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Winter Afternoon at the Cascade Welcome Center

Winter Afternoon at the Cascade Welcome Center

By Neal Burdick

Last day of January, twelve degrees F. Bright sun, blue sky, scattered puffy clouds casting shadows on the undulating land. The mountains, the trees, all are plastered in white, like a planet-­size birthday cake with powdered sugar frosting.

Through an immense picture window in the lodge, Algonquin’s upper reaches are fuzzed out by a snow squall acting like a theater scrim. Even lower Wright Peak’s summit is momentarily obscured. I wonder how any hikers up there are faring, whether they are properly attired and safe.

This is the Cascade Welcome ­Center, now entering its second season as a Nordic ski destination and ADK operations hub under the ownership and management of the organization. Time to hit the trails….

A room with tables and chairs

Realizations

When you are tangled in a knot of skis, poles, arms, legs, and varieties of underbrush at the bottom of an S-curve downhill, like a jumble of pick-up sticks tossed down the stairs by a frustrated three-year-old, the trees above all seem about to fall on you, leaning in like a tepee. But upon closer inspection, they appear to converge at some distant vanishing point in the sky, the one your sixth-grade art teacher tried to get you to understand.

That’s Realization Number One at the Cascade Welcome Center.

Realization Number Two: Glade skis are meant for powder-blanketed slopes where birch trees serve as ­ersatz slalom gates, not for immaculately groomed and tracked trails at ski centers. Corollary 2-A: The trails at the welcome center are immaculately groomed and tracked, meaning glade skis might as well have jet engines on their tails.

Two skiers on a trail

Having limited time, we skied short inner trails with fitting names: Beaver Run, site of the aforementioned malevolent downhill S-curve and concurrent with the famous Jackrabbit Trail; Main Street and Downtown Alley; Easy Street, which is indeed easy and shares its name with a hamlet near Paul Smith’s, so named because when the guides who lived there were hired by the legendary eponymous hotelier, they were on easy street. Next time, we will test our skills on Tamarack, Bear Trap, or Rabbit Run, also the name of a John Updike novel if you insert a comma.

The parking lot was comfortably full for a weekday afternoon between the World University Games and the Empire State Games. In the spick-and-span lodge, smiling ADK staff helped fit visitors to rental equipment, gave trail advice, sold maps and socks and wax. Down a flight of outdoor stairs, folks jammed boots into bindings, tested poles, fell down and got up. There were kids and elders, accomplished skiers and novices.

As we kicked off on one of two parallel tracks, a family glided past us with waves and grins. Moments later, a young couple approached in the parallel track. Unable to stay there, the woman suddenly found herself in mine, nearly precipitating a head-on collision, upon which she simply sat down. I helped her up and gave her and her bemused partner some sketchy suggestions on how to keep their skis going in the same direction. All the while, we were all smiling, even laughing ­together.

Realization Number Three: Skiing at Cascade Welcome ­Center is for everybody, age, background, and anything else notwithstanding. Corollary 3-A: Everybody has a good time.

My skiing partner/wife, once she ascertained I hadn’t disintegrated during my aforementioned acrobatics, patiently instructed me in how to reassemble myself and arise. Having grown up in a part of Ohio that is as flat as an aircraft carrier deck, she is a much better skier than I, a North Country native. This particular hill posed no threat to her at all, nor did the other two on which I was obliged to practice more gymnastics. I know the African proverb about a poor craftsman always blaming his tools, but even so, I assign my lack of control to having the wrong kind of skis. Or maybe I’m just not a very good skier.

What’s new?

Back at the lodge, we chatted with ADK Visitor Information Manager Henry Liebers, who runs the facility along with an able young staff. He reported a good first year. As for the coming season, “We’re looking to build our programming, and to spread our name,” he added.

Hmm, thought I, maybe I will write an article about this place for Adirondac. But word is already spreading, at least regionally; at the tender age of one, Cascade Welcome Center was voted “best ski shop” in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise’s Best of the Mountains Readers’ Choice Awards.

So what do you do with a Nordic ski center in the summer? You build your programming. Naturalist-led interpre­­tive walks were offered on Saturdays in July and August.

You build in winter, too. As explained in an ADK news release, “[ADK] and the Lake Placid Public Library have partnered to connect children and families to the natural world through an interactive StoryWalk at Cascade Welcome Center. Located along the Main Street trail, the StoryWalk features printed panels from Over and Under the Snow, an illustrated nature book written by award-winning local author Kate Messner and illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal.” The panels help skiers “explore the wonders of the subnivean zone—the environment between fallen snow and the ground where many animals hibernate. The scenes [depicted] are directly reflected in the environment” at Cascade.

What else is on deck for 2023–24? “The trails will have new signage and LED lights for night skiing; we are tentatively planning to do more night skiing events,” said Liebers in August.

We will go back once the snow firms up; I haven’t fallen in quite a while, so I need practice. I’m not sure about night skiing, though; I have enough trouble in daylight. Perhaps we will see you there, having a fine time kicking, gliding, or tumbling under one kind of light or another.


Neal Burdick is the former editor of Adirondac magazine. He promises to acquire proper skis before he returns to Cascade Welcome Center.

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