Early this week I heard that the Cascade Lakes had 20 inches of smooth ice so I set out with a friend to knock off that New Year’s goal of skating the lakes I’ve only seen from the road.

My friend and I are trying out nordic skates with bindings we can step into using our cross-country ski boots. My friend has an NNN binding system and I have a three-pin boot that fits into a backcountry type binding. She received her skates as a gift last winter but didn’t get to practice much.

I borrowed a pair of skates to test drive — I love the idea of using my cross-country boots because they are warm, comfortable and supportive. A big improvement over either the tight, wobbly figure skates I used as a teenager or the wider, heavy hockey skates I picked up at a yard sale a few years ago.

When we arrived we found the Cascades under a few inches of snow, making it much less desirable to skate since you can’t read the ice. The snow also blows into rough piles that can flip a skater in a heartbeat.

We were set on skating and we remembered that Lake Placid opened an ice trail around Mirror Lake last week so we adjusted the destination, noting that I still need to do the Cascades before the season ends.

Under a perfect bluebird sky, we parked near the toboggan run in Lake Placid and walked down the bank to the frozen lake. We were skating in no time. It is truly great not to have to fight stiff skates with cold hands when the temperature is 9 degrees. We clipped in and headed for the loop.

At first a dusting of snow obscured the trail, but very soon a guy came along with a giant sweeper on the front of a small rig that looks like it’s normally a sidewalk plow. The friendly driver high-fived us and we followed in his path, taking advantage of the best ice conditions and chuckling about the "Ice Road Truckers" from Yellowknife.

There were rough spots but there were also long stretches of great ice that was a pleasure to skate. We both carried ski poles that helped with balance while we got the feel for the nordic blades.

The ice trail is swept around the perimeter of Mirror Lake, with two trails cutting across the middle. The best ice is on the east side (the side opposite the village) and farthest to the north. In total the trail is 2 miles. We skated almost all the way around one way then hit some rough ice on the village side so reversed direction and skated back the way we’d come for a total of just under 4 miles.

The most experienced skaters in the area have been skating since the week before Thanksgiving on small ponds and lakes that freeze early. Wild ice is nothing to be trifled with and there are lots of safety precautions that need to be observed and must-have safety equipment that should be carried at all times.

All water bodies have thin spots. Skating the Cascades has appeal because it’s narrow and easy to get to shore if anything happens.

Mirror Lake, although too tame for some wild skaters, has a somewhat wild feel and is a great place to get the hang of new skates, to practice reading ice conditions and to hear the rumbling and rasping sounds of the frozen water.

Elizabeth Lee is a licensed guide who lives in Westport. She leads recreational and educational programs focused in the Champlain Valley throughout the year. Contact her at lakeside5047@gmail.com.

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