By Sandy MacDonald
Every winter, it seems, one Facebook friend after another brags about the bountiful snowfalls they’re enjoying on their trips out West. Then, inevitably, the backwash starts pouring in, as the fluffy stuff starts causing flight delays: “They say we might get a flight back later this week …”
Though not generally a practitioner of schadenfreude, I’m always somewhat mollified, because I’ve already done all the hard time I would care to in a Denver Doubletree, waiting days for the runways to clear. Also, I can’t help feeling rather smug, having at long last found a drivable Eastern ski destination massive enough to stand up to the West’s 7,000-plus-foot peaks.
Okay, I’ll concede that our native summits are on the puny — not to mention icy — side, especially once the urban hordes have scraped off every fresh flake.
But Whiteface defies defeatist expectations. Imagine our delight when, after an easy 5-hour cruise straight up the New York Thruway and into the unspoiled 6-million-acre Adirondack Park area, Whiteface loomed before us, boasting a staggering vertical drop of 3,430 feet – or, in city-slicker terms, slightly more than three Empire State Buildings stacked end to end (including the aerial). “This looks like a western mountain!” we exulted.
That it proved, in more ways than one. Whiteface’s swirling network of trails, which evolved from a race run cut in 1938, reflects the way ski areas were laid out in the sport’s early days, when seemingly fearless aficionados went by feel, and not the dictates of topo maps and computer models.
Whiteface is easy to explore without a map, because eventually all trails — from the black-diamond chutes tumbling off the deceptively labeled “Little Whiteface ”peak to the far-ranging Wilmington trail, a panoramic cruiser flanked by inviting drop-down glades – eventually funnel to a modest base area distinguished by its lack of commercial hype and (oh, bliss) hard-rock sound track.
This is a nature preserve, after all. The only advertorial signage you’ll spot is a modest notice, partway up the Summit Quad, alerting you to the fact that you’ve now surpassed Stowe’s highest point.
We found we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the slopes, which – besides being scrupulously groomed — get frequent fresh dustings. Even when conditions aren’t optimal (rare), the Lake Placid area, home to two winter Olympics thus far (1932 and 1980), abounds in alternative recreational options. Skating on the Olympic Speed Skating Oval is a surprisingly affordable treat (only $8), and it’s open into the evening. If XC is more your speed, you could explore the Cross Country Biathlon Center’s 50 kilometers. Just be sure to keep an ear out for the Olympic-hopefuls sure to overtake you (they’re swift and near-silent).
True thrill-seekers will not want to pass up an authentic bobsled ride on the original Olympic track. You’ll just be a passenger, wedged with three mates between a pilot and brakeman, so no worries about steering or stopping. It’s a bit pricy as kicks go: the $90 fee works out to about $2 per screaming-your-head-off second. However, those brave enough to try it (so not I!) claim it’s worth every penny.
Where to Stay
The high-end hostelry of choice is the Lake Placid Lodge, a reimagined “Great Camp” that harks back to an era when the region served as rustic playground for Rockefellers, Rothschilds, and the like. Rates are steep ($500/night and up) but not necessarily robber-baron level. You can dine like a Gilded Age nabob — one with a rather more sophisticated palate — at the Lodge’s Artisans restaurant.
Nearly as appetizing, and more modestly priced, is the Crown Plaza Resort Hotel, where roomy if motel-ish quarters start as low as $104 midweek (the only time to ski, if you’re sensible). You’ll dine quite well in a great room overlooking frozen Mirror Lake.
An earlier version of this article was published on www.edgemedianetwork.com <http://www.edgemedianetwork.com/> .
About Sandy MacDonald
Sandy Macdonald is a theatre critic and travel writer; details at sandymacdonald.com