Skiing at Whiteface Mountain
By Roland Leiser; Photos courtesy of ORDA/Whiteface
There are ski mountains, then there is Whiteface Mountain near Lake Placid, New York. If you’re not clued in on why Whiteface is different, call the mountain’s telephone number and you will hear, “Welcome to Whiteface, the Olympic Mountain.”
As hosts of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid and Whiteface will remind you of their world-class sports legacy; and, as one observer noted half-seriously, they should consider bidding for the games a third time.
Lake Placid (the site of speed and figure skating and hockey events) and Whiteface Mountain remained connected to future competition as a training ground for Olympic contenders and as a venue for World Cup events. (Pop quiz: name the two other U.S. sites venues for winter Olympics and the date and venue of the first year of Olympic winter games; answers at end of the story).
But Whiteface is also known for its 3,430 feet of vertical drop (the distance straight down the mountain), which is the highest in the east. And it has nothing to be ashamed of in the size department. The skiable area on three mountain faces (Whiteface, Little Whiteface and Lookout Mountain) total 314 acres including tree skiing, second behind Gore Mountain’s 398 acres among the state’s 48 ski resorts, according to Ski Areas of N.Y., Inc., a promotional organization.
After four years of planning, Lookout Mountain opened up for business next to Whiteface in for the 2008-2009 season, overcoming financial and environmental hurdles, says Jon Lundin, public relations coordinator for the state-run Olympic Regional Development Authority, which manages Whiteface and other Olympic facilities.
That said, the mountain hosts an average of 195,000 recreational skiers and snowboarders a year, according to Lundin. The ski area, located 296 miles north of New York City, is divided into 20% beginner terrain, 43% intermediate and 37% expert with an annual average snowfall of 230 inches. Lookout Mountain’s trails help to spread out skiers and snowboarders and features a combined 2.5 mile intermediate run from the summit to the base lodge. Among the 11 available lifts, an eight-person gondola whisks skiers and snowboarders to Little Whiteface in 13 minutes.
On holidays and weekends, Mountain Host Patrol volunteers clad in orange jackets will guide first-timers around, a service that I would highly recommend.
Don’t let the images of superbly trained athletes deter you to ski and snowboard the mountain, however. “There is lots of terrain for families and for all levels of ability,” remarks Lundin. Five terrain parks serve snowboarders and the Easy Acres Family Learning Center is dedicated to teaching kids to ski and snowboard.
Since Whiteface is located in the state-owned Adirondack State Park, on-mountain development of vacation homes is forbidden. So if you’re expecting a ski-in, ski-out lodging, head elsewhere. Visitors stay in Lake Placid, which is connected to the mountain by a 9-mile shuttle ride. The quaint town of 2,600 inhabitants borders Mirror Lake on one side and Lake Placid on the other and includes bars, restaurants, outdoor gear shops, antique shops, a mini-outlet mall and a first-run movie theater housed in a 1926 building. For Olympics-theme merchandise, shop at the ORDA store on Main Street. A free trolley bus runs throughout the day and evenings.
Among the top of the line lodgings is the 177-room High Peaks Resort that was recently renovated. A former Hilton property, it is now independently operated. Others include Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa, Lake Placid Lodge, Crowne Plaza Resort and Whiteface Lodge but there are accommodations to fit all budgets. True to form, High Peaks reminds its guests of Olympics’ history with memorabilia in the public areas. Off a dining area is the Legends Alcove with its walls covered by photos of persons associated with Lake Placid and Olympics. Pointing to a photo of one Al Michaels, Sales Director Heidi Stone asked, “Do you know who he is?” Truthfully, I didn’t. Well, he announced the historic hockey match when the underdog U.S. team beat the U.S.S.R. 4-3 and went on to win the gold by defeating Finland. At the Winter Olympic Museum, there’s a video to watch of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. match. Admission is charged for entry into the museum. For a town so steeped in Olympics history, I expected to find plenty of hotels or restaurants named for athletes. As far as I know, there’s only one: Art Devlin’s Olympic Motor Inn, named for a ski jumper, his son now runs it.
Not for nothing did readers of Ski magazine name Whiteface as the best in the East for off-mountain activities for 18 years running. To mention a few, try the bobsled run with a brakeman and driver for a half-mile of heart-thumping speeds. The $79 fee includes a photo of participants, a T-shirt and a pin. Advance reservations are required. Sample cross-country ski trails, visit the ski jumping complex and take a guided tours of the Olympic Center where the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey event took place.
For bragging rights back home, expert skiers and snowboarders can hit three runs used in 1980 events: Cloudspin for the men’s downhill; Mountain Run for the slalom and Parkway/Thruway for the giant slalom.
Although primarily a drive-market, travelers can fly to Albany and rent a car for the 2.5 hour drive to Lake Placid, travel on Amtrak’s Adirondack to Westport, N.Y. There, passengers must reserve a seat in advance with Ground Force 1 for a 36-mile, 40-minute ride to town. Adirondack Trailways offers bus service from New York City directly to town.
Skiing down Lookout Mountain early one day with Lundin, we stopped briefly to view two wide trails on Whiteface Mountain. The fog had lifted and not a skier was in sight on the two, perfectly-groomed runs. Is this skier heaven or what?
(Answers: Squaw Valley, CA in 1960; Park City, UT in 2002: Chamonix, France, 1924)
Route 86, Wilmington, N.Y. 12997
Olympic Regional Development Authority
2634 Main St., Lake Placid, N.Y. 12946
Lake Placid Convention and Visitors Bureau
49 Parkside Dr., Lake Placid, N.Y. 12946