Story and photos by Janet McCue
Like Baba Marta, the Bulgarian folk figure personifying March, spring skiing can be unpredictable. Glorious when the sun is shining and the snow is crisp, sticky when temperatures are slightly above freezing and the snow is filled with moisture, slick when the slopes are icy from the cycle of daytime melt and overnight freeze. Not knowing what to expect from our Ides of March ski on Connecticut Hill, we thought we should fortify ourselves first. Lucky for us there was a breakfast at the Mecklenburg Volunteer Fire Company–just 9 miles from the start of our ski.
Pancake breakfasts, sponsored by fire companies, churches, and community centers, are a good way to meet your neighbors and indulge in a hearty breakfast. Founded in 1946, the MVFC hosts a pancake breakfast on the 3rd Sunday of each month. Firefighters take up spatulas and serve pancakes, home fries, eggs over easy or sunny side up, sausage, and crisp strips of bacon. Pick up your utensils and OJ, find a seat, and friendly auxiliary members will serve you coffee, tea and all the refills you can manage. For many small towns and hamlets, fire company breakfasts–like Election Day suppers and harvest lunches–are important fundraisers for the community.
After a long winter, pancake breakfasts are also a good way to reconnect with your neighbors. As we sipped our tea, we talked to Steve Sierigk, owner of Hawk Meadow Farm. Hawk Meadow Farm is now in the midst of maple sugaring but come late spring, it will be offering its shiitake mushroom CSA. For 15 weeks, subscribers will receive 1/2-pound bundles of log-grown shiitakes. Steve and his wife, Anne, are partners in the farm and in their other business, Acorn Designs. They sell their maple syrup, mushrooms, jams, jellies, and eco-friendly cards and journals at the Trumansburg Farmers Market. Bring a pint of their maple syrup to your next community breakfast; no one will mind.
We talked about pancakes and maple syrup, the long winter and cross-country skiing, growing shiitakes and the delicate flavor of chanterelles. We vowed to sign up for one of the guided mushroom walks organized by Hawk Meadow Farm at the height of the mushroom season (July-August). After lingering over our endless refills, we said goodbye to Steve and our other neighbors and drove to Connecticut Hill.
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, “the Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area is the largest of its kind in New York State, totaling 11,645 acres. It’s located 16 miles southwest of Ithaca and one mile northeast of Alpine, astride the Tompkins-Schuyler County line.” Some of the land is rugged (it’s part of the Appalachian Highlands); other sections are managed to attract grouse and other wildlife. It’s easy to get lost but if you follow one of the marked trails you’ll be in good shape. We took the Bob Cameron Loop Trail developed by the Cayuga Trails Club and named after a former manager of CT Hill. For more information about the wildlife area and its trails, click here.
Connecticut Hill, like Hammond Hill State Forest, often has snow when everything at lower elevations has melted. We found more than 2 feet of snow on the ground and a light dusting of new powder on top. It was that topping of fresh snow that fooled us, hiding the icy crunch below. On flat surfaces skiing was easy but on hills through the woods, skiing was thrilling, exhilarating, even harrowing at times. The icy foundation provided little grip and on the narrow trails, the trees loomed large as we navigated the curves. Planned falls avert collisions when all skill fails. But extracting oneself from 2 feet of snow is even more challenging.
We all made it back safely and wondered where our next outing would be. Just because your neighbor’s snowdrops are blooming and there is no snow in your backyard, there might be plenty in the higher elevations. Since we “know” that Baba Marta’s mood affects the weather, which in turn affects the snow conditions, you’ll be grateful for the up-to-date tips on snow conditions that the Cayuga Nordic Ski folks provide through their listserv. Winter is not over so enjoy it while you can!
Next (last of the 2015 season?) ski: Hammond Hill? Or maybe Finger Lakes National Forest? If you’re tired of the snow, skip the ski and enjoy the comfort food and fellowship at a community breakfast! The Trumansburg Volunteer Fire Company is holding a pancake breakfast on March 29th. This breakfast honors the life of the artist H. Peter Kahn, a 20-year veteran of the TVFC. Proceeds go to the Kahn Memorial Scholarship, which supports education for TVFC members and their children.
Janet McCue is an avid hiker who enjoys both the beauty and the bounty of the Finger Lakes. Her website follows her six-day culinary trek through the Finger Lakes, a journey that Edible Finger Lakes covered in its July/August 2014 issue (“Hike to Eat”).
For more of Janet’s adventures, check out her story on skiing with her sister at Six Mile Creek.