It's spring, but we've still got lots of snow
While the calendar's official change to spring has many folks thinking about warm weather, I'm still looking forward to at least a few more weeks of skiing. After all, the longer days and warmer temperatures make for excellent spring skiing conditions, when we can head out in fewer layers -- maybe even in our shorts -- and contend less with the cold. And while our recent winter storm may have tracked farther east than expected and missed giving us the forecasted dumping of snow, the several inches we received freshened up our base and made for a great weekend of fun on the trails.
The Paul Smith's College VIC
With that new snow covering the landscape, I headed to the Paul Smith's College VIC where they maintain better than 50 km of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. This sheer number gives an assortment of options for skiers since the trails vary from narrow trails which are groomed for classic skiing, to wider trails groomed for skate skiing, to wilder, wooded trails where skiers can kick in their own route through the snow. As a result, skiers can choose to crank out some kilometers for their workout, or they can explore the natural history of the place, enjoying the interpretive signs along some of the trails as they go.
Whichever approach they choose, visitors must wear either skis or snowshoes on the trails, it not only helps keep the trails in great shape but it is a lot more fun than post-holing into the deep snow. Visitors must also sign-in at the building, where a self-registration center is open on the weekdays when the building itself is closed during the winter. Those coming on the weekend can register at the desk, affording them the added benefit of exploring the VIC's indoor displays and exhibits when they aren't out on the trails.
Natural history exploration and skiing
On my trip, I initially skied out along the Heron Marsh Trail to enjoy some of the overlooks of the beautiful marsh for which the trail is named. I soon wound along the Barnum Brook Trail to hop on Logger Loop, a wider trail designed for skate or classic technique. Logger Loop cuts a wide route around much of the property, and like many of the trails, it rises and falls over rolling terrain. I paused here and there to take photos of the afternoon sun on the freshly fallen spring snow, and I began to tally a list of animal tracks as I went -- Red Fox, White-tailed Deer, Wild Turkey, Coyote. After all, the varied trails of the VIC are partly a product of diverse habitats, and I always seem to find wildlife (or at least signs of wildlife) whenever I'm there.
I turned off Logger Loop onto the Woods and Waters Trail, another of the narrower, more intimate routes, and I soon found the slides of a North American river otter, which are the places an otter leaves long, wide marks in the snow from sliding on its belly. The snow makes their sliding technique an efficient way to travel overland, but we all know that they are just out to have fun as they move through the forest, or at least it's amusing to think that. I paused to snap a few photos of the slides, and to imagine the otter taking a few steps and then sliding, taking a few steps and sliding again as it went. I suspect I'd be far less adept at moving in that manner than they are.
My otter musings complete, I continued back toward the building, watching the pink and purple hues of evening reflect in the snow as I finished my ski. I would watch the western sky turn gold as I drove home.
More skiing to come
But I wasn't done. I wanted to check out a few other places on the trails and so the following day I stopped back in at the VIC to take a shorter ski, this time to loop the entire Heron Marsh Trail and to include portions of a few of the other trails that link to it. The warm day made the snow much softer and slower than had been the case the day before, and once again I followed a meandering route through the woods, pausing for photos and taking in the signs of more wildlife which crisscrossed the ski trail. My wildlife-watching portion of the ski culminated when I spotted a beaver sitting on the ice of Heron Marsh.
And if you are like me, winter and skiing aren't over yet. While our longer days portend that spring will eventually win its battle with winter, our snow will linger for a while, meaning that spring skiing will continue for the next few weeks. In fact, the VIC is planning on grooming and maintaining its network of trails at least through the first week of April. And given how cool and snowy our weather was last spring, we could continue skiing well beyond that point, even as we begin to transition to spring activities like paddling.