Lake Minnewaska: Back Where it All Began

It took me 10 hours over two days to dig out of the blizzard of 1 February.  Moving over two feet of snow, I needed a rest day.  The following Thursday, I drove to Lake Minnewaska to take advantage of all that fresh powder.

When it was still privately owned, in the early 1980s, Lake Minnewaska was where I learned to ski.  In the last few years, I’ve run a lot in the Shawangunks.  Skiing, not so much.  For those unacquainted with Shawangunk skiing, I contributed this piece to the NY Ski Blog.  After Lake Minnewaska was acquired by the state, winter trail grooming was sketchy at best for several years. Sometimes mediocre, sometimes OK, and sometimes nonexistent.  Recently, park management is making a concerted effort to groom.

castle-point-carriage-road

Castle Point Carriage Road

Consistent grooming certainly paid off today.  These days, park workers are using two snowmobiles and a UTV to groom, and their efforts showed.  After crayoning kick wax in the parking lot, I set out past the new visitors’ center, near the site of Wildmere.  

The tracks were great and the skate pad looked good too.  On a bluebird day with a light breeze, I climbed up the first hill going around the lake, then turned on to the Castle Point carriage road.

gertrudes-nose

Looking towards Gertrude’s Nose

Packed powder and good tracks made for easy skiing.  Well, as easy as the skiing can be on the gradual three-mile climb to Castle Point.  There are some changes with grooming as well.  A sign at the entrance advised that the Gertrude’s Nose trail is no longer groomed.  ( I believe they might actually mean the Millbrook Mountain carriage road.) In addition, the Library Hill trails are no longer groomed.  Back in the day, Library hill was a connector through an old orchard that linked Castle Point and Upper Awosting.

Further out Castle Point, the classic tracks had high moisture content here and there due to the sun.  No worries, I hopped onto the skate pad where I needed to.  A few people came by me, gliding down from the point.  Around midway out, I stopped and turned around: you could see the tower on Sky Top, the height of land at Mohonk Mountain House.

I arrived on Castle Point to stupendous views down to Lake Awosting and Sam’s Point.  Far off, I thought I saw an alpine area with northwest facing slopes.  After grokking the view, I continued.  It should be noted that even on good days, Castle Point can be so windblown that you’ve got to remove your skis to walk across bare spots.  Not today.  I passed the Blueberry path singletrack and began the sinuous descent to Upper Awosting Road.

The roads built 150 years ago were intended for easy travel in horse-drawn carriages.  Perhaps determined by the terrain as much as the engineers’ design aesthetic, dogleg 90-degree corners in quick succession make for an, um, interesting ride.  Back when I learned to ski and had zero skilz, I’d panic and these things would eat me up.  It didn’t help that my first pair of skis were these Trak monstrosities with plastic three-pin bindings and ski boots that have less support than flip flops.  No control turning whatsoever.

On newer skis with modern bindings, I carried more speed into the turns and had to scrub it quick to get around them.  There are definitely some DFU turns near the precipices.

At the bottom of Castle Point, I stopped to re-wax before continuing on Upper Awosting Road.  The ungroomed Lake Awosting trail had tracks going off into the woods… I wonder if they managed to circumnavigate the lake.

A fast descent, a looping turn, and looming cliffs with big ice formations.  From here it was easy, a lot of double poling and smiling. I thought of all the skiing I’d done here Andrew, Barclay, Eugene, Leonard, and goodness knows who else back in the day.  Thirty years ago, Minnewaska was our go-to place, and we wore those trails out, whooping and hollering.  We’d reward ourselves with a frosty adult beverage at the Mountain Brauhaus before heading home.

At Library Hill, I regained the trail around Lake Minnewaska and climbed it again.  I passed the Castle Point cutoff and looped around the lake.  I’ve always skied counterclockwise around Minnewaska. Every time.

When I returned to the parking lot, it was only 2 PM.  But I’d gone a long way, and I didn’t feel like lapping Minnewaska a second time.  Today, it was enough.