Checking in with the Shawangunk Nordic Ski Association

The Shawangunk Nordic Ski Association held a free Cross-Country Ski Clinic this past Sunday on the golf course at Mohonk Mountain House. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

For most mammals, “hibernation” refers to a period of inactivity, even dormancy, designed to conserve energy during cold, snowy weather. But for cross-country (XC) skiers, that’s precisely the best time to come out of hiding and get active. Winters with enough accumulated snow to provide a skiable base in the Shawangunks are becoming rarer as the Earth’s average annual temperature continues to climb; so a nice ten-inch snowfall like we got recently, is happy news indeed to the constituents of the Shawangunk Nordic Ski Association (SNSA). They’re out there on the trails even on bitterly cold days, having fun, keeping fit, sharing tips on where to go and nurturing a new generation of “skinny ski” enthusiasts.

Founded in late 2014 with the intent of providing a collective voice for XC skiers in the allocation of state resources for outdoor recreation, SNSA these days serves more as a communications hub than an advocacy organization. There’s a website, www.skithegunks.com, but it’s not updated regularly; the real information action happens on its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/skithegunks. There, on almost a real-time basis, SNSA organizers and other active skiers post verbal descriptions and photos of skiing conditions on local trails — primarily in Minnewaska State Park and the Mohonk Preserve, but also farther afield when conditions in the Gunks aren’t at their best.

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These bulletins are remarkable for their level of detail. You can find out, for example, exactly where on a particular route to anticipate bare or icy spots, and whether or not you’ll need to take off your skis and walk at such points, or if there’s an off-trail option to skirt around them if you don’t mind a bit of bushwhacking. This is where you’ll learn how deep and well-packed the base is; how much grooming has been done, and how recently; whether there’s tracking for “classic” skiing or a good tamped-down surface for skate-skiers; where the grooming has been messed up by hikers, dog-walkers, snowshoers or even fat-tire mountain bikers.

The latter class of track-obliterators is a relatively new hazard in the Nordic skiing world. Who knew, outside the core community of mountain bikers, that taking one’s two-wheeler out for a spin in the snow was even a thing? But apparently all-season biking is a growing trend, and not necessarily harmful to ski routes under certain conditions: when the trail surface — both the snow cover and the soil beneath — is hard and densely packed. Softer snow is more easily dislodged, while also making bikes more likely to tip over. Some XC destinations permit “shared use” and some do not; SNSA has not taken an official position on the subject, and called it “a tricky topic to deal with” in a comment on a recent Facebook post.

Some exciting new developments for XC skiers have been announced on the SNSA page since this winter’s ski season has gotten underway. For one thing, the Mohonk Preserve, which used to rely on Mohonk Mountain House grooming machinery (meaning that it had to wait its turn), has just begun to groom its own ski tracks this year. This opens up new possibilities for grooming trails that hadn’t been maintained before. Already, Trapps Road — the lower trail heading south from Trapps Bridge towards Minnewaska, a long-coveted link between the Gunks’ two big playgrounds for skiers — has been mechanically groomed for the first time. Minnewaska has also recently begun grooming some trails that hadn’t been open to skiers in the past, except those hardy enough to break their own track. “At Minnewaska this morning I skied the never-before-groomed Smiley Carriage Road, beyond Lake Awosting,” read a February 1 Facebook post from SNSA. “It had only been groomed once since the snowfall, so it was fairly soft and without a classic track, but still a wonderful option. After a few miles there is an amazing view looking back at the whole ridgeline, from Castle Point to Sky Top in the distance. My understanding is that Minnewaska is just testing the waters by grooming that this year — with its possible inclusion in the future on a more steady basis. That trail has been undergoing lots of rebuilding with big support from OSI and private donors. It may eventually make the connection to Sam’s Point as a rebuilt carriage road.”

If informational gems like this whet your appetite to lace up your boots and step into your bindings, you might also want to sign up for SNSA’s e-mail listserv on Yahoo Groups at https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/mhxcss/conversations/messages. Correspondents from all over the tri-state metropolitan area and points north check in there regularly with reports from various Nordic skiing destinations in the Hudson Valley, Catskills, Adirondacks and New England as well as locally. If conditions aren’t topnotch in the Gunks for your weekend warrior agenda, they’re probably better somewhere else within reasonable driving distance. This is the place to find out exactly where.

Another thing that SNSA does very well is provide a painless introduction to the sport for youngsters and newbies. A beginner-to-intermediate ski clinic held at Mohonk Mountain House last Sunday drew about 30 participants, with three instructors. Another  intermediate ski clinic was scheduled for February 10, but the warm weather got the best of the snow and the event is cancelled, as is the Nick Mancuso Memorial Cross-Country Ski Race on Saturday, February 9, dedicated to the memory of the longtime Nordic ski coach at Wallkill High School who died in September 2018.

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