Coastal Cross-Country

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A Guide to cross-country skiing on the ADK Coast

Article by Dara Brandenberg

Photos by Jerry Isaak

Are you looking to explore a prime Northeastern destination that features rough terrain or smooth gliding on an expansive coastline? Do you have that favorite pair of cross-country skis at the ready? If so, look no further. There are plenty of paths to discover along the Adirondack Coast.

Why Cross-Country Ski?

The sport’s slow pace and deliberate movements allow outdoor enthusiasts to be present and enjoy the scenery.

“It’s a great way to just get outside during the winter,” says Jerry Isaak, the department chair of the expeditionary studies program at SUNY Plattsburgh. “For most of us who live up here, it’s important for our mental health to get outside in the winter if you feel like you’re stuck indoors.”

Cross-country skiing gives people the opportunity to appreciate nature. Being able to amble along admiring snow-blanketed forests can make skiers feel as if they’re in Narnia. The sound of skis scraping across an icy path can keep skiers focused for hours. Depending on how you handle the chill, it’s an adventure that could take a few hours or an entire day. 

“It’s a really good thing to do with your friends,” says Chris Maron, executive director at Champlain Area Trails. “On a snowy day you could sit inside, watch TV or go to the movies. On the other hand, it’s cool to go outside and do a shared activity.”

Champlain Area Trails is a non-profit that works to create and maintain trail systems.

“You’re really out in the wilderness and going along a fairly easy place to ski, and there are beautiful things around you,” Maron says.

There aren’t many factors influencing movement while cross-country skiing aside from the occasional schuss. Other than that, all momentum is generated by a skier’s own locomotion.

It’s hard work, exertive and more fatiguing than downhill skiing. Cross-country skiing is a whole-body workout that utilizes arm, leg, core and back muscles.

Skiers can move at their own pace, but will certainly feel their entire body working, so be sure to stretch before and after to avoid too much muscle soreness.


Most trail maps show a cross-country skier symbol — a man on skis with poles in hand — and include difficulty levels rated easy, moderate or difficult.

Cadyville Park Trails, just 10 miles west of Plattsburgh, has a vast number of trails with color-coded difficulty levels. Trails marked orange are difficult, yellow are moderate and blue are easy. The area also includes an easy children’s storybook trail featuring 17 stops that allows families to read the book page-by-page along a half-mile trail.

The Terry J. Gordon Recreational Path in Plattsburgh is right along Lake Champlain behind the U.S. Oval which is widely known throughout Plattsburgh for its historical significance with the U.S. military. The 4-mile paved trail is perfect for beginners and offers a view of Lake Champlain. A smooth, flat path like this makes it easy to practice and build technical skills.

Point Au Roche State Park Trails, recognized as Clinton County’s best-known trail system, includes six mostly-level well-marked trails right on the coast of Lake Champlain.

The Little Ausable River Trail in Peru is flat and simple, great for activities like snowshoeing, walking or cross-country skiing. It connects Heyworth Mason Park to Sullivan Park, both of which are located in Peru, and has a bridge that overlooks the river.

Safety Precautions

As a beginner, don’t go alone. When embarking on a cross-country skiing trip, it’s important to let others know your location and expected arrival time. Being prepared for the unexpected will make the trip safer. Be mindful of snow conditions and weather, and how your body performs in low temperatures. Practice extra caution when traveling through the wilderness on ungroomed trails.

Be conscious and mindful when approaching any wildlife areas. While adventuring in the wilderness, you’re entering animal habitats; the least you can do is respect their space. 


“As your efficiency gets better with your technique, it becomes significantly easier,” says Isaak. Cross-country skiing doesn’t require the same level of technical skills as downhill skiing.

Depending on the skier’s level of expertise and where they will be skiing, there are different types of skis to choose from. Backcountry skis are typically used for ungroomed trails. They are wider and easier to turn, whereas classic skis are used for a basic slide-and-glide.

The equipment is lightweight and simple. Poles, boots and skis, along with attire, are all you really need. Be sure to wear layers because with all of that movement it’s easy to work up a sweat. Synthetic materials like polyester are recommended due to their quick-drying properties. Cross-country skiing can be a very intense workout so prepare accordingly. It’s good to carry a backpack with water, a first-aid kit and a change of clothes.

Whatever surface you ski on should have at least one inch of snow. The condition of the snow and the interaction between the snow and your skis determines how fast you go. Adding wax to the bottom of your skis will increase speed.

The most important thing to do while cross-country skiing is to relax. It should be an enjoyable experience that benefits you mentally, emotionally and physically.

About DoNorth

DoNorth: Touring the Adirondack Coast strives to show the splendor of Northern New York’s mountains and lakes to a growing destination travel audience.

Through high-quality photography, design and writing, the pages of DoNorth inspire travelers from Montreal, New York City and Boston to use Clinton County as a jumping off point to immerse themselves in the beauty and excitement of the Champlain Valley and the greater Adirondack region.

The result of a unique partnership between the Adirondack Coast, Visitors Bureau and SUNY Plattsburgh’s journalism department, DoNorth’s pages highlight the wide array of historical, agricultural, arts and recreational tourism opportunities in the area.

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