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4 Winter Hikes for Aspiring Catskill 3500ers

Rough terrain, remote locations, and harsh weather make tackling any of the Northeast’s peak-bagging lists a difficult achievement. Whether it’s the high peaks of the Adirondack 46’ers, the 4,000-footers of New England, or the summits of the Catskill 3500 Club, membership is hard-earned.

Unlike the stewards of New England and the Adirondacks, however, the Catskill Club challenges its aspirants in a different way, by requiring that four of its 35 listed peaks be gained twice—once in winter—for a total of 39 climbs. It’s a wrinkle that ups the ante and affords hikers two unique experiences on some of the region’s finest summits.

As with any winter outing, be prepared for frigid temperatures, shorter days, and potentially nasty weather. Always be sure to check the forecast and trail conditions before heading out. If you’re new to winter hiking, start here.

So which are the must-do winter climbs in New York’s southern range?

A view along the Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trail, just shy of the Slide’s broad, flat summit. | Credit: John Lepak
A view along the Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trail, just shy of the Slide’s broad, flat summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Slide Mountain

At 4,190 feet, Slide Mountain is the tallest peak in the Catskills and, together with Hunter Mountain, complete the region’s contribution to the NE115 list. It’s Slide’s superlative status that makes it a mega-popular place to be at any time of year, so be prepared to negotiate the crowds on the weekend.

On a bluebird winter weekday though, it’s about as good as it gets. The Curtis–Ormsbee Trail, though neither the most direct nor the easiest route to the top—but decidedly less crowded than the alternative—is an outstanding bit of hiking. Those willing to take on the extra effort though are rewarded with two stellar, sweeping viewpoints, from which several of the Catskills’ higher peaks are visible.

The allure of ticking another 4,000 footer—and a winter one to boot—is also hard to deny. There are a good lot of harder hikes in the Catskills, but Slide definitely has that 4,000 footer-vibe about it.

A 6.6-mile loop hike linking the Curtis–Ormsbee and Wittenberg–Cornell–Slide Trails is one of the best short hikes in the Catskills. For the more ambitious, a full traverse of the Burroughs Range—one of the region’s premier hikes—is an awesome longer (9.8 miles as a shuttle, 14.5 miles as a loop) option.

Black Dome Mountain is front-and-center while descending from Blackhead’s viewless summit. | Credit: John Lepak
Black Dome Mountain is front-and-center while descending from Blackhead’s viewless summit. | Credit: John Lepak

Blackhead Mountain

High and rugged, the peaks of the Blackhead Range loom large over the northeastern Catskills. From west to east, Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and the eponymous Blackhead account for the fourth-, third-, and fifth-highest mountains in the region, respectively, and are traversed by a network of well-signed, well-maintained trails.

It’s easy to see why the architects of the Catskill 3500 Club’s bylaws chose this place—and specifically Blackhead Mountain (3,940 feet)—for one of their four required winter hikes: the ice.

As winter lays siege to Blackhead’s upper reaches, the steep eastern ledges grow dense with thick, accumulated ice, making an approach from this direction substantially more challenging. In fact, the hardness of the ice and the steepness of the terrain often demand that hikers ditch the light traction for real-deal crampons—a pretty unique requirement for a day hike in the Northeast.

The most popular way to bag Blackhead is by way of a 4.3-mile loop from the parking area at the end of Big Hollow Road on the Batavia Kill, Escarpment, Blackhead Mountain and Black Dome Range Trails. Doing it clockwise will have you ascending the heavy ice and descending on gentler ground with prolific views of Black Dome, the best on the hike.

The viewpoint just north of Panther’s summit, a little bit obscured by low clouds and flurries. | Credit: John Lepak
The viewpoint just north of Panther’s summit, a little bit obscured by low clouds and flurries. | Credit: John Lepak

Panther Mountain

Panther Mountain (3,730 feet) and its north–south running ridgeline are best known for offering some of the best views in the Catskills. For better or worse, this is a widely known fact, and a nice weekend day can draw a crowd, particularly at Giant Ledge, a bit south of Panther’s summit.

The snow and ice of winter will thin the crowds a bit, especially past Giant Ledge where the higher-precip years, snow can really pile up enough in the col that even the most intrepid post-holer will turn back (hint: bring snowshoes). Beyond, the moderate ascent is made easier with a good snowpack. Some ledge work will still need to be negotiated and switching between spikes and snowshoes will add some time to the trip, but that’s winter hiking for you.

The terrain is generally moderate and enjoyable, but this hike is all about the views—views that are magnified with winter’s absence of leaves. Unlike in leaf-out season you can really feel the scale of the place the whole time—not just at the viewpoints.

The most direct route up Panther—a 6.4 mile out-and-back on the Phoenicia–East Branch and Giant Ledge–Panther–Fox Hollow Trails—can be made from the south, starting at the hairpin turn on CR-47. A northern approach from Fox Hollow, with a substantial view just before the summit offers a longer (8.8-mile), far-less-traveled option for those looking to avoid the crowds.

The view from the Pine Hill–West Branch Trail, just north of the summit of Balsam Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak
The view from the Pine Hill–West Branch Trail, just north of the summit of Balsam Mountain. | Credit: John Lepak

Balsam Mountain

Balsam Mountain (3,600 feet), in the Catskills’ Big Indian Wilderness Area is the shortest and most westerly of the required winter 35’ers. Though the summit itself is viewless, a little ledge just to the north offers an outstanding easterly view, and the broad, flat character of the ridge makes for a pleasant, relaxing stroll—all the better with a good snowpack.

The main attraction of Balsam, however, is its location. Proximity to easily accessible trailheads, shelters, and other high peaks make it a great mountain to revisit: alone, as a day hike, or as a longer, overnight trip by linking up with the semi-trailed Eagle and Big Indian Mountains to the south.

Despite its generally moderate grades, winter on Balsam presents would-be summiteers with yet another unique seasonal challenge: water crossings. Climate change certainly hasn’t made mountain weather any more predictable and unseasonable thaws can cause high water, making even the simplest of brook crossings a challenge. Be adequately prepared and know when to turn around.

Beginning at the Rider Hollow Road trailhead and linking the Mine Hollow, Pine Hill–West Branch, and Olivrea–Mapledale Trails makes for an excellent 4.9-mile loop up and down Balsam’s western flank.


Safety Tips for Trail Running in Winter

When the cold weather comes and the snow starts to fly, many of us retire the trail running shoes until late spring. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few suggestions that will allow you to continue to run with comfort and safety through the winter months, so you can enjoy yourself and stay in shape.

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Lighting

An important consideration in the winter is the lack of light available to run in. The days are obviously shorter (around 9 hours of daylight in the Northeast). This means morning and late afternoon runs are certainly in the dark. In addition to this, the sun is also lower in the sky making it quite dark in the woods even in the middle of the day. For these reasons you want to make sure that you have a headlamp available for all of your runs. Since the cold can affect the power of your light, an extra set of batteries or even a spare lamp is a good idea as well,

The Petzl Swift RL is a great choice because it will automatically adjust the light based on the level of darkness present. This saves you from the aggravation of removing gloves and fumbling with buttons or switches as conditions change.

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Appropriate Footwear

In the winter it is extremely important to consider the type of footwear you will use based upon your chosen activity and environment. You need to make sure that whatever your choices are, they will keep your feet adequately warm in the cold and provide enough traction to negotiate snow and ice on the trail. This does not mean that you have to put on big, insulated winter boots to hit the winter trails. Nobody wants to run in those. There are other things you can do keep your feet and toes warm enough.

The first is to wear a good pair of wool socks. Wool has the wonderful ability to keep its insulating properties even when wet. If your feet sweat or if you get snow in your shoe, the wool will continue to provide a level of warmth. If it is particularly cold, I choose to wear a good pair of ski socks like the SmartWool PHD Ski Light Elite or Slopestyle Medium socks. Because they are knee high, they help to keep your legs warm as well as your feet.

If you have feet that are sensitive to the cold, another thing you can do to keep your feet warm is to use foot or toe warmers. The Yaktrax brand have chemicals that are air activated and can stay at 105 degrees for up to five hours.

As for the best footwear choices, I recommend finding a trail running shoe that uses a Gore-tex lining. While they are not insulated for warmth like a winter boot, they do make the shoe waterproof and insulated from the wind. A couple of great examples are the Salomon Sense Ride GTX (men’s/women’s) or the North Face Ultra 109 GTX.

Traction is the second important factor when considering winter footwear. Falls are considerable hazard in trail running, especially in the winter when you add in snow and ice. Modern trail running shoes do a great job of providing traction for most cases. They have deep lugs and grippy material on the soles. But much like a good tire on black ice, there are some conditions where they are just not enough.

Kahtoola NANOspikes are a great choice if you are going to be running over trails with periodic ice or packed snow. They use carbide spikes that are narrow enough so that they can go over dry pavement, but deep enough to bite into ice and snow. Kahtoola MICROspikes, on the other hand, are the choice for trails that are completely frozen with snow and ice. They use deeper stainless-steel spikes that really dig in.

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Hydration

The winter can make staying hydrated a challenge. When you’re in the cold you have a tendency not to feel thirsty even when you need water. If you are not careful, your water may start to freeze and make it impossible to drink it from your container of choice.

Using a hydration pack and bladder is a good way to go in the winter for a couple of reasons. The first is that the water is generally close to your back so your body temp can help prevent it from freezing. You just want to make sure that you blow back the water into the bladder after each time you drink so the water does not freeze in the tubes. Insulated bladders are available, like the Camelbak Stoaway, that protect the water from freezing. If you already have a bladder, you can get insulated tubing to switch in to it.

If you decide to go with water bottles, there are some important considerations to make. While it might be tempting to use insulated metal bottles, they are not a great choice because they are extremely heavy for running and their caps may freeze. It is probably best to use a 32-ounce Wide-Mouth Nalgene. Make sure you use a large mouth bottle because the small mouth increases the risk of freezing. Fill the bottle with heated water. Consider adding electrolyte tablets like those made by Nuun. The salts decrease the freezing point and the flavor makes warm water more palatable. Put the bottle in an insulating container or if you don’t have one, into a thick wool sock. Then keep the bottle as close to your body as possible.

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Clothing

Layers art critical for any winter activity. You always want to check the weather first and look at the real feel temp to factor in wind. Then pick clothes for 10 to 20 degrees warmer than that temperature. During exertion, your body will generate heat and over-dressing can be dangerous because you will sweat too much.

The base layer should be a long sleeve shirt that is highly breathable and wicking. Either wool or synthetic is fine, just stay away from cotton or blends. A couple of good choices would be the Smartwool NTS Mid 250 or the EMS Techwick Midweight Top. Whatever your choice, you want to make sure that you tuck this shirt in.

For the middle layer, you want something that provides good warmth but is lightweight. There are many great choices like running jackets, down puffies, or synthetic hoodies. I prefer to run with a hoodie made from the Power Stretch Fabric made by Polartec. It is very breathable, it wicks moisture, allows for easy movement, and is warm. The EMS Equinox Hoodie is a great example.

In snow, sleet, or rain you need to combine these layers with a shell of some kind. If it is particularly cold, nearly any kind of lightweight shell will do because the cold snow sheds easily. If it is a little warmer and there is wet snow or mixed precipitation you should go with a fully waterproof but breathable rain shell with a hood so that you remain reasonably dry.

When it is under 30 degrees, you definitely want to wear full length running tights that have some wind protection. The EMS Northshield Pant is an example of one. If it is getting down below 20 you need to start thinking of using a fleece lined tight or perhaps doubling up by using tights under a running pant.

Needless to say, in winter weather you need to be wearing a hat and gloves. When you choose a winter hat the most important consideration is to be sure that it wicks moisture. If it just soaks up the sweat it is not going to be much of a help. So once again, you want to be thinking of synthetics or wool. When it gets below 20 degrees you should probably double up with a hood.

Thin running gloves or glove liners are usually adequate at 30 degrees or above. If it gets much below that or is windy you need to start considering heavier gloves. I have found that mittens work better for me when running in cold temperatures because they trap the heat generated by the hands during exercise. I like the Karrimore Peak Mitten because it they are very lightweight, and packable, but extremely warm.

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Three Beginner-Friendly New Hampshire Ice Climbing Destinations

If you haven’t busted your ice tools out yet or you’re a beginner just looking to enter the sport, now is the time to do it. But before you head out, consider exploring one of these three awesome New Hampshire locations as the perfect spot to get in the…swing of things.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Kinsman Notch

Blending a mix of beginner-friendly ice with steep columns and big bulges in a fun, craggy setting, Kinsman Notch is a destination where you can find something for everybody, no matter who’s in your crew. Located just outside Woodstock on Route 112, getting to the ice at Kinsman requires a short-but-steep, 15-20 minute walk uphill on an easy-to-follow path. You’ll know you’re at the ice when you see a short, steep pillar straight ahead and the approach trail begins to level out as it bends left.

Kinsman’s first crag contains two fun climbs: Pot O’ Gold (the WI4 pillar) and Killarney (an easier route up the ramp to the right). Whether you’re leading or top-roping—walk around right for good trees above to build anchors—these climbs are well worth doing.

Just a little ways left of Pot O’Gold are several other popular flows. The first is Shamrock—a long, wide flow that ranges from WI3 to WI4 depending on the conditions and the precise path you take. The next flow is Hanging By The Moment, two steep columns on either side of a large rock; these are among the hardest climbs in the area. The final flow in this area is Leprechaun’s Lament. It has three distinct parts with the left-most flow (WI2+) being the easiest, the middle curtain going at WI3, and the right-most ramp falling in between the two in terms of difficulty. All three climbs allow access to the top ledge, which climbers can use to set up anchors above the WI3 curtain as well as some of the more challenging routes on climber’s right.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

If all these climbs are occupied, climbers can follow the typically beat-in path further left for about 200 yards. Soon you’ll see the Beast (WI4+) and the Ramp Route (WI3-4), two multi-pitch routes with steep first pitches followed by some mellower sections above. If climbing columns is your thing, don’t miss the Beast!

If the multi-pitch routes are already taken as well—which is possible because Kinsman is a popular weekend destination—there’s an additional wide flow another 50 yards left of the Beast. Known as Blarney Stone, this is a great place to get some sticks in while the parties ahead of you get pumped out.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Champney Falls

Champney Falls is an excellent location for beginner and intermediate climbers looking to challenge themselves on steeper ice. Located about 30 minutes outside of North Conway Village, climbers will find parking at the aptly named (and well-signed) Champney Falls Trailhead. From the trailhead, follow the normally well-packed Champney Falls Trail as it climbs gradually for roughly 1.5 miles and take the obvious spur into the gorge. Inside the gorge, there’s a small cave which is perfect for stashing gear in—opposite the cave is a wall of ice ranging between 25 and 40 feet.

There are two options for setting up top ropes at Champney Falls. For those uncomfortable leading, it’s possible to scramble through the woods to the top of the cliff. This is a popular destination and you’re likely to have a packed-snow path to follow. If not, a rusty wire fence leads to the top, providing a guide to the clifftop. The other option is to lead the ramp in the back of the gorge—depending on the season, this ramp can range from running water to  snow to a big fat flow. Either way, pack a reasonably long static line for building anchors; the sturdiest trees are quite far back from the edge.

The routes at Champney are all fairly vertical. With the exception of the snow ramp/ice flow, the routes in the back of the canyon are the longest and steepest (WI5). As the routes move toward the front of the gorge, they lessen in both height and difficulty with a normally yellow-ish ice section in the middle going at WI4 and giving way to shorter and bulgier ice in the WI3 range. Some short-ish mixed lines that are fun to play on also form at the mouth of the canyon from time to time. Champney Falls is a popular destination and can accommodate only a few parties, so if you’re heading there on a weekend in prime ice season, you’ll want to get an early start.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The North End of Cathedral

There’s good reason the North End of Cathedral is one of the busiest single-pitch ice crags in New Hampshire—the approach is only about five minutes. Located on Cathedral Ledge Road just after the winter gate, the North End is the most accessible ice in the North Conway area. It sports several large flows offering everything from mellow slabs to steep ice.

The three most popular flows at the North End are Thresher, the North End Slab, and the North End Pillars. In good conditions, the latter two are wide flows that can accommodate multiple parties at once.

Of the three flows, the easiest is the North End Slab (WI2). It is also the longest climb in the North End, climbing a moderately angled ramp that is fantastic for first timers. For climbers planning on top roping the route, be aware that a 60m rope will be too short; climbers can instead build an anchor partway up the climb and top rope from there.

Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck
Thresher Slab | Credit: Tim Peck

The North End Pillars (WI3-4) are located just to the right of North End Slab. A very wide flow, there’s often room for multiple parties on these easily accessible steep columns and they are a great place to practice climbing vertical ice. Climbers interested in top roping can access the good tree anchors at the top via an approach trail on climber’s right.

The final flow at the North End—Thresher (WI3)—begins a bit left of the North End Slab. It starts with a few sporting moves up a chimney, then ascends a slab and bulges toward the trees. One note of caution—you’ll need more than a single 60m rope to rap back to the ground. Of course, there’s an easy solution, enjoy this stellar route as a party of three.

Now that you have the beta on these three awesome areas, it’s time (if you haven’t already) to bust out the tools and get climbing. Make sure to tell us in the comments how you fared!


10 Tips for Staying Warm While Backcountry Skiing

It gets cold in the Northeast. Unbearably cold, sometimes. But low temps shouldn’t be an excuse for missing that next backcountry powder day. Read on for 10 tips for staying warm this winter while backcountry skiing.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

1. Don’t Dawdle in the Parking Lot

Arrive ready to go—dressed, skins on, and fully packed—so that you can jump right out of the car onto the skin track. Screwing around in the parking lot ensures you’ll start your tour off too cold.

2. Start a Little Cold

Starting overdressed is a certain way to overheat, guaranteeing damp baselayers for the rest of the tour. It also ensures that 10 to 15 minutes into the day, you’ll need to stop and de-layer, starting a cycle of body temperature fluctuations that are difficult to manage.

3. Timely Layering

Everybody knows that layering is key to staying warm in the backcountry. But an underrated aspect of this process is knowing where and when to add or subtract a layer. For example, on the steep climb up a Tuck’s gully, don’t wait until you’re already roasting from the climb to shed that outer layer. Likewise, on something like Mount Moosilauke, which has a lengthy above-tree line segment, pause below treeline to add appropriate gear before venturing into the cold, windy terrain above.

4. Lots of Lightweight Layers

Instead of carrying a few heavy layers, carrying a variety of lightweight layers allow greater adaptability to conditions. For example, carrying two lightweight puffies instead of a single heavy one is a favorite backcountry ski trick, especially if one of those puffies is made with active insulation. On particularly cold days, this allows you to wear a puffy in the skin track or slide it under your shell on the descent, rather than reserving it for transitions.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

5. Pack for Success

Pack the layers you’ll use most often near the top of your bag so the whole group doesn’t have to pause while you dig that critical piece out of the bottom of your pack. Likewise, stash essentials like gels, a hat, and a buff in your pockets—this way you can get an energy boost and warm up on the move, without stopping to take off your pack.

6. Plan Group Breaks

Instead of everybody on the tour taking haphazard breaks, get the group on board with regular group breaks—we like to plan hourly breaks or at obvious transitions (up/down or significant terrain changes). This is a great way to improve group efficiency and keep everybody moving and warm.

7. Fuel Up

It’s difficult to stay properly fueled in the winter—you burn more calories, you don’t realize how much you’re perspiring, and you lose fluid through respiration. Dehydration + hunger is a certain recipe for getting cold, so make sure to eat and drink at every break to keep the furnace burning and the stoke high.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

8. Some Like it Hot 

Water not cutting it or freezing in your bottle? Try a thermos filled with a hot drink—it’s one of our favorite mid-outing pick-me-ups. Store your drink of choice in a Hydro Flask so that it’s hot when you want it. Likewise, a sippable soup in an insulated container is a lot more appealing than a frozen Snickers bar.

9. Do Your Homework

Pick the right tour for the forecast and snowpack, then research your route so you’ll stay on track. (Looking for more ski touring tips? Check out What Guides Think About Before Ski Touring in Tuckerman Ravine.) For example, there’s no need to sit on the couch because it’s freezing in the Presidentials; some great cold-weather options are Mount Cardigan and Granite Backcountry Alliance glades like Maple Villa and Crescent Ridge. They’re all at much lower elevations and minimize wind chills by staying mostly in the trees.

10. Pack a Dry Set of Clothes for the Ride Home

There’s nothing worse than driving home in damp baselayers. Ever so slowly, that dampness sucks out your energy, delaying your recovery for tomorrow’s powder day. Whenever you finish your tour, change into a dry set of clothes right away.

Do you have any tricks for staying warm while ski touring? If so, we want to hear them! Leave them in the comments below, so we can all stay warm this winter.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

4 Tips for Finding Wintertime Solitude in the Adirondacks

Finding peace, solitude, and quiet in our day-to-day lives gets harder every day. Sometimes I head into the woods looking for a more social natural experience. I like to see other people on the trail or at a campground. It makes me feel even more comfortable if I am alone, or it is getting dark. In some circumstances, I’m expecting to see other friendly dogs for my dog to meet, other hikers to chat with on the summit, and the trail to be worn from other snowshoers so my walk will be a bit easier.

But other times, I am seeking solitude. I want to experience the quiet, untrammeled parts of wilderness. I want to experience the natural world as many people have before me, for hundreds of years. I want to hear birds, and water rushing. I want to have a chance to see wildlife. I want to find an overlook to enjoy the view in seclusion where I can fully let my body relax, look over valleys, rivers and marvel at nature’s wonders.

The reality is that we must share our wildlands; They belong to all of us. However, there are a few things you can do to find a little more solitude if that is the experience you’re seeking when planning your next outing in the Adirondacks this winter.

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Venture into the wilderness outside the High Peaks.

The High Peaks Wilderness area gets a lot of attention for being home to the tallest peaks in the Park. But there are many other Wilderness areas that offer unique outdoor recreation opportunities. There are many mountains, lakes, rivers, and ponds that have trails that connect and offer opportunities to explore the Adirondacks. 

Avoid using apps to find your hikes.

These apps can be helpful, but especially in the Adirondacks, there are so many trails that are not listed on them. You can find more reliable and comprehensive information (and quieter places to visit!) listed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), town websites, regional land trusts, or the Champlain Area Trails. If there is a trail listed on apps or on a review site with many recent reviews, consider picking another location.  

Explore summer destinations.

Snowshoe/ski into popular paddling areas and primitive campgrounds that would be otherwise busy in warmer seasons. Make sure to call the land manager (many times the DEC) beforehand for permission to use the closed seasonal roads first.  

Start from a quieter town.

Whether you’re a local or coming from far away, consider planning your outing in a town that is a bit sleepier during the winter season. You will be much more likely to step out of your car and into solitude. Plan ahead if you’re hoping to make it an overnight trip, as some businesses may be shut down for the season. This may mean bringing your own provisions and cooking a cozy meal in your AirBnB. For locals it may mean bringing dry clothes and a thermos of something hot to keep in your car for a comfortable ride home. 

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It’s our responsibility when we get to any natural place, to leave it better than we find it. Even if we are the only person that visits a place, the next person will feel like they have just discovered a place for the first time too. That also means thinking about how you share your experience on social media after your trip.  

It’s also worth mentioning, that if you’re going to take the responsibility of venturing into more remote, less populated destinations, you should especially be prepared for the conditions for the outing. Understanding the safety implications of where you are going, what you’re doing, and if there is cell service where you are. Even if you’re only planning to be out for a day, have enough gear to survive overnight in case you get stranded. 

At the end of the day, no matter what, even if you’re sharing your experience with many other people, a day spent in the Adirondacks is a good day. However, there are many places in the Adirondacks where you can go and have a quiet winter day. There is a certain magic when we have a moment in winter solitude to experience the gifts of Mother Nature and realize why it is all worth protecting for everyone. 

How do you find solitude, and when do you enjoy a more social nature experience?


10 Backcountry Ski Tools for the Tech-Savvy

Whether it’s avalanche airbags, magnetic goggle lenses, or shred-recording apps, technology is revolutionizing backcountry ski gear. With Cyber Monday upon us, here are 10 favorite tech pieces likely to be working their way into your backcountry kit in the near future.

Courtesy: SPOT
Courtesy: SPOT

1. SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger

Whether you’re day tripping in Tuckerman Ravine or on a multi-day tour in the Chic Chocs, the pocket-sized SPOT X 2-Way Satellite Messenger is a standalone device (meaning it works independently of your mobile phone) with its own dedicated phone number that allows you to send messages, post to social media, send out an SOS, along with a host of other neat features.

2. Pieps iProbe II

Every second counts after an avalanche, especially if somebody is buried. The Pieps iProbe II works in coordination with a beacon to speed up searches and find burial victims faster using audio and visual cues. When deployed, the probe automatically turns itself on to narrow down burial sites—beeping and lighting up as you get closer to a buried transceiver.

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Credit: Smith

 

3. Smith I/O Mag Goggles

Awesome optics, huge field of vision, and multiple lens options have made Smith I/O goggles a long-time part of our ski kits. Although interchangeable lenses are nothing new to ski goggles, Smith’s I/O Mag goggles up the ante. Taking advantage of magnetic locking mechanisms on the lens, swapping lenses is easier than ever and fingerprints obstructing your view are a thing of the past.

4. Scott Patrol E1 Avalanche Backpack 

At first sight, the flux capacitor on the Scott Patrol E1 Avalanche Backpack seemed straight out of the future. On closer inspection, it’s a supercapacitor, but that doesn’t make it any less wow-worthy. Unlike traditional and lithium-ion batteries, supercapacitors can be taken on planes with no restrictions, are not sensitive to changes in temperature, and last for 500,000 charging cycles. Don’t you wish the rechargeable batteries in your headlamp would last that long?

5. DPS Phantom Wax 

Waxing skis or taking them to the shop to get tuned has long been an annoyance to skiers more interested in nabbing runs than scraping wax. DPS Phantom Wax needs only a single application to deliver a permanent solution for keeping your skis sliding. Unlike traditional ski waxes, Phantom Wax changes the chemical composition of your ski’s base, eliminating the need for regular reapplications.

Courtesy: Black Diamond
Courtesy: Black Diamond

6. Black Diamond Guide BT Avalanche Beacon

Black Diamond’s first foray into avalanche beacons has us thinking that it’s time to upgrade. The Guide BT (the BT stands for Bluetooth) is able to update its software, alter the beacon’s settings, and manage its battery all through an app accessed via your smartphone or tablet.

7. Salomon Shift Bindings 

A binding capable of delivering the performance of an alpine binding with the uphill ability of a backcountry binding has been something that ski-tourers everywhere have been dreaming of for years. Enter the Salomon Shift, which offers a fully certified alpine mode for downhill charging and pin-type toe for touring efficiency. This binding rips on and off piste and is a great option for skiers looking for a “quiver of one” binding.

8. The North Face Futurelight Fabric

Skiers are always on the lookout for layers that will keep them dry when it’s wet, breathe when they’re working hard, and keep them warm when it’s cold. Enter Futurelight, manufactured using a process called nanospinning—in which a fibrous material is extruded and repeatedly layered on itself into an ultra-thin and flexible web-like structure—to create thinner, more breathable, waterproof membranes. Proven to be up to the task of the most serious ski missions, Hilaree Nelson (O’Neill) and Jim Morrison put Futurelight to the test on their first ski descent of Lhotse Couloir.

9. Ski Tracks App

99 cents won’t buy you much at even the most budget-conscious ski resort these days. However, for less than a dollar, the Ski Tracks app will track just how much value you squeezed out of that three-figure lift pass. Working with your smartphone, the Ski Tracks app records metrics such as maximum speed, number of runs, distance skied, and total vertical. Don’t forget to thank us the next time you’re boasting about how much vertical you shredded.

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10. PeakFinder App

After years of arguing over which mountains are in the distance, the PeakFinder app is making it easy to know the answer without having to dig out a map. Using augmented reality, the Peakfinder app turns your phone into a directory of surrounding peaks and quickly displays the names of the mountains and peaks your looking at. Best of all, it even works when you’re offline!

 

Is there a piece of ski tech you’re particularly excited about this season? If so, let us know about it in the comments below.


Video: Lure of the North

In the remote wilderness of Ontario, Canada, two travellers endure the repetitive mental hardship of cold winter tripping. This short film captures the experiences and emotions of their expedition. It’s tough. It’s tiring. It’s lonesome. Yet it’s a beautiful and meditative love affair as you persevere one snowshoe step at a time.


How to Leave no Trace on Winter Adventures

Backcountry use in the winter is gaining popularity, and for good reason: The solitude is greater, the views are wider (when the weather cooperates), and there are fresh, beautiful layers of powder to play in. Advances in backcountry skiing and snowboarding equipment and better access to Federal and Public Lands have driven more people to become cold-weather outdoor enthusiasts.

But all this increased use can lead to greater impacts on the landscape, wildlife and others seeking similar experiences. Winter can leave resources and wildlife more vulnerable to the damage of recreational users and there have been cited issues with trash, human waste, excessive noise and disturbances to wildlife that can be easily avoided with some knowledge of Leave No Trace principals.

In general, Leave No Trace encourages visitors of the backcountry to treat the outdoors with respect and limit the impacts of recreation on the environment and wildlife within it. For the most part, the guidelines are pretty straightforward and can be applied to varied seasons and conditions, but there are a few changes you should be making to your LNT practices in the winter.

Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

Planning & Preparation

Planning ahead is especially important in the winter because it increases our safety and enjoyment while minimizing damage to vulnerable backcountry resources. Poor planning or underestimating conditions can result in putting yourself at risk and lead to damaging natural and cultural resources. Venturing outside in the snow is attached to higher risk. Extreme temperatures and wind, fast-changing weather, elevation and avalanches can lead to emergencies like frostbite and hypothermia. To manage your risk and prevent environmental damage, take the following actions:

  • Educate yourself on conditions in the area you’ll be traveling and always ensure you’re prepared with appropriate gear and proper clothing.
  • Monitor snow conditions frequently. The night before, the morning of, and at the trailhead if you’re able.Mountain-Forecast.com is a great resource to find accurate reports for specific peaks or mountain ranges. Weather can change quickly in the mountains and understanding your timeframe can be crucial. Wind draws heat from our bodies, making it feel much colder than it is, so be sure to check the wind speed too. Prepare for extreme weather by bringing extra layers, a headlamp, emergency hand warmers, and fat-heavy snacks.
  • Don’t rely on electronics for navigation. Keep headlamps, phones or other battery-operated devices close to your body heat and consider carrying an portable battery pack if you’re out overnight. Choose waterproof maps and have an excellent understanding of how to read them.
  • Backcountry skiing preparedness is a bag I won’t open here, but you should be highly experienced and carry proper emergency equipment (avalanche beacon and shovel).
  • Don’t go out alone and always let someone know what your plans are. Even the experienced outdoorsman or woman shouldn’t take on ambitious routes solo in winter conditions.
Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

Backcountry Waste

Ever come across a wad of toilet paper alongside a popular trail during the Spring melt? It’s not pretty, and certainly not ethical. In the winter months, we need to give extra consideration as to how we pack out our trash and human waste during backcountry visits. Human waste (poop!) has serious impacts on ecosystems, so we need to do our best to properly dispose of it to ensure the area is not compromised when the snow melts. While the objectives of proper human waste disposal are pretty straightforward—minimize chances of polluting water sources and spreading disease, while promoting healthy decomposition—this can be much harder in the winter due to the temperature:

  • Use established toilets when possible. Some land management areas will continue to maintain trailhead and backcountry facilities in the winter. Research prior to your trip.
  • Scatter your liquid waste. Always urinate away from the trail and established camps. To help naturalize the area, throw some fresh snow on top (for your dog too).
  • Be prepared to carry out your poop. That’s right, the best way to Leave No Trace is to take ALL of your waste with you. Decomposition of solid waste is much tougher in the winter months and the ground is much too cold to dig a proper hole, so instead it ends up in a pile of snow. It simply freezes until the snow melts and results in potential ecological damage and spread of disease. The best way to dispose of waste in a sanitary and socially acceptable way is by using a WAG Bag (which contains a gel to help break down waste), or something similar. It’ll likely freeze inside the bag, making it easier to pack out until you reach a trash receptacle (not a pit toilet). Dogs typically don’t do their business in the proper LNT area, so it’s especially important to carry theirs out too. Check out the Poo Vault for safe and odorless packability. Check local regulations for recommended methods on high peaks.
  • Dig a cat hole as an alternative. At the very least, human and dog waste needs to be buried in a 6- to 8-inch cat hole at least 200 feet from water sources, camp, and trails. Be aware if you’re in a direct drainage where water will flow in the spring by looking at the vegetation and slope of the surrounding area. All toilet paper should be packed out in a separate ziplock covered in duct tape to help be discreet.
  • Pack out all trash. Minimize your waste and weight by choosing foods that won’t freeze and repackaging when necessary. Always carry extra ziplocks to pack all of your food waste out, this includes compostable food scraps like apple cores, fruit pits and banana peels. Practice good trail karma by picking up any micro-trash (small pieces of wrappers) left behind by others and help keep spring runoff free of plastic.
Credit: Effie Drew
Credit: Effie Drew

Path of Travel

We are simply visitors of the backcountry and we want to avoid any damage to the land as we travel through it. While it may appear that surface vegetation is protected by snow in the winter, the routes we take now will impact the trail later. By traveling on packable snow we can prevent soil erosion and the development of unintended trails.

  • Travel on durable or packed snow. By packing down deeper snow or walking on ice (using MICROspikes), the surface vegetation underneath is left unimpacted and our tracks will simply melt away come spring. If you’re breaking trail, gently shake snow-weighted trees and avoid avalanche paths, steep slopes, cornices and other unstable snow.
  • Separate ski and snowshoe tracks. Be courteous to others by establishing hiking, snowshoeing or biking paths separate from skin tracks used by uphill skiers and split-boarders. When ascending, yield to downhill traffic. If you are a skier or snowboarder, courteously avoid coming down the hiking trail.
  • Avoid creating new trails. In muddy spring conditions, do your best to stay on the snow, or walk in the middle (yes, in the mud!) to avoid creating new paths and damaging trailside plants. Watch out for thin snow where you may fall through.
  • Respect other adventurers. While the camaraderie of groups in the outdoors is a powerful thing, many skiers/riders/hikers/mountaineers come for the solitude. Keep noise to a minimum and help promote a cooperative, supportive culture by sharing safety information offering help when needed.
Courtesy: Dave Moore
Courtesy: Dave Moore

Camping

The great thing about camping in the winter is the surface area is coated in snow so our impacts are minimal. We’re left to our own devices to create a safe and comfortable campsite using the appropriate gear and the following strategies:

  • Camp on durable snow at least 200 feet from water sources. Stay clear of the trail and prep your site by packing down snow to create a durable surface for your tent (don’t forget longer stakes!). Choose a flat spot away from avalanche paths, steep slopes, and cornices. Trees can provide an ideal spot sheltered from the wind.
  • Dismantle any snow shelters or wind breaks. Naturalize the area before you leave.
  • Use huts or shelters where available. There are many backcountry shelters available for use (some require a fee) to make your winter camping experience more comfortable. Always leave them in better shape that you found by cooking outside when possible, sweeping before you leave and carrying out all trash to prevent mice intruders. Be considerate of other users and follow any instructions relating to the shelter.
  • Minimize campfire impacts. Where fires are permitted, use an established ring or keep them small. Cut only small dead or down trees and burn all wood to ash. Be sure all fires are out completely and leave a clean site by clearing your ash and never burning trash.

Curious to learn more? For the complete list of LNT practices, see here.


How to Keep Warm in the Winter Wind

Shorter days, colder temperatures, and the possibility for wicked weather are all factors to be considered when getting outside in the winter time. The winter wind is one such factor that, if unaccounted for, can sour even the bluest of bluebird days. Here are some tips to help keep you warm when the temps are down and the wind is up.

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Be Prepared

The first and best thing to do when considering a winter excursion is to be prepared. Local weather and trail conditions reports are critical, as is understanding how the wind—and the windchill factor—can affect temperatures. One useful tool is the National Weather Service’s Wind Chill Chart, which uses sustained wind speed and temperature to calculate the amount of time skin can be exposed before frostbite begins to set in. This is super important, especially for those fast-and-light, alpine-style objectives, where spartan packing lists may cause an important item to eschewed for the sake of weight.

Cover Up

Exposed skin is the most vulnerable to frostbite when the windchill index dips down—so cover it up! Boots, pants and jackets are obvious but make sure to also wear gloves and a hat. A good balaclava or neck gaiter are also essential to protecting your face, which is almost always exposed in other circumstances. Ski goggles, in addition to keeping your eyes out of the wind, limit exposure as well.

Pack Hand Warmers and Start Them Early

As the body cools, circulation slows, and the extremities—starting with fingers and toes—become extremely susceptible to freezing. Nip this in the bud at the trailhead by stuffing your gloves and boots with hand warmers. Do yourself a double favor by packing extra gloves and socks and stuffing them with activated hand warmers from the get-go. Should you wind up losing a glove or getting your socks soaked, you’ll have warm replacements ready to go.

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Layers on Layers

Layering is always important while traveling in the mountains but when the wind is up, it’s doubly so. A wicking base layer will keep you dry while an insulating mid-layer will help trap your body heat. On top of those as an outer-most layer—while moving, at least—should be a waterproof, windproof, hardshell jacket. Hardshell jackets are designed specifically for conditions like the biting winter wind—they tend to be lightweight and packable too, so they’re not too much to throw into a pack until you need it. Finally, have a packable insulated jacket to pop over everything else to keep that heat in on breaks. As an added bonus, the air trapped between each layer also acts as additional insulation.

Eat and Hydrate Well

Before heading out into the cold, fuel up with a big meal. It’s more energy to keep you moving and digestion helps bring the body temperature up. While you’re out, keep hydrating—it’ll encourage circulation and spread the warmth to vulnerable extremities.

Warm Up from the Inside-out

Warm up from the inside-out by carrying an insulated thermos full of something hot. A little coffee, tea, or plain-old hot water can make a huge difference, raising core temperatures and spirits alike in the coldest of conditions. Alcohol, despite it’s common renown for cutting the cold, is best avoided when the windchill factor is severe as it actually causes the body to lose heat faster—so save it for the aprés.

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Stay in the Lee of the Wind

When the wind is really bad, do what you can to stay out of it. In most cases this is as simple as staying in the woods but above treeline it means being strategic about route selection and where to take your breaks. Use natural and artificial features like boulders and cairns to catch your breath—the relief of even a minute spent out of the wind can make all the difference, mentally as well as physically.

Keep it Moving

The best way to combat frostbite when the windchill factor is high is to keep moving. Aerobic activity keeps the heart rate up, increasing circulation and spreading critical warmth to vulnerable fingers and toes. Remember to capture that body heat and keep your core temperature up while resting by throwing on an additional insulated layer.