For cross-country skiers in the greater Capital Region, we rejoice when an early storm dumps a foot or more of snow without the threat of rain and wind to ruin Mother Nature’s gift.
Many people rely on their “go-to” places to cross-country ski–golf courses, state parks, a local ski center, the Albany Pine Bush, Five Rivers Environmental Center, and Thacher Park– but few are aware of the great paths available amongst the 18 preserves managed by the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy.
As a preserve steward and backcountry skier, I’d like to introduce you to some of the preserves that I have come to love skiing and snowshoeing because of their natural settings, challenges, and availability within a 30-40 minute drive.
For beginners or those with younger families, try the smaller and more level preserves such as Van Dyke, Swift Wetlands, Mosher Marsh, and Strawberry Fields. And of course, the 9 mile Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail would be a perfect route to test your equipment and get your legs in condition for more challenging trails.
For those seeking to ski or shoe deeper into the woods but who still want a fairly mild path, I’d recommend the Bozen Kill, Wolf Creek Falls, and Winn Preserves. The Bozen Kill’s white trail starts in an open field but quickly enters the woods with a mild incline that parallels a meandering stream. About a half-mile in, the white trail connects to the red trail which takes you to the stream in .7 miles. Wolf Creek Falls has 3 miles of rolling trails on either side of the road that offers mixed terrain under a canopy of trees. The Winn Preserve offers numerous trails in a forest that includes a snowmobile trail bisecting the preserve. I’d recommend the red, white, blue and green trails.
The most challenging trails are found at Bennett Hill, Holt, and Keleher Preserves that all flow south along the Helderberg Escarpment. They offer fun challenges for the backcountry skier who enjoys a good challenge going up and down hills. I recommend reviewing the online trail and terrain maps of these preserves to select trails that are aligned with your level of ability. The best ski conditions for these trails are after snowfalls of 4+ inches with a base of 8 inches. Deeper snow conditions allow skiers to maneuver some of the tight trails with greater control. I would recommend skiing with another person since these preserves have fewer visitors and are in more remote areas. Bring plenty of water, snacks, a fully charged phone (with GPS app), and a small first aid kit to be prepared for situations. Recommended trails: Bennett Hill (green to yellow loop and back), Holt (red loop – lower entrance, red (pond)-blue-green-blue loop at the upper entrance), Keleher (white (west) up and back, green and blue either way and white (east) or orange going up only. Avoid red trails at Bennett Hill and Keleher due to steep terrain.
As for the other wonderful preserves found on the MHLC website, they offer unique terrain that includes the use of bridges, staircases, and pathways that are more suited for snowshoeing and hiking with boots (preferably with microspikes). Attention to safety is important on these trails due to steep inclines, icy bridges, and staircases. These preserves include Ashford Glen, Fox, Normans Kill (West/East), Phillipin Kill, Restifo Sanctuary, Schiffendecker Farm, and Schoharie Creek. Reminder: check the MHLC website to review trail conditions and the preserve’s location, size, and offerings to determine if it has what you’re seeking.
Hope to see you in the woods this winter season!
Bob Frederick, Keleher Preserve Steward
Bob Frederick is the MHLC Seasonal Stewardship Assistant, the Preserve Steward for Keleher Preserve, and our “volunteer of all trades.” Learn more about Bob, and his work with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, by clicking here.