Guest Post: Safely Breaking Trails in the Snow by Bob Frederick

The winter landscape at Keleher.

It’s been two days since our first snow storm of 2019. With the driveways and roads all plowed, I set out to enjoy a sunny yet frigid day at my favorite nature preserve – Keleher Preserve

As the Preserve Steward of Keleher, I have become very familiar with the trail system, its terrain, and the natural markers you tend to notice when traveling familiar routes.

With a fresh coating of 14 inches of snow, my eyes were introduced to a new and beautiful landscape that looked familiar, but different. This fresh coating of white covered over the paths which volunteers and MHLC staff have created for visitors to safely wander through the 477 acres of wilderness here.

My goal is to encourage people to visit the 18 nature preserves managed by MHLC, so breaking trails for others to enjoy has become one of my objectives this winter. It helps when it’s one of my favorite things to do in the winter anyway.

Breaking trails on skis or snow shoes can be exhausting depending on the conditions. You need to prepare for the type of snow you’ll be in and how that will determine where and how far you will go. I always pack ample gear and supplies in my car to have more options when I arrive at the trail head. Winter hiking requires you to pack the same amount of water and food as with other seasons. I review the snow conditions around the trail entrance to determine what I might expect on the trails. Light, deep snow is much more fun than crusty, heavy snow due to the fact that you need to lift or slide your feet through or over the top of the snow. 

I always invite other people to join me when breaking trails in the wilderness, but the parking lot remained empty, so I headed out on my own.  With this in mind, I gave my wife, and the MHLC staff, my location, the trails I planned to ski and the estimated time I planned to be on the trails. It’s good to have others know where you are when in remote locations in case an unexpected situation arises­­—preparation is key.

Ski trails in deep forest at Keleher.

Today, light snow came half way up my shin. I use backcountry touring skis with metal edges and a parabolic design giving me more stability and turning ability when climbing or descending. After I signed in at the kiosk, my eyes began to notice the changes that a fresh coat of snow offers. The woods are inviting you to explore different directions, even though you know there is a marked trail in front of you.

Over the last two days the snow was accompanied by some high winds that spread fresh pine needles across the top of the snow. After adjusting to this new forest floor, I set out to complete my trail breaking goal – about a 3 mile loop covering three distinct trails (white west, green, blue) and 5 junctures. What was nice about this loop is that each juncture took about 25-30 minutes to reach providing a perfect break to refuel, take a picture, and listen to the sounds of the forest.

My understanding of the trails made the start of my journey pretty routine accept for the fact that I was plowing through 6-12 inches of snow. Additionally, Mother Nature surprised me with dunes of tightly-packed snow (easy to ski on top of ) followed by hidden slopes of loose powder (even easier to sink into).  This made the known trails more interesting, but once I began to get deeper into the preserve I found myself losing track of the tree markers. The trails I felt I knew began to change and the woods displayed alternative paths that seemed equally or more inviting to travel. I had to really pay attention to the tree markers that I helped to update and realized that in this new winter wonderland, I may need to add a few more.  With my patience, the existing trail markers, and by paying close attention to the way the forest provided natural pathways, I was able to complete my trail breaking objective on time and without any mishaps. 

I hope the paths I created encourage others to explore this wilderness area more extensively and learn to appreciate nature in different seasons.  If you would enjoy helping us groom our winter trails with your skis or snow shoes, email MHLC at volunteer@mohawkhudson.org.  

Happy trails.

Bob Frederick is the Preserve Steward for Keleher Preserve and our “volunteer of all trades”. Learn more about Bob, and his volunteer work with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, by clicking here.

Looking for a place to explore this winter? Find a nature preserve near you!

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