Just when winter sports conditions were starting to really look good, a January thaw has begun, with temperatures on Saturday forecast to reach into the 50s in some warmer locations. The warm weather, and possibly rain, will melt and compact what snow we have but with continued freezing overnight, hard, icy trails will become wet and soft by afternoon. Heavy winds Wednesday night have resulted in quite a bit of blowdown.
Snowshoes or skis will still be needed, along with crampons or other traction devices at higher elevations. Forecasts are calling for warmer weather to continue into early next week, but long range outlooks suggest cold could return for the second half of January.
Snow amounts vary around the region from 10 inches to two feet at lower elevations and four feet at higher elevations in the High Peaks. There is about 10-12 inches of snow remaining in Northern Warren County, 16-20 inches in Newcomb and the Lake Placid area, 10-12 inches around Saranac Lake, and about 16 inches in Paul Smiths. There is about 32 inches of snow at the Lake Colden Interior Cabin and about 4 feet at 4,000 feet.
Rivers and streams are currently running at normal levels for this time of year, but they will rise, especially in the afternoons, as snow pack melts this weekend. The National Weather Service in Burlington has issued warning that that there is a risk for ice breakup and jamming late this weekend into early next week. Low water crossings may not be accessible and snow bridges may become hazardous.
There is ice on all waters, but many lower elevation waters have only recently frozen over and have thawed and refrozen several times making for weak ice, lots of slush and layered ice. Ice is untypically thin for this time of year and several snowmobiles have gone through the ice in the past week. Remember that ice that holds snow may not yet hold the weight of a person, so avoid inlets and outlets and check ice depth before venturing onto frozen waterbodies and frequently during crossings
For now, there are still good early season backcountry conditions, but conditions will change this weekend with continued warming and possible rains that could pack the remaining light snow, but will probably not destroy the base. Ski safely and be aware of obstacles, some drainages remain unfrozen and off-trail conditions are only fair to good depending on location. The best opportunities continue to be the early season routes, including Connery Pond, the Whiteface Highway, Newcomb Lake, Fish Pond, and Hays Brook, Raquette Falls and Lake Lila.
In the High Peaks, the hiking trail from Adirondac Loj to Marcy Dam is skiable but marginal, so the Marcy Dam Truck Trail is still the better choice there. The road to Lower Ausable Lake is skiable as is the trail to Johns Brook Lodge. Avalanche Pass is now in good shape and there is enough ice to cross Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden, but slush remains a problem. Mount Marcy is reported skiable above the 50 meter bridge, but more technical below where avoiding rocks is an issue. The Wright Peak Ski Trail is skiable as is the Calamity Brook Trail. Skiers and snowsoers are crossing the Flowed Lands.
The Jackrabbit Trail remains marginal at the Saranac Lake end, but the rest of the trail is in very good condition with a 10 to 30 inch base.
Cross country skiing remains very good with conditions largely unchanged since last week, at least so far. All cross-country ski areas are open on an 8-15 inch base.
Conditions remain excellent at downhill ski areas, with the continued exception of Hickory Mountain in Warrensburg, which remains closed.
Early season snowmobiling trail conditions remain the rule. Trails continue to have some wet spots and many clubs have stopped grooming, with the exception of those in Hamilton and Franklin counties, where avoiding the popular trails, which are reported somewhat thin and bumpy, is the best bet. Grooming has stopped on Northern Warren County trails, and trails in Southern Warren County and most of Washington County have closed. Call ahead to a local club, before venturing out, and use restraint. The gates remain opened on snowmobile trails in DEC managed areas.