and enjoy the long run from Avalanche Pass to Marcy Dam, which is affectionately known as Misery Mile.

As we raced along, a fresh dose of powder and speck of sunlight covered the route. We reassembled at Marcy Dam and dubbed it The Miracle Mile.

Although we made short work of the return trip, it was nearly dark as we reached the South Meadow Road. Ours was the only car remaining.

We never did meet up with the Wright Peak skiers, but it's a safe bet they had a great ride down as well.


Governor is hooked

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a press release announcing proposed legislation intended to expand opportunities for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to offer free fishing clinics across New York. If successful, the effort would create additional educational opportunities which would allow more people to experience fishing for the first time.

The press release said, "New York State's waterways provide some of the best fishing opportunities in the nation, and these additional free fishing clinics are designed to get more New Yorkers hooked on fishing, which will help the local economies."

For many years, DEC personnel have conducted fishing clinics to introduce individuals and families to the sport. However, under current law DEC can only provide four free fishing clinics annually in each of the department's nine regions.

Currently, only DEC staff are authorized to provide free fishing clinics, however the proposal would establish guidelines to allow sporting federations, fish and game clubs and other organizations to conduct the clinics.

Participants in the introductory clinics, which are typically hosted on productive waters, are not required to purchase a fishing license in order to attend these clinics.

The governor's proposal will still require DEC employees to provide at least part of the instruction at the events. But by providing additional free clinics across the state, the governor hopes to boost participation in recreational angling.

I certainly support the effort and I applaud the initiative. It's important for state officials to recognize the potential benefits of promoting the sport, especially with such outstanding angling opportunities available. New York is laced with rivers and streams, and graced with productive and easily accessible lakes and ponds.

Unfortunately, the angling industry has not been paying much attention to potential opportunities to market its sport. It has been well established that a majority of lifelong anglers were first introduced to the sport by their father, relative or a family friend. Brand loyalty is similarly established at the introductory level, which is likely the reason why Zebco rods and reels remain so popular.

Most importantly, introductions must occur at an early stage, usually before 12 years of age. The most reliable indicator for determining the development of a lifetime recreation pursuit happens during the pre-teen years.

Ski industry executives learned the significance of the trend early on, and as a result, ski centers have developed numerous initiatives to get kids skiing. Many of the western states, including Colorado and Utah, provide free ski rentals, free ski lessons and free season passes for every fourth-grade student in the state.

Similarly, fishing is a good, clean, safe and exciting form of recreation, which is easy to access nearly anywhere in the state. It is a pursuit that gets kids out of the house, into the fresh air and away from the electronic addictions of the wired generation.

Unlike traditional team sports, which require numerous participants for a game of soccer, football or baseball, angling is a lifelong recreational pursuit which can be enjoyed on an individual or with a group.



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