Standing at the top of a snow-covered mountain, you can gaze across valleys, rivers, forests and towns. Light snowflakes are falling as you zigzag down through pristine powder, picking up a little speed, then throwing up a soft wake of snow as you execute a perfect turn and rush through a silent canopy of hemlock, oak and fir. All your senses are awake, alive and on overdrive as the wind reddens your cheeks, your lungs expand with cold country air, and your muscles and nerves instinctively react to each rise and fall of the snow beneath your skis. Welcome to the thrill of winter sports in Upstate New York.
When the days grow short and the wind begins to howl, our natural instinct is to crank up the thermo, make a pot of coffee, and crawl under an afghan. But here in Upstate New York (this geological wonderland situated between the Midwest, southern Ontario and the eastern seaboard), we pride ourselves on enjoying all our distinct seasonsthe chartreuse springs, golden summers, scarlet autumns and the snow white winters. For those who understandably vow to spend winter beside a blazing hearth, the following may not transform couch potatoes into downhill racers. But as nearly every kid in the northern climes knows, once you get out and start moving around in winter, your body warms up quickly. Dress in layers, wear a snug hat, waterproof gloves, warm footgear and you’re ready for winter fun!
You’re Never Far From a Chance to Play in the Snow
Whether you’re playing hockey on a frozen backyard pond or telemarking down Rattlesnake Hill near the Finger Lakes, there’s no shortage of exciting winter sports action wherever you go in our region. From Peek ‘n Peak in southwest Chautauqua County to the Dry Hill ski slopes in the Thousand Islands, our big scenic corner of the state is blessed with lakes and ponds for ice skating, forest trails for cross-country skiing, big hills for sledding and tobogganing, and dozens of winter sports areas offering tons of fun to snow enthusiasts of all ages.
One of the oldest winter activities involving special equipment was practiced by Iroquois tribes in Upstate New York well before the arrival of skiing or any other winter sports. Long considered a sport by racers and others who strap on snowshoes for recreation, snowshoeing is an increasingly popular winter activity throughout the region, especially on drumlins along the lakeshores, on cross-country ski trails, and in forested parks like Allegany State Park, Durand Eastman Park, Finger Lakes National Forest and Sprague Brook Park. If you’d love to get out in the snow but you’d rather hike than ski, snowshoeing may be the perfect winter activity for you.
As for skiing, although downhill (Alpine) skiing has long been the dominant winter sport in New York state and elsewhere in the country, the popularity of cross-country (Nordic) skiing has grown enormously in recent decades. Today, most ski areas and resorts across the region typically offer well-groomed slopes and trails (and rent equipment) for both downhill and cross-country (XC) skiing. Family fun also includes snow tubing, sleigh rides, snowmobiling and snowboarding. To accommodate the bourgeoning popularity of snowboarding, many areas now provide boarding trails, half pipes, jumps, spines, rails and walls.
For winter fun a little further afield, head to the Catskills for the Belleayre Mountain Winter Carnival (Jan. 2226), or the Adirondacks for the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival (Feb. 211) or the Empire State Games in Lake Placid (Feb. 2325). All events offer a full schedule of family activities for participants and spectators alike.
Play it safe
Although snow sports are often associated with a risk of injury, that risk is much lower than generally thought. In fact, less than 0.5 percent of downhill skiers sustain any injuries at all. For every 1,000 people skiing on any particular day, fewer than three will sustain an injury that requires medical attention. For snowboarding, the rate is slightly higher, just over four injuries per 1,000 boarders per day. Because of their lower rate of speed, Nordic skiers have the lowest risk of injury of any skiers. Whatever winter sport you choose, remember to dress warmly, use common sense and follow the rules. You may have so much fun, you’ll be looking forward to the next snowfall!