March’s weather continues to vary in the extreme, but it hasn’t put a stop to some great days outdoors. Two weeks ago I skied the classic, and very inspiring, route from Upper Works in Tahawus to Adirondack Loj in Lake Placid with a group in town for the 11th Annual Backcountry Skifest.
Organized by The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, Skifest is a highlight of the winter for the dedicated folks who run the tours and clinics, as well as for participants, many of whom have attended multiple years. Outdoor industry labels, including Backcountry Magazine, Julbo, Dynafit, Black Diamond, G3, Garmont, Madshus, Mammut, Marmot, Outdoor Research, Primaloft, Scarpa and Voilé, help make the event happen and provide demo gear, which participants can try free of charge.
The proceeds of Skifest benefit the New York State Ski Education Foundation’s Nordic racing programs, which have helped turn numerous local kids into Olympians; and the Adirondack Ski Touring Council, which stewards backcountry ski trails, including the famous Jackrabbit Trail. This year, each organization will receive over $1000.
According to Mountaineer’s website, “Backcountry skiing means skiing on natural snow in natural terrain, and combines all of the elements of touring, climbing and downhill skiing into a real winter mountaineering experience.”
Skifest allows a skier who is comfortable on groomed trails to try a more rugged route with a group and guides. Advanced skiers can take advantage of avalanche preparedness clinics and learn from some of the most experienced backcountry guides in the country. Free demo gear and mini clinics for all abilities are available at Otis Mountain, a private ski area in Elizabethtown, which is generously opened for Skifest participants.
The trek from Upper Works began under a gray, slightly-foggy sky. Leaving early on Saturday morning allowed our group of eight to enjoy good trail conditions right from the start. The trail took us from brook-side habitat to high mountain forest, then even higher wetland. Though we were focused on distance, I had to stop to check out the marten tracks — I don’t see them much in the Champlain Valley.