All it takes is a few inches of snow and the Capital Region becomes a wonderland for those who own Nordic skis.
The area abounds with close-to-home trails to explore, and most can be skied free of charge.
ECOS: The Environmental Clearinghouse, publishes a guide that includes maps of more than 40 local cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails. The manual includes destinations in Schenectady, Montgomery, Schoharie, Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Fulton and Warren counties, as well as a few areas that are farther afield.
Patrick Clear, executive director of ECOS, is no stranger to the snowy trails; he’s been cross-country skiing for more than 30 years. Although he’s a fan of many area ski spots, he has two favorites.
If you go
• Bring along a backpack or fanny pack to carry your gear.
• Dress for the weather, and don’t discount wind chill. Layers of clothing are best, preferably garments made from wool or synthetic fabrics like polypropylene. Wear a windproof jacket, a hat or ear warmer and mittens.
• Don’t dress in cotton because it loses most of its insulation value when damp.
• It’s best not to ski alone, but if you do, let people know where you’ll be skiing.
• Bring food and water.
• Carry a survival kit that includes matches, a candle for fire-making, a flashlight, an emergency blanket, extra warm clothing, first aid supplies and a combination tool, like a Leatherman.
• Watch the weather before you set out, and turn back if the weather gets threatening.
• Bring along a trail map.
Tips provided by ECOS: The Environmental Clearinghouse
The first is Indian Meadows Park in Glenville, which offers varied terrain and a groomed trail that loops around the park’s athletic fields.
“If you just want to have a good time skiing, it’s a nice, easy place to go, and it would be a great place to take the kids. You’re not going to have to worry about big hills, and you’re definitely not going to get lost in there,” he said.
The park, managed by the town of Glenville, is on Droms Road. The trails are mostly level and easy, except for a few hilly spots in the woods. The loop around the playing fields is groomed by a volunteer, when conditions allow.
Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park is another place where Clear loves to strap on his skis.
“It’s also groomed by a volunteer out there, but it’s a little more challenging. There’s more rolling hills and a lot more terrain up there,” he said.
The preserve is made up of approximately 2,400 acres, and volunteers groom 31⁄2 miles of trails with set tracks for classic skiing and a rolled area for skate-skiing and snowshoeing.
The preserve will hold a free moonlight ski and snowshoe session from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26. Groomed trails will be lit by luminaries and there will be bonfires to warm up by along the way and hot cocoa to enjoy.
John DeBrita, president of the Capital Area Ski Touring Association, has been cross-country skiing long enough to own a pair of woolen knickers. His favorite spot to ski locally is the 370-acre Sanders Preserve on Sanders Road in Glenville, which he calls an ideal area for the more-experienced skier.
“South of Sanders Road is one type of skiing, and north of Sanders is more difficult and challenging,” he noted. “There’s usually more snow there than there might be in other places around here, and it’s never crowded.”
Schenectady Wintersports Club member Terry Tamer of Colonie has been cross-country skiing since 1974. He thinks the best local spot to ski is John Boyd Thacher State Park in Voorheesville. The park, situated along the Helderberg Escarpment, provides a breathtaking panorama of the Hudson and Mohawk valleys and the Adirondack and Green mountains.
There are more than 12 miles of skiable trails, which Tamer said are appropriate for intermediate skiers. “A lot of people go there, and it’s high enough up so they get a little bit better snow,” he said. “It’s woods, and there’s a path. It’s ungroomed, but you will lots of times follow in the tracks of other people.”
Arden Rauch of Niskayuna, an ECOS member, has been cross-country skiing for more than 20 years. She has many favorite local skiing spots, including Saratoga National Historical Park in the town of Saratoga and Charleston State Forest in Montgomery County. Another that stands out in her mind is the Schenectady Municipal Golf Course on Oregon Avenue in Schenectady.
“That can be absolutely delightful, and it’s so central,” she said. “It has varied terrain, and it’s a vast area, at least from my perspective. It’s very pretty, it’s quiet. For any level of skier, it’s very nice. There are always people there, but it’s never overcrowded.”
Rauch also likes to ski in the 697-acre Featherstonhaugh State Forest in Delanson, which has close to 4 miles of cross-country trails.
“It’s nice because there’s a change in elevation. It can be rainy down in Schenectady, and you go up 1,300 feet and you get into a totally different atmosphere there,” she said.
Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area in Berne is a favorite spot of Schenectady Wintersports Club member Warren Burton, who lives in the Schoharie County town of Wright. Burton said the 4,500-acre area is a good place for beginning to intermediate skiers.
“It’s all flat. There might be a couple of small hills, but nothing like in the Adirondacks. It’s woods, some open spaces. You’re skiing down roads, basically,” he explained.