Backcountry Sports Center

Located next to the AuSable River in Keene Valley, under the towering High Peaks, is The Mountaineer, a store that specializes in backcountry sports. The business, opened in 1975, was purchased three years ago by long-time customers, Charlie and Nancy Wyse. For this Strictly Business article I spoke with Charlie to find out about winter sports in the Adirondacks.

Wyse explained the store specializes in, “All things backcountry from winter hiking to ice climbing and a healthy dose of backcountry skiing. We specialize in sports that are human powered — meaning aerobic and, typically, well off the grid.” Also popular is winter trail running and winter camping.”

The most common type of local ice climbing is on water that flows down cliff faces and freezes. You can see this sort of ice along the rock cuts of the Northway. Backcountry skiers seek out remote mountains and use wide skies equipped with “skins” that allow them to both climb and descend. For the most part, these skiers avoid the groomed trails and lifts of typical ski resorts like Whiteface.

The most common questions customers ask Wyse are, “Where should I go and is this warm?” he noted. “Ensuring that customers have a map, a plan, safety essentials, and the proper gear is not just good business. It’s the best way to ensure they come back safely. The winter environment can be harsh, even deadly, so proper skills, gear and knowledge are essential.”

Rather than furnishing their own in-house guides, The Mountaineer partners with local guides. “It’s a nice relationship that serves all parties well,” Wyse offered.

The Mountaineer hosts two events each winter, one focused on ice climbing and the other on backcountry skiing. “We facilitate a full weekend of activities, clinics and speakers that reinforce relationships with long-time customers and forge new ones with folks just getting into these sports.”

This past summer the problem of too many hikers and campers crowding the mountains were headline news. Overcrowded parking areas and damage to trails and fragile alpine environments came to the forefront. “Winter crowding is far less of an issue than what we were seeing in the summer and even the shoulder seasons,” noted Wyse. “There is generally less demand for these pursuits but that is evolving. Also, it is easier to leave-notrace on snow or ice surfaces than on heavily trodden trails that are showing their wear throughout the Adirondack High Peaks.”

Looking at the future of winter sports, Wyse said, “Along with an increased interest in rock climbing, ice climbing is beginning to draw new sports enthusiasts looking for an extension of their skills. Backcountry skiing is also very much on the rise, particularly in a pandemic winter where traditional ski resorts and associated travel will present limitations and challenges. We firmly expect the pent-up demand for nature and fresh air in this pandemic climate to continue to drive behavior into the winter season.”

When asked about whether global warming is affecting winter sports in the Adirondacks, Wyse emphatically said, “Absolutely, yes. Increasing freeze/thaw cycles can wreak havoc on our ski season.” He observed that winters are getting shorter, “We see big winters with consistent cold and snow but those are fewer and further between in this century.”

Wyse is sanguine about his business: “Regardless of the pandemic and weather changes, people will play, and that presents different recreational opportunities for expanded hiking and ice climbing. The same freeze/thaw cycles that damage skiing can create better ice formations for ice climbing.”

That people will play is a certainty and one that’s guaranteed to keep customers coming back to shop at The Mountaineer.

The Mountaineer
1866 NY Route 73
Keene Valley, NY 12943