March, which is appropriately known as the month of the Crust Moon, was ushered in by a major storm that delivered over a two feet of snow across the region. Curently, the solid crust permit quick and easy travel whether on skis or snowshoes.
With cool evenings, pleasant afternoon temperatures and steadily increasing hours of daylight, March is one of the finest months for winter recreation in the Adirondacks.
It is a time when local wildlife begin to stir from their winter haunts, the woods remain wide open, and the snow cover is excellent for highlighting tracks. As a wide variety of birds return to the region on a daily basis, tourist numbers begin to dwindle and the trails are lightly traveled.
Sliding: Winter's Endless Entertainment
Even if you don't ski, skate, snowshoe, snowmobile or ice fish, there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the winter, beyond taking a trip south. Although recent surveys reveal that winter sports have experienced significant growth in only two primary pursuits, snowshoeing and telemark skiing, the most popular, winter activity worldwide remains by far, the most basic.
Nearly any child exposed to a winter environment has enjoyed the activity. It is a pursuit that requires no specialized equipment, no advanced training and no unique skills.
Riding anything from a cardboard box to the seat of a pair of nylon pants, children across the northern latitudes jump at an opportunity to slide across the snow.
Lugging a sled behind them, they'll climb to the top of the nearest incline and descend endlessly; or until frozen feet, wet pants, soggy mittens and a runny nose require a trip home or a major readjustment.
We've all done it, whether on a Flying Saucer, Flexible Flyer', Ski Bob, toboggan or some other improvised device such as a cardboard box, tire inner tube, garbage bag or cafeteria tray.
Over the years, numerous local kids have graduated to the more technical sliding pursuits of luge, skeleton or bobsled. And while their accomplishments are now achieved while riding an upgraded version of the 'Flexible Flyer', their sliding careers almost certainly began on ski hill, a local golf course hill or other nearby venues. Despite advancements in ski design, snowmaking, grooming and a host of other modern conveniences, sledding remains the most popular and readily accessible of all winter entertainment.
Despite it's traditional world wide appeal, sliding is now one of the fastest growing "new" winter sports. High tech materials and engineered designs have resulted in upgraded versions of the trusty old, Flexible Flyer.
Labeled "extreme sledding" or "free sledding", the phrase was coined by participants who utilize a variety of unique sleds to ride over rough, ungroomed and often extreme terrain.
I was introduced to the pursuit several years ago, while cross country skiing on a mountain trail in Ray Brook. It was a very odd experience that took place on St. Patrick's Day
I was skiing along a well packed snowshoe trail, when out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of movement in the woods, far off the trail. At first glance, I couldn't quite make out what it was. However, it was moving downhill fast, darting though the hardwoods and careening through the balsams, and I could see at least three of them.
They were small, about the size of a large dog, but they were not bounding like animals. It almost looked as if they were rolling, or sliding.
As they got closer, it initially looked to be a leprechaun bouncing through the woods, and in hot pursuit were two other short figures. They all looked about three feet tall and they were blasting through the fresh powder, bouncing off balsams and slaloming through the saplings.
It was a really, weird sight, and it sure appeared they were having great fun. I immediately skied off the trail to catch up with them, but it wasn't easy. They were really moving!
The group, all hailing from Vermont, were riding a new type of sled known as a Mad River Rocket. The seven pound sleds were made of vacuum-molded polyurethane and they had grooves in the bottom to permit easy turning.
The sled had a built in knee strap and a foam cushion to permit riders to kneel comfortably. It looked like a winter version of the popular knee-boards/wakeboards, that are commonly used on the lake during the summer.
The leader of the pack, although dressed entirely in green, was not actually a leprechaun. He was a six foot, two inch tall, "free-sledder". He explained the group had been traveling to the Adirondacks all winter to snowshoe up and sled down numerous local peaks.
The sleds are steered by leaning; dragging a hand as a rudder, or even tree grabbing a tree to maneuver down the steep slopes. As I watched them, the group moved through the forest cover with ease.
"We go where skiers can't!", one guy offered, "Because at only three feet tall, kneeling, we're usually below the tree limbs. It's neat to grab a sapling and sling around it for a turn. Skiers would get their poles all tangled up doing that."
He mentioned another advantage that I hadn't considered, explaining, "We don't fall down, we just tip over!"
I watched as the group slid off into the distance. I met up with them later in the trailhead parking lot. With snowshoes on their feet, tiny sleds strapped to their packs, and helmets on their heads, they looked like a lost pod of web-footed turtles. They all sported wide smiles and explained they had snowshoed to the summits of many local peaks, including Mt. Marcy. However, they stated a preference for riding off trail, especially in the spring when the crust provides plenty of support.
The Mad River Rocket sled was invented in 1987 by architect David Sellers of Warren Vermont. Sellers fabricated the sled by adapting a vacuum molding process that had been used to produce roto-mold canoe at the nearby Mad River Canoe Company.
His design borrowed the concept of a negative keel from Boston Whaler boats, which makes it track easily. The sled design requires riders to kneel, which results in a low center of gravity. Riders steer with arms and brake as you lean to and fro. Experienced riders learn how to take advantage of terrain, and to utilize the nearby woods, swinging around trees or using a sapling to slow their descent.
Interested yet? Mad River Rockets can be can purchased or rented at High Peaks Mountain Adventure Center in Lake Placid. Helmets, goggles and elbow pads are advised.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.