Off the groomed path: 5 backcountry ski trails near Lake Placid

Did you know, besides dozens of miles of hiking trails, the High Peaks also have designated backcountry ski trails? You’ll find an all-encompassing range of difficulty levels here, so be sure to know your ability level before heading out. Many of the five trails listed below are serious endeavors that should only be attempted by those with the proper skills and gear. Be prepared and be safe!

1. Heaven Hill and Henry’s Woods

These trail complexes aren’t exactly backcountry, but they are a great place to test your skills before embarking on some of the other paths on this list. Heaven Hill is the easier of the two, and it’s a great place for beginners. Stick to the mellow, rolling terrain of the Bear Cub Loop, then head toward the gorgeous Old Orchard Loop when you’re ready for a gentle slope.

Just down the road from Heaven Hill is Henry’s Woods, where more challenging terrain awaits. Take the moderate loop trail, or ascend steeply along the Switchback or Rocky Knob trails. None of the routes here are very long, making this a great spot for a quick morning ski.

2. Jackrabbit Ski Trail

This 24-mile-long trail stretches from Keene to Saranac Lake and is perfect for beginner to intermediate skiers. The 5.5-mile stretch from Whiteface Inn Road in Lake Placid to McKenzie Pond Road in Saranac Lake is probably the most popular, but if you’re looking for some downhill action, the Old Mountain Road section is your best bet. Starting at the end of Old Mountain Road, the path undulates for a short stretch before beginning a steady, 1,000-foot decline to the Jackrabbit Trail’s southern terminus at Adirondack Rock and River. Along the way it passes beaver ponds and the impressive cliffs of the Pitchoff Range. To avoid hoofing it back up the pass, bring two cars and park one at each end of the trail.

3. Avalanche Pass

An intermediate to advanced route, the magnificent Avalanche Pass is well worth the effort required to reach it. Start at the High Peaks Information Center and head toward the former site of Marcy Dam. From here the destination can be seen in the distance, across the small field. Continuing on, the path gradually steepens, then levels off as it enters the Pass, where the forest eventually opens to reveal Avalanche Pass in all its glory. The ultra-rugged base of Avalanche Mountain is a blast to explore, especially in summer, but the views up Mount Colden’s massive slides are the real showstoppers here. Be sure to inquire about ice conditions at the information center before going out on the ice.

4. Mount Marcy

We’d be remiss not to mention the big one — Mount Marcy. Make sure you have the skills to do this one, as it’s definitely best suited for advanced level skiers. This trail follows the same route as the Avalanche Pass trail, but it veers left after the former site of Marcy Dam. From there it’s a long, scenic, uphill slog to Marcy’s 5,344-foot summit, where fantastic views and deep powder await on the mountain’s rocky cone.

5. Dix Mountain slides

Another adventure that’s for advanced skiers only, the slides on Dix Mountain are a popular, if not challenging, backcountry ski destination. Seen from Route 73, Dix’s sharp profile looms above Keene Valley and its slides make the impressive peak look like a ski resort. Up close those slides are a cirque of backcountry fun. Take the Round Pond path and start early — it’s about 6 miles to the slides. If you’re into winter camping there’s a lean-to about 1.5 miles before them. It can’t be stressed enough that this is for experts only, but if you have the skills you’re in for an awesome day.

Head to Lake Placid to warm up after a day on the trails. Enjoy a good meal, a good drink, and relax in a cozy Adirondack room

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