Lake Placid: More Than Just a Ski Trip


“You’re going to wait for the buzzer to go off.  Walk outside and get into the  black Suburban.  It’ll take you up the mountain to your destination.”  Those were my instructions as I got ready to go bobsledding at the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, New York.  If I hadn’t paid $65.00, in a very family friendly environment, I might have gotten nervous.  The way the cashier made it seem, a bag would be placed over my head and some kind of “drop” might be involved.

Bobsled Mt. Van Hoevenberg Lake Placid

The Bobsled and Luge Trajectory displayed in the lobby of the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Sports Complex

Bobsledding has been  on my bucket-list for a while now.  I’m not sure how or why it got there in the first place, but it was one of the deciding factors in choosing Lake Placid as the destination of our 2012 winter fun trip.

I don’t downhill ski.  I never have, and due to a childhood leg injury probably never will.  However, I love everything to do with ski trips.  I love the laid back yet active atmosphere of ski towns.  I love thawing out,  half frost bitten, near a fire with a couple of cocktails, maybe some fondue if you wanna get crazy.   I like drinking in ski lodges.  I like bundling up in heavy sweaters, flannel and down vests in order to walk to the bars when it snows too much to drive, and I like the interesting dichotomy of the ski set: part hippie, part intense athlete; valuing granola and Northface equally.    In some  elitist way, I even like the whole “leisure class” image being able to take a weekend ski trip evokes.  I just don’t ski.

I do however, revel in a number of other winter activities.  I was an avid sledder as a child, had snow mobiles in high school, and I regularly cross country ski.  So, for those of us who don’t understand what differentiates a double from a triple black diamond, the winter fun trip was born.

Last year, a group of friends and I packed our cars and headed to Hunter Mountain, NY for a weekend trip where two friends skied and the rest of us zip lined.  Hunter Mountain was a good time, but a little underwhelming.  The house we rented was in the middle of no where, the ziplining was fun (but not as good as my first ziplining experience at Spring Mountain, PA), and there was no ski-town filled with dive bars and other 20 somethings to embarrass ourselves in front of.  It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t spend the ride home making plans for my return.

Similarly, bobsledding underwhelmed me.  I enjoyed my time and it felt cool to put up a “bobsledding” status on Facebook, but I was underwhelmed once we reached the bottom of the icy shoot and I took off my helmet.  To start, the entire experience lasted 44 seconds.  We went fast, but not nearly as fast as I expected, and the bobsledding track is very thin.  You can’t see much while your sliding.  Was it fun? Yes.  Was it worth $65.00?  I’m not sure.  What I am sure, is that bobsledding was the ONLY thing underwhelming about Lake Placid.  We went up for a weekend: I could have easily spent a week.

Moutain View Inn Lake Placid

The Mountain View Inn, our choice of lodging.   The inn’s a family run establishment and has a different era charm (couldn’t tell you what era, but I’m sure I wasn’t alive during it).   The rooms were decent sized, the balcony afforded a nice view of main street, and most importantly, the bathrooms were very clean.

Due to a snow storm, we arrived in Lake Placid around 10:00 on Friday night.  We checked into our hotel, the Mountain View Inn and immediately headed out for some pizza and beer.  Luckily Brazzi’s pizza was across the parking lot from our hotel.

The town was dead due to the storm and we were wiped out, but  managed a couple of more drinks at the Northwoods Inn.  The bartender started a trend we would notice all weekend: he was super friendly, inquiring to our whereabouts and giving his suggestions.  In fact, everyone was friendly: the guy at the hotel  desk, the bartenders, all the waitstaff we encountered, and even people on the streets stopped to give us restaurant recommendations.

What differentiates Lake Placid from other Northeast ski resorts, and what appealed to me while planning the trip, our bartender shared, is that Lake Placid is known almost as much as a mecca of all winter sports as it is a ski-town.  Cross country skiing, snowtubing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, back country skiing, and hiking all bring people in.  He mentioned that in the summer, the town is known for it’s biking, hiking, and water sports and that  the nightlife is somehow more active when it’s warm out.

Another unique draw is that Lake Placid has twice hosted the Winter Olympics (in 1932 and 1980 respectively) and most of the complexes are still operational, which is how we ended up bobsledding Saturday.

Lake Placid’s a bit of a drive if you’re PA based: 5 hours from Scranton (8 from southern PA), but well worth it.   Whiteface Mountain, a major ski resort is located 9 miles from Lake Placid in the adjoining town of Wilmington.  Lake Placid is a small town, dominated by the Olympic Stadium, and rings around Mirror Lake.  Lake Placid itself sits just north of town.  Main Street is lined with stores, adventure outfitters, wineries, restaurants, hotels, and bars: just the type of ski town I was looking for.

We purchased an Olympic passport.  For $29.00 it allows you access to all the former Olympic Sites.  We were going to use it to Cross Country Ski the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Cross Country Ski tracks, which were situated near the bobsledding, however we found the $18.00 day pass a little pricey, and the parking lot for was already claustrophobic when we went bobsledding at 10.00AM. Our bartender from Friday night was a cross country skiing enthusiast himself and had mentioned both the Cascade Ski and Adirondack Ski Centers as places he frequented.   Over a post bobsled breakfast we discovered Cascade Ski Center has $12.00 passes and a trail system almost as expansive at the Von Hoevenberg complexCascade X-Country Ski Center Lake Placid

As soon as we walked in we knew we made the right choice.   The lodge housed a store geared towards cross country skiiers, had a bunkhouse upstairs where you could stay for $30.00 a night (brunch included) and hosted monthly “full moon skiing parties”  where bonfires, beer, burgers, hotdogs and bands can be found along the trails (Note: I will be planning my next Lake Placid Trip during a full moon).   The lodge also housed the kind of bar you’d want to spend some time in after a snowy workout, complete with requisite roaring fire and taxidermied moose.  They also had a taxidermied marlin, which confused us.Cascade Lodge Lake Placid

The skiing was gorgeous and taxing.  I’m usually not a scenery person, but check out these views. it’s like National Geographics and Norman Rockwell had a baby.Lake Placid NY

Lake Placid Cross Country Ski

For years i’ve been advocating what an underrated sport X-country skiing is.   It’s relatively cheap, easy to master, and a hell of a workout.   Unfortunately our skiing time was limited due to Saturday’s 5 degree weather, but had it been slightly warmer (and I not been with my parents, who can’t hang as well as they used to), I would’ve spent a lot more time on the trails.   Cascade Ski Center and the Olympic Complex seem to be two of the more popular cross country skiing destinations with their lodges and groomed trails. However with a little research and local knowledge there are plenty of ungroomed (and free) places to ski. Many locals cross country ski on the many snowed over golf courses and the “Jack Rabbit Trail”, which incidentally goes through the Cascade’s trail system, is a well known trek through the Adirondacks.  Our helpful bartender said a lot of  people like to wake up and circumnavigate Mirror Lake in the mornings, which is something I’d definitely do upon my return.  Two other cross country ski activities I’d include in future visits would be the Olympic Biathalon experience and skiing Lake Placid’s “back country” with a guide. The Biathalon is one of the more obscure winter competitions.  It’s a combination of cross country skiing and target shooting, that originated as a training drill in the Norwegian army.  The Olympic Sports Complex holds  “Be a Biathlete” experiences on weekends for a reasonable price of $35.00 ($55.00 if you need to rent skies).   This includes an in depth look at the origins of the sport (which I was hoping for during our bobsledding experience) along with skiing and time on the shooting range. Another option I’d like to explore would be one of the many guided cross country ski (or snow shoe) expeditions into Lake Placid’s “back country.”  You can hire a guide to traverse more remote and ungroomed trails.  Skiing on the groomed trails is fun, but I like the challenge of carving out my own path. We retired to Cascade’s lodge after our jaunt to warm up and have the prerequiste post ski adult beverages.  My mom and sister ordered some hot chocolate spiked with schnapps (or snaps as my grandmother calls it), which in hindsight I should have involved myself in.  My brother dad and I decided to take the more masculine route and get ourselves a pitcher of beer.  It wasn’t a mistake, but the snapps would have been better.  We asked the bartender what was on tap.  She replied they had “Stella, Franny’s, and Sarny’s” and then waited patiently for us to pick one.  I’d forgotten that most ski enthusiasts are beer snobs.   Stella Artois, I don’t love, but is relatively common enough that I knew what she was talking about.  Franny’s turned out to be a French (I’m assuming) word I’ve never heard of nor can pronounce, and Sarny’s was Saranac Pale Ale, a local microbrew that grew on me by the time we left the lodge, but had an after bite that took some getting used to.  If you travel to Lake Placid, prepare for most establishments to have similar tap situations.  The only “common” brew I saw on tap was Bud LIght (sponsor of the Olympic Games!). After a lenthy shower/warm up session we headed out for the night in the kind of cold that makes it impossible to make any  facial expressions.  The clerk at the desk had earlier suggested Wiseguys Nightclub to my father as somewhere with really good food.  Wiseguys was not so much a nightclub, as a laid back sports bar, with two dollar pints, and an awesome pulled pork sandwich with a nice bite.   I wish I had a picture of Wiseguys.  I noticed it on our drive in Friday and noted it looked like fun.  My only complaint was the game was on so loud it made conversation difficult.  We left soon after dinner to find somewhere my parents would like hanging out more.  If I was on a trip with my college buddies, we probably would’ve stayed a couple more hours.  The kitchen is open till 2:30, which is amazing in itself. Zig Zags Pub, a convenient two doors down from our hotel, was where we parked ourselves for the majority of Saturday night.  Zig Zags was your requisite dive: sunken floor, jukebox, foosball, and high tables with stools.  Zig Zags seemed to be the going out hub of Lake Placid due to it’s central locale to many hotels and the Budweiser Bobsled outside, clearly marking it as a good time.   The other major bar for the 20-something was hilariously named “Roomers Night Club” and unlike “Wiseguys NightClub” which clearly marketed itself as a nightclub in name only, Roomers took itself seriously.  An online review touted it as “Lake Placid’s Most Poppin’ dance spot.”   We wanted to see the place ,if only to say we did, but decided we needed a healthy  buzz at Zig Zag’s before we could  “go clubbin'” (which embarrassingly enough I posted as my Facebook status that night sometime at 12:45).Zig Zags Pub Lake Placid

Zig Zags Pub Lake Placid

Zig Zags Lake Placid

Roomers was about exactly what I pictured: basement setting, super cheap drinks, wooden dance floor, “DJ”, and colored spotlights.  Once again, had I been with college friends, I probably would’ve stayed late, drank too much, tore it up on the dance floor, and embarrassed myself the right way–in a setting where the probability of anyone seeing you again is low. Our first Sunday escapade, riding the Gondola to the top of Whiteface Mountain (one of the perks of the Olympic Passport, and the activity my mother was looking forward to most) was cancelled due to high winds.  Sunday was a day of Olympic Passport sights so we hightailed it to the former Ski Jump Complex.   The Ski Jump’s are big, but not particularly impressive from their baseview. In fact, they reminded me of the coal chutes that dot NEPA’s landscape.  The top, is a completely different story. The trip up is taken in a glass elevator.  I’d comment on the ride, but I was too busy closing my eyes and focusing on breathing normally.   Despite my quasi-phobia of heights, this might have been my favorite part of the trip.  The views from the inside of the jump were amazing and it feels enclosed enough that I was able to function normally.  Once you let yourself outside, you can perch were the jumpers start.  I can’t even describe the view down the jump in words.  I’ll let the picture speak for me.  I can tell you that ski jumpers must be a special level of insane.Ski Jump Lake Placid

Lake Placid Ski Jump

Ski Jump Lake Placid

For lunch we went to the Lake Placid Brewery.    The place is small, maybe ten tables?  That aside, it’s a great place to go on a cold day.  Unfortunately I did very little beer sampling due to my previous night’s activities.  We did get a really good cheese fondue for an appetizer and I had an awesome steak sandwich.  I initially thought the portions were small, but in actuality they were eatable.  I’m so used to gigantic portions that a sandwich (not a hoagie) seemed measly.  It really wasn’t.  My mother was the only one to sample the beer which she  deemed “too dark.”   I liked the Lake Placid Brewery  as a lunch spot, but don’t think I’d go for dinner or drinks.Lake Placid Brewery

Post lunch brought us tan embarrassing ten minute foray onto the Olympic Speed Skating Circle.  In our defense it was 3 degrees with a nasty windchill and I find skating (if you aren’t playing hockey) one of the most overrated American traditions (right after fireworks).  We met my mom and sister (who had wisely skipped skating) at the Olympic Museum.  The museum looked old but was an interesting way to kill a half hour.  If it wasn’t included in the Olympic Pass price, I wouldn’t waste my money.  After the museum, we headed back south.Lake Placid

All in all, Lake Placid was a great success and lived up to the hype I had built for it in my mind .   In fact, I spent my car ride home planning out my return, this time including a little Biathalon action, some guided cross country skiing or snowshoeing, and on a full moon.  As much as I think it was geared towards children I might try to dog-sled.  Just as we were leaving we noticed signs for dog sledding on the lake for only $10.00. Below are some Lake Placid links I found helpful when planning my trip: The Northwoods Inn:  The Northwoods Inn was located directly next to our hotel and is where I’d stay if I was coming up with college friends.  It’s reasonably priced, located on main street, and has a bar in the lobby.  The general consensus on trip advisor is that is can get “loud and raucous” and most of the people coming out seemed to be in their 20’s. The Golden Arrow: The Golden Arrow Resort was the one “nice” hotel I looked into possibly staying at.  It’s across the street from the Mountain View Inn and Northwoods; another centralized location.   The Golden Arrow is appealing as in the winter it boasts cross country ski-in, ski-out room that open right onto the frozen mirror lake and has an indoor heated pool and hot-tube (which would be nice after a day outdoors). Lake Placid- Build Your Perfect Day:  This was the main website I used to plan our trip and it really couldn’t be more thorough.  it’s easy to use and has a function to let you “build your own itinerary.”  The winter outdoor activities page was especially helpful. Whiteface: Whiteface is not only the ski resort closest to Lake Placid, but also controls all the former Olympic sites.  Visit here to check any of them out.

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