LAKE PLACID – Long ago, Lake Placid in Upstate New York retired the Ski Magazine honor of Number One Eastern Resort for Off-Hill Activities. As a two-time Winter Olympic host (1932, 1980) and a modern legacy that accompanies it, the competition venues have been used yearly not only by world-class athletes but also by visitors and residents.
Bobsledding, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, ice skating, hockey and much more. To be blunt about it, at other resorts, if you’re not skiing or snowboarding, you are SOL (skier/snowboarder out of luck). Here, if your legs are weary after a few days at Whiteface Mountain, there’s a full menu of Winter Olympic-type activities that’ll get your attention.
The AAA Four Diamond Mirror Lake Inn can connect you to all of it. Starting at the hotel’s front door, look out onto Mirror Lake where you can ice skate and play hockey on The Cottage Café’s prepared rinks; grab a pair of snow shoes at our front desk (first come, first served) and take a brisk, healthy walk on the frozen lake; you can get dog sled rides from two vendors on the lake; and continue to the far end near the public beach where you can slide down our exciting and recently rebuilt toboggan chute.
All of these activities are free of charge, except nominal fees for dog sledding and the toboggan chute. However, please make doubly sure Mirror Lake is frozen safely to support these cool activities. Signage to this effect is posted in some locations.
Until that time, skaters can avail themselves of our ice-skating rink that’s been set up on the Inn’s private tennis court. The ice is now ready and safe!
Venturing away from the Inn, fans of the Winter Games should visit the Olympic Museum, located in the Olympic Center about a mile from the hotel as you head down Main Street. This is the place to re-live the Miracle on Ice, see the early skating outfits of Sonja Henie, observe the Olympic torch replicas that are displayed, and much more. It’s an educational experience that youngsters and their parents should not miss.
One of the greatest international sports landmarks is located right outside the museum. That’s the Olympic Skating Oval on Main Street where Eric Heiden did the unthinkable and the unmatched. During the 1980 Games, Heiden raced his way around this ice surface to five speed skating gold medals. What Michael Phelps is to swimming, Heiden is to speed skating. Public skating sessions here are offered most every day of the week, with multiple sessions in holiday periods.
Venturing to Olympic venues outside our village on Route 73, make a stop at the updated Olympic Jumping Complex where high flyers soar from the 70 and 90-meter jumping hills that were used in 1980. The freestyle skiing complex is found adjacent to these tall launching pads. The freestyle aerial skiing jumps have hosted training and World Cup events for over 30 years. Catch a training session there and you’ll be amazed at the twists and turns the body can do 60 feet about the snow’s surface.
Let’s drive further out on Route 73. Cross country skiers will come upon the Cascade Ski Touring Center, a family owned and operated trail network and restaurant situated, literally, on the highway. Continuing a few more miles, the Olympic venue at Mount Van Hoevenberg awaits. A massive investment of state money has made this one of the top Nordic facilities in North America. Cross country skiers and snow shoes will find 31 miles of trails for all abilities, a new snowmaking system and brand-new lodge. The site had one of its earliest season openings in November.
As idyllic and quiet as these trails are, visitors will find just the opposite on the other side of the facility. Adrenaline junkies should wander over there and check out the combined bobsled, luge and skeleton track. The one-mile, serpentine chute brings the nation’s top athletes down the one-mile course at speeds approaching 80 miles-per-hour. What’s cool about this is that spectators canbethisclose to the action. But there’s something even better. Plunk down your money, sign on the dotted line, put on a helmet and you, too, can ride this track with a certified bobsled driver and brakeman from the half-mile starting point. You will talk about this ride for the rest of your life!
The latest attraction that came online this fall was the Cliffside Coaster. This ride on rails brings the passenger alongside the iced track and is available year-round.
Driving back through Lake Placid, take a short trip up Saranac Avenue/Route 86 and venture into the Whiteface Club and Resort. This is the Mirror Lake Inn’s sister property, offering cross country skiing and snow shoeing on its championship golf course, free of charge for guest of the Mirror Lake Inn. Lunch and hot beverages await at the end of an excursion on the trails.
For a day trip that’s not too far away, the Nordic trails at the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center are located in a pocket of snow that provides bases that accumulate earlier in the winter and last longer. It’s just a 20-mile drive from our resort hotel, but the calm and serenity that ensues makes it worth the trip. The trail system is used by the school’s Nordic ski teams.
The latest rage in winter sports is fat tire biking. Our region offers over 100 miles of newly-built trails. The bikes, with stable, oversized knobby tires, can be rented locally at Placid Planet and High Peaks Cyclery.
In addition to ALL of this, time spent in our world-class spa, with jacuzzi and indoor pool, will help you heal those ski muscles and have you ready to return to Whiteface Mountain for another day of the greatest vertical drop in the East.
Digesting all of this has probably made you hungry. Lake Placid is among the top resorts for dining, and of course, that includes our upscale AAA Four Diamond The View Restaurant, as well as the hip Cottage Café, great for apres-ski story-telling, and now offering dining outside at room temperature in one of two Whiteface Mountain gondola cabins. Should you prefer to dine off premise, a short walk to Main Street will bring you to a score of options from American fare, to Chinese and Italian, to barbecue and Tex-Mex.
As we said earlier, in Lake Placid a day away from the alpine slopes is anything but a lost day. If the truth be known, there are many visitors who choose this destination because they don’t ski. An investor would say our portfolio of activities is diverse, and if you don’t care for one of them, you can easily move on to another. This is the Lake Placid that has garnered the attention of outlets such as Ski Magazine. Deputy Editor Joe Cutts recently wrote: “the Olympics-scale infrastructure in the region makes it the perennial gold medalist in the Down-Day Activities competition.”
We’ll rest our case on that.