“Break Trail” and Deep Snow Conditions in the Adirondacks.


By  Kathryn Tracey

Winter storm Stella brought a lot of snow to the Adirondacks this week, with three feet or more blanketing higher elevations and even one to two feet in the periphery regions. The weather is expected to remain blustery and cold through the weekend, with the possibility for additional snowfall.

The DEC is advising winter outdoor enthusiasts to be prepared for deep snow this week and weekend in the Adirondacks. Read on for trail and ice conditions, advisories, and expected weather.

Trail Conditions

Most trails in the Adirondacks will not be used until this weekend, so snowshoers and cross-country skiers should expect to push through deep, fresh snow on largely untraveled trails. These “break trail” conditions will mean your hike or ski takes more time and energy than usual and you should plan accordingly.
In addition to the deep snow, sustained high winds and gusts during the blizzard likely caused fallen or leaning trees, limbs, and branches on many trails.
Please Note: Snowshoes or skis are REQUIRED ON ALL TRAILS in the High Peaks Wilderness and should be used on all trails in the Adirondacks as a best practice. The use of snowshoes prevents “post-holing,” or deep footprints in the snow (which can make trails more difficult and hazardous), avoids injuries, and eases travel on snow-covered trails.
Ice Conditions
Prior to the storm, ice had thinned, weakened, and receded from inlets, outlets, and shorelines. Though the past few days have seen sub-zero temperatures, ice has only recently reformed and is thin, even though it may be covered with snow – ice that can hold snow is not necessarily strong enough to hold a person! No ice or areas near ice should be considered safe without checking the thickness and condition of the ice. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out our winter ice safety guide.
The following areas should be avoided:
  • Over or near moving water such as rivers, streams, and channels
  • Near any open water
  • Near shorelines
  • Near inlets and outlets
  • Near boathouses and docks
  • Near “bubblers” or other ice-prevention devices

Do not, under any circumstances, take snowmobiles or other vehicles out onto ice.

Snowmobile Trail Conditions
The DEC is currently working with the St. Lawrence County Snowmobile Association, the Franklin County Snowmobilers and others to reopen gates and trails that have been closed due to lack of snow. Contact your local club or tourist information center for local trail conditions.
Again, it bears repeating – snowmobilers should not be riding on any frozen water bodies. Stay off the ice!
Weather & Conditions at High Elevations and Open Summits
The weather is expected to be quite cold this weekend. Remember that temperatures will be colder and winds stronger at higher elevations and on open summits. In these conditions, trails will be easily lost. Make sure you have a map and compass with you or wait a few days until trails have been used and are easier to follow.
Whiteout conditions from blowing snow can occur regularly and suddenly. You should never attempt to summit when whiteout conditions exist.
Avalanche Risks
The recent storm combined high winds with snowfall rates of 3-4 inches per hour, with more than 30 inches (75 cm) of snow in the higher peaks. Due to winds, you will find deeper snows and cornices on the leeward side of the mountains. Below freezing temperatures and forecasts for additional accumulations this weekend will add layers to the snow pack and slow bonding. These are all factors that are conducive to avalanche conditions, especially on avalanche-prone terrain.
The DEC has issued the following guidelines:
Cross-country skiers and snowshoers should stay on trails and away from steep slopes on summits.

Backcountry downhill skiers, snowboarders, and others who may traverse avalanche-prone terrain should take precautions:
  • Know the terrain, weather, and snow conditions
  • Dig multiple snow pits to conduct stability tests – do NOT rely on other people’s data
  • Practice safe route finding and safe travel techniques
  • Never ski, board, or climb with someone above or behind you – only one person on the slope at a time
  • Ski and ride near trees, not in the center of slides or other open areas
  • Always carry a shovel, probes, and transceiver with fresh batteries
  • Ensure all members of your group know avalanche rescue techniques
  • Never travel alone
  • Tell someone where you are going

Learn more about avalanche conditions and safety precautions from the DEC.

Have fun this weekend, and remember – you can check current conditions and forecasts on the Adirondack Backcountry Information page from the DEC before you head out. 

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