Lake Placid, New York: Winter Sports in Slow Motion

By Sonja Stark
GoNOMAD Senior Writer

Toboganing at Lake Placid New York.
Tobagganing in Lake Placid. photos by Sonja Stark.

In Lake Placid village you’re bound to bump into athletes who propel down twisty tubes, jump ice-capped moguls and rocket off bone-chilling high jumps.

And though it’s been years since the first Olympics (1932 & again in 1980) the world-class training center reminds visitors that the town continues to host World Cup events.

It’s no secret that Lake Placid can tip the adrenaline scale but lesser known are activities for the masses. It’s not always about breaking records and pushing the envelope. Sometimes it’s nice to enjoy the winter splendor in slow motion.

People-Watching From a High Peak

You don’t need your ski poles for a birds-eye view of the 46 picturesque Adirondack High Peaks. Ascend the eight-person Cloudsplitter Gondola at Whiteface Mountain purely as a tourist. The short 15-minute ride jettisons over icy streams, thick forests and skiers below tackling icy black diamonds and harrowing mogul runs.

West coast powder-pushers can only dream of skiing here. An observation deck allows you to the spot the Lake Placid ski jump to the West and Lake Champlain to the East.

Trekking Frozen Waterfalls

Upstate New York is a terrain rollercoaster. Gentle ridges, low valleys, shallow creeks and cascading waterfalls complete the picture. To better understand the geology of the ancient rock and its changing landscape, visit High Falls Gorge. Owner Kathryn Reiss provides you with a pair of ice cleats for easy navigation over steel bridges and slippery girders.

Frozen icicles teeter from granite cliffs just above the Ausable River. Patterns of trapped bubbles in the formations create a natural quilt. After a short hike, warm up around an open campfire roasting marshmallows and enjoy a complimentary cup of hot cocoa.

Hot Tub in Lake Placid. Sonja Stark photo.
Hot Tub in Lake Placid. Sonja Stark photo.

Snowshoeing with Winter Critters

Outdoor guide and teacher, Elizabeth Lee, can identify the tracks of raccoon, fox, mice, rabbit, wolf, moose and deer. She has a sniffer so refined she can even smell prey after it leaves a scent. I hired Lee to take me on a lovely snowshoeing trek along a gurgling brook to the clearing of Cooperas Pond. Buoyed by a bright blue sky the sweet sounds of chickadees, sapsuckers and kinglets followed us to the pond’s shady bank.

Gorge at Lake Placid NY.
Gorge at Lake Placid NY.

The easy roundtrip

Sentinel Range Wilderness Trail includes three ponds between one and four miles in distance. Lee surprises me with news that the Ausable River offers fishermen (even in the winter) the best trout catching on the East Coast.

She spots a frisky otter as it dives though an open hole in the waters edge. Blowdown makes for the perfect hiding place for porcupine and skunk. Yes, bears also live in the Adirondacks but you’re likely not to confront one because they tend to hibernate in the winter.

Cross-Country Skiing with Ease

Because you’re sampling easier activities you’ll also find time to squeeze more of them in. The Cascade X-C Ski Center offers rentals for every level of ability including telemark, racing and backcountry.

Groomed trails crisscross 12-miles of serene wilderness. The meditative activity is quieter, cheaper and odds are good you won’t sprain an ankle or break a bone. Wax up on a moonlit evening and ski past crackling bonfires, live music and hotdogs roasting on outdoor pits.

Moderate Ice Climbing

Staircase on the ice wall
Staircase on the ice wall

It sounds dangerous but Lee says it’s not “if you know what you’re doing and learn to read the ice and respect the conditions.” Canadian climbers drive over 1000 miles to ice climb Mount Pitchoff just north of Mount Van Hoevenberg. There are more climbs here than parking spaces.

Depending on the slope and texture of the ice, climbing requires special equipment like ropes, harnesses, ice axes, carabiners and crampons for your boots. If you’re nimble enough to scale this precipitous cliff there are plenty more along the southern face for further views of Chapel Pond and the Cascade lakes far below.

It’s not the Iditarod but take a quick spin behind an eager team of Alaskan Huskies as they mush across the frozen Mirror Lake. Or test your adrenaline on a dramatic toboggan ride down a 50-foot tower. Slow down the pace in the afternoon with a romantic horse-drawn sleigh ride. Still have energy leftover?

Do a few laps around the same public skating oval that American Eric Heiden won a record five gold medals on in the 1980 Winter Olympics. The longer I stay in Lake Placid the more activities I find to qualify as ‘achievable’ by anyone’s standards.

4-Diamond Breakfast and Spa

After a morning meal of flapjacks, sweet maple syrup and flavored tea, I’m pampered one last time in an Adirondack-themed hot tub at the Mirror Lake Inn & Spa. Ed and Lisa Weibrecht are the doting proprietors of this historic estate that opened its doors to guests in 1926.

The same cozy antique furniture, a solid mahogany piano and grandfather clock adorn the lobby and front desk area. Linger near the warm rosewood fireplace while you admire the vintage library collection and mounted big game trophies.

In the depths of winter twinkling lights adorn windswept pines heavy with snow. Lodging here suits everyone’s needs but because of a tragic fire in 1988 the only original bedroom is in the Main Building. Plead for it if you have to! The nearby Cottage Café serves up traditional pub fair on the lake while The View caters to foodies of fine-dining.

Mirror Lake Inn and Spa.
Best Suite at the Mirror Lake Inn and Spa.

More information on visiting Lake Placid:

High Falls Gorge
4761 Route 86, Wilmington, NY
8 miles east of Lake Placid
1 mile west of Whiteface Ski Center

Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa
Lake Placid, NY 12946

Cascade Cross Country Center

Mountain Washington, Lake Placid NY.
Mountain Washington, Lake Placid NY.

4833 Cascade Road
Lake Placid

Whiteface Mountain
5021 Rt. 86
Wilmington, NY 12997
11 miles from Lake Placid

Golden Arrow Dog Sled Rides
2559 Main Street
Lake Placid
Licensed Outdoor Guide Elizabeth Lee

Exit 31 on Route 87
Westport, NY 12993

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