KEENE VALLEY - With each step up the Mount Marcy ski trail, the snow grew a little thicker on the bottom of Saratoga Springs resident Mike Schaefer's skis.
By the time we reached Indian Falls, the snow build-up had grown to about 3 inches.
So when we stopped for lunch, guide Emilie Drinkwater gave him a hand, scraping off his skis and putting a second application of a special wax on his climbing skins to prevent snow from building up.
"It added an element," Schaefer said afterward with a wry grin about his experience of skiing in the rain.
On Saturday, I joined a group of seven people for a backcountry ski tour up Mount Marcy just past Indian Falls. The trip was part of the Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival, organized by The Mountaineer and Cloudsplitter Mountain Guides, both located in Keene Valley. Our particular trip was led by Drinkwater, of Cloudsplitter, and avid Saranac Lake skier Jim Sausville, who leads backcountry ski courses at local colleges.
The ski festival is a fundraiser for the Adirondack Ski Touring Council and NYSEF programs. The council is responsible for maintaining the Jackrabbit ski trail that runs from Paul Smiths to Keene. It's also done extensive work on the ski trails on Wright Peak and Mount Marcy.
Cloudsplitter Mountain Guide Emily Drinkwater skis the Mount Marcy Ski Trail Saturday afternoon during the Adirondack Backcountry Ski Festival.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
The festival is broken into several parts. There are gear demos and telemark skiing lessons at Otis Mountain in Elizabethtown, guided backcountry trips for all levels in the High Peaks and a Saturday night presentation.
For the ski trips Saturday, the weather was warmer than usual and pretty wet. We started off the morning with no precipitation, but gradually found ourselves skiing in a combination of sleet and snow, then finally rain.
This was about the fifth time I've skied in the rain this winter: twice at Whiteface and three times in the backcountry.
I find there are several challenges to backcountry skiing on warm and rainy days: staying warm, finding the right kick wax and preventing build-up on your skins. If you can conquer those obstacles, it can be fun. You just have to have the right attitude about it and the right gear.
The best skis to have on any warm day are waxless ones with scales. If you don't have them, you can get by with a variety of waxes available. On Saturday, Drinkwater had some spray Klister kick wax that worked great for the last 2 miles from Marcy Dam to the Adirondak Loj trailhead. Without proper kick wax, you can wind up having a frustrating time sliding your skis back and forth as you try to move uphill.
To prevent snow build up, I used Glop stopper wax made by Black Diamond. Having a bar of this in your backpack in the spring is essential when temperatures are above freezing.
As for staying warm, you just had to keep moving on this day. It was just about impossible to stay dry. But we were in the woods for most of the ski. That meant we were sheltered from the wind, which would have sapped our body heat.
The trip, as it turned out, proved to be the perfect introduction for Saturday night's presentation by speaker Heather Paul, a former University of Vermont skier who is now a Marmot pro skier.
Paul is a former member of the U.S. National and World Cup teams. She has traveled extensively throughout North America and Europe, earning two national titles and a World Championship medal.
On Saturday night, she gave a detailed presentation at the Keene Valley fire house about her trip to the Altai Mountains in northwestern China and Kazahkstan. The trip, which lasted weeks, included a long traverse across a slushy lake, hiking with skis and dealing with less than ideal skiing weather.
In some ways, although much, much longer and more difficult, her adventure mirrored our trip. In both cases, Mother Nature didn't always cooperate and left the skiers having to make adjustments to adapt to the conditions. But that's OK because it's just part of the deal when you ski in the backcountry.