Skiing Backcountry

The Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York)

November 19, 2008 Wednesday



BYLINE: By Greg Munno


LENGTH: 436 words

Ski lifts stink.

Long lines. High ticket prices. Cold, boring rides.

Of course, lifts do whisk you up the mountain, and that’s great if your goal is to ski as many vertical feet as possible.

But if you want to get away from the crowds, commune with nature and get one of the most fantastic workouts of your life, ditch the lift and head into the backcountry.

“Backcountry skiing is really a totally different mindset than resort skiing,” said Vinny McClelland, manager of the Mountaineer (, a serious backcountry equipment shop in Keene Valley, one of the Northeast’s backcountry-ski hotspots.

“It’s not all about the down,” Vinny added. “It’s about enjoying the woods, the solitude and beauty of the mountains, the exertion of getting yourself up the hill. And it’s about getting away from the expense, the crowds and the hoopla of a downhill ski area.”

The Mountaineer is one of the few places that rents backcountry ski equipment. It also has a popular ski festival the first weekend in March, which offers even more chances to demo equipment, as well as guided backcountry ski tours that are one of the best possible introductions to the sport.

Don’t want to wait till March?

Contact Jesse Williams, who runs Cloudsplitter Guides ( in Keene Valley. He can bring you into the backcountry anytime conditions permit.

Jesse summed up the challenge good resort skiers face when heading into the backcountry for the first time.

“It’s about natural terrain and natural snow,” he said. “You can experience everything in a single day in the Adirondacks from ice to powder, on an open slide or a narrow path through the trees.”

Williams said that in order to go into the Adirondack backcountry on skis, it is important to have at least a little experience on either cross-country or alpine skis.

As important, says Williams and the Mountaineer’s Jan Wellford, is to have a certain comfort level in the backcountry, whether it be hiking, snowshoeing or some other endeavor.

“It can be a long day out there, and just feeling comfortable spending some serious time outside, having some endurance, knowing to dress in layers, knowing to bring snacks and water – just having that comfort level – can really help,” Wellford said.

Here’s to lots of snow, no rain, and a winter full of epic trips and ripping turns! -Greg Munno is The Post-Standard’s civic engagement editor.

Sources for backcountry ski advice and inspiration: Teton Gravity Research ( and the Barking Bear Forums (


Photograph courtesy of Vinny McClelland

Zander McClelland booting up a slide, which is a slope that has been cleared naturally by erosion and other forces, in the Adirondack High Peaks, a mecca for East Coast backcountry skiing. Backcountry skiing is about using your own strength to get up the hill. One method is to hike with your skis on your back. The other is to “skin” up, using a cross-country type motion and climbing skins on the bottom of your skis. If you look closely at McClelland’s skis, you can see he still has his skins on from an earlier part of his journey.

Photograph courtesy of Vinny McClelland

Dramatic vista: Zander and Janey McClelland skin up a slope in the Adirondack High Peaks. Mount Colden’s impressive slides are behind them, and Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York, looms in the background.

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