Shawangunk Nordic Ski Association envisions more groomed trails, fun XC events

Veronica O'Keefe and Mark Ruoff of the Nordic Ski Association ski at Minnewaska State Park last week.

Veronica O’Keefe and Mark Ruoff of the Nordic Ski Association ski at Minnewaska State Park last week.

It isn’t often that you’ll find people above elementary school age complaining because their meeting wasn’t canceled on account of a “snowstorm of the century” that didn’t materialize. Readers sharp enough to decipher that triple negative will already have figured out that the group of adult mid-Hudsonites who are most unhappy with the post-global-warming trend of less snow in these parts than we had in the ‘80s and ‘90s consists mainly of cross-country (XC) skiers, who in recent winters often had to drive to the Adirondacks to get a good day’s worth of kick-and-glide fun.

Though it won’t heighten their power over the weather, those snow-crazy folks are now getting seriously organized. In November a new group called the Shawangunk Nordic Ski Association (SNSA, which Game of Thrones fans will doubtless want to pronounce as Sansa) filed its Certificate of Incorporation with New York State. Its stated mission is “to promote and support all aspects of cross-country skiing in the Shawangunk Mountains and surrounding Hudson Valley region,” and it had its first official meeting at the Mohonk Preserve Visitors’ Center on Tuesday evening, January 27: the night of the Snowpocalypse that decided to go to Boston instead.

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The key organizer behind SNSA is Mark Ruoff, known to many as manager and friendly face behind the bar at the Mountain Brauhaus, who usually spends his January vacations when the restaurant is closed heading north to XC ski, rather than south in search of tropical sunshine. The germ of the idea was planted back in 2009, when advocates for enhanced opportunities for various outdoor activities in the Shawangunks gathered to make their needs known at public hearings for the proposed Minnewaska State Park Preserve Master Plan. Ruoff couldn’t help noticing that, while hikers were officially represented there by the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference, Appalachian Mountain Club and other groups, swimmers had the Minnewaska Distance Swimmers’ Association and rock climbers the Gunks’ Climbers’ Coalition, the XC skiers in attendance were an ad hoc lot. Businesses that serve the Shawangunks’ Nordic skiing community like Rock and Snow provided input, but there was no official association.

Since then, Ruoff has been recruiting other XC ski enthusiasts in the mid-Hudson and networking with various outdoorsy organizations with the idea in mind of packing some collective punch when it comes to access to better local skiing opportunities (weather permitting, of course). Out of these informal discussions came a priority list for SNSA, the highest of which includes expanding the kilometers of groomed trails available for Nordic skiers at Mohonk, Minnewaska and elsewhere in the Gunks. Ruoff’s ultimate dream is to link the Preserve with the State Park in one long, continuous groomed run via Lyons Road.

To achieve this vision would require funding that neither the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation nor the Mohonk Preserve can spare to purchase and operate additional trail-grooming equipment. The Preserve’s trails are currently groomed by vehicles belonging to Mohonk Mountain House, and state funding for Minnewaska has lately been focused on a multiyear capital campaign of major trail improvements, rather than replacing aging maintenance equipment or hiring additional staff to enable enhanced grooming capacity.

So one of the first — and costliest — items on SNSA’s agenda will be the purchase of some grooming machinery that would belong to the organization and be provided on a voluntary basis to Mohonk, Minnewaska and other landowners in the Gunks to extend the mileage of trails available for in-track skiing. Photos and specifications of three potential models with varying pricetags — the Snow Rabbit 3, Arctic Cat Bearcat and PistenBully — were passed around among the 16 attendees at the January 27 meeting, and brainstorming on how to pay for one got underway.

The idea of having SNSA be a membership organization with annual dues was discussed and discarded — “That’s not what we are,” in Ruoff’s words — in favor of considering anyone interested in XC skiing in the Gunks as part of its natural constituency. It was decided that a fundraising drive would get underway as soon as the organization has an official bank account in which to deposit contributions. Besides the equipment wish list, the group will soon have to come up with a budget for boring necessities like liability insurance for directors and officers.

Trail grooming isn’t the only need or service on the minds of the SNSA core group. The meeting included considerable discussion of what types of information ought to be provided to the public on the SNSA website currently under construction by Eric Weigeshoff, whose domain name will be https://skithegunks.com (and/or possibly .org). Basic data like trailhead and parking lot locations, fees, maps and photos of trails and links to venues and ski equipment/service providers will be provided. Regular updates might include daily or weekly trail conditions reports and announcements of upcoming events.

The group was enthusiastic about organizing fun public events that would foster interest in the sport as well as provide opportunities to fundraise. One attendee suggested indoor/outdoor ski parties involving food, drinks and live music. An idea to organize monthly moonlight skis was lauded by another as “an awesome celebration of the lifestyle,” and she volunteered the use of a parcel of land belonging to her family as a site for such a gathering.

Introducing new people to the sport is another priority of the organization. Ruoff is already an assistant coach to New Paltz High School’s XC ski team, and events geared toward enticing younger or novice skiers, as well as clinics and races for the more experienced, are all on SNSA’s agenda. Members who have certification from the Professional Ski Instructors of America will be asked to donate some time giving lessons, with nominal fees that would supply one revenue stream for the organization. Advanced skiers have expressed interest in forming a competitive team.

Public relations and outreach activities are expected to get underway shortly: Dave Curcurito is already working on a logo design, and bookmarks sporting SNSA’s Web address and a Code of Conduct for ski trail users should start appearing in local businesses and hangouts soon. Ruoff, meanwhile, is pursuing collaborations with such entities as Rock and Snow and Williams Lake to co-sponsor events. “I talked to Cross-Country Skier magazine,” he reported. “They might do a story on us once we get going.”

Just remember that you heard it first in the New Paltz Times. To sign up for the listserv and get announcements of monthly SNSA meetings, upcoming events and other news, skithegunks@gmail.com.

There are 3 comments

  1. Genie Abrams

    We mid-Hudson residents need a place where those of us who are only OCCASIONAL XC skiers can go to rent skis and boots; sit and drink hot chocolate and have lunch and/or snacks at a restaurant; men’s and women’s lockerrooms where we can change and lock up our purses, cellphones, our regular clothes, etc., till we get back from skiing.
    Northeast of Albany there’s a great place called Garnet Lake XC Lodge and Ski Center that has all this plus lodging for tourists who come from all over the Northeast and beyond. Some smart entrepreneur would make a fortune if he built such a place here. (And don’t say we already have Mohonk Mountain House; we mid-Hudson residents can’t afford that!)

  2. Karin

    Good job Mark!! This will be such a great group for XC ski fans. It’s going to be sweet when it all comes together!

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