Lake Placid Winter Fun Trip 2013

Lake Placid
Jumping for joy over a great trip…couldn’t help it

I officially want to be a ski bum.

Lake Placid
I give this trip two thumbs up.

I said so last year when we went to Lake Placid the first time, and I only feel stronger about it after this weekend.  I’m writing this from bed.  I haven’t properly slept since Thursday and muscles in my legs I didn’t even know existed are on fire.    I also have a laundry list of things I would have liked to accomplish in Lake Placid but didn’t get too.  While these things may sound like the Hallmark of a vacation gone awry, I’m perfectly ok with all of this.

I believe I’ve already mentioned I’d like to be a ski bum.

Trip Logistics

When we decided we wanted to do another “winter fun” trip to Lake Placid, it had to be a three day weekend.  Lake Placid is almost an 8 hour drive from Lancaster; an entire day is wasted driving.  We drove up to my parents house outside of Scranton Thursday night so we could leave Friday and make it there by mid afternoon.

Our tentative plan was to head up, check in our hotel, grab lunch, and try the dog sledding rides we saw last year that we didn’t have time to check out.

It’s an easy drive that we were able to finish without any help from the GPS, and the ride, especially once you get into the Adirondack region, is beautiful.  If you have the time to stop, Sarasota Springs, Lake George, and Lake Champlain short detours off the main route.

For all the things there is to od, Lake Placid is affordable.  Split for ways, gas was about $65.00 a person.  We stayed at the Northwoods Inn for a reasonable 80 dollars per person for two nights.  For four twenty-somethings who basically used the room as somewhere to deposit our bodies for a few hours each night, the Northwoods was perfect.  It’s a bit dated, but the room were spacious, and you can’t beat it’s location.  The hotel is located right in the heart of downtown Lake Placid.  All the bars, restaurants, and shops are within walking distance.  The hotel has a bar. Delta Blue, in the lobby which was  convenient.  My only complaint (and this is minor) is that there was no pool or hot tub to soak in on Sunday.

Big Disappointment

Most of the ride is on the interstate, but the last half hour takes  you on NY Route 72, also known as the Olympic Scenic Byway.  This road starts in the town of Keene on the shore of Lake Champlain and runs until it hits the St. Lawrence.  The ride itself is worth the trip and a great way of ramping up excitement as you near the final destination.

Lake Placid
Walking from the carpark to the frozen lake…our first trip activity.

Route 72 (aswell as a number of other roads in the area) is chock full of parking lots and markers indicating trailheads and campgrounds open to the public.  Signs indicated whether it’s a good spot to hike, XC ski, climb, camp, etc.  I jokingly kept threatening my passengers (my sister Kately, cousin Casey, and college roomate Eric) that we were going to stop for scenic pictures before I realized I wasn’t joking.  I sadly wanted to take some scenic shots.  We passed a gorgeous frozen lake.  Much to my sister’s chagrin we pulled into the lot, threw on our gloves and trudged down for our first shots of the trip which you’ve seen at the top of this post.  We took a few pics, admired some ice climbers in the distance and cursed ourselves for not dressed in XC ski garb before piling back into the car before continuing to Lake Placid.

Lake Placid
Our first scenic picture stop.

We got to the Northwoods Inn a little after two.  Usually I have every facet of a trip memorized.  I don’t know if I’m going soft, but check-in wasn’t until four so we had two hours to kill.  We grabbed some food from a local pizza joint then headed across the street from our hotel to the Golden Arrow Resort which promised dog sled rides for ten dollars.  My dreams were almost immediately dashed once we got onto Mirror Lake and saw what these dog sled rides entailed.

Lake Placid, dogsled
The dogsled rides on Mirror Lake.

I don’t know what I was really expecting.  The sign clearly read “dog sled rides $10.00.  Ten dollars, and I was picturing being whipped around the lake several times by a lightning fast dog team like I was in the Itidarod or something.  My friend Eric thought he’d be able to stand on the back of the sled and yell “Mush.”  What was in front of us was a snailpaced pack of dogs and a line of parents and small children.  It felt like we’d accidentally got in line to see Santa or something, so we slunk away as inconspicuously as possible and took refuge in Delta Blue, our hotel’s bar, that had live music and happy hour and figured out what to do with the rest of our day.  Eric suggested that once we check in we find somewhere to ski.  I only wished I’d though of it myself.  The girls said they’d rather shop, so once 4 came we checked in and got changed.

XC Ski Heaven

By the time we dragged  our luggage to our sixth floor hotel room daylight was becoming scarce.  We grabbed our headlamps, changed and got into the car.  We drove out of town presuming that we’d stop whenever we saw skiers or a trailhead.  After a five minute drive (and two trailhead stops with no discernible trail near them), we finally found a pulloff loaded with other cars and a distinct trail where XC skis had gone into the woods.  We started following it.

The conditions couldn’t have been better.  While it was still light out, the sun was beginning to set.   I may regret writing this but the air could only be described as crisp and clear.    It was cold enough for the snow to be dry and intact but warm enough that all we needed to wear were sweatpants and pullovers.

We found out later that the route we were on was the Connery Pond hiking trail.  We skied through a pine forest before getting onto a larger trail which wasn’t groomed, but did see heavy enough traffic to pack it down and allow you to ski fast.  After about a mile the trail looped around a small pond before it started to disappear into the woods.  We decided to stop here as it was getting dark and moving far away from the road, but I honestly could have gone for another couple of miles.

Lake Placid, Connery Pond
The view across Connery Pond mid-way through our ski. Whiteface Mountain is in the distance.

We later learned that Connery Pond trail leads up the backside of Whiteface Mountain and is altogether nine miles in length.  Once back in the car, we realized we’d forgotten to carry our cooler up to the hotel room so cracked open a couple of ice cold Bud Light Limes (it’s an all season beer!), the perfect start to our vacation.

Lake Placid Bar Crawl

After the ski and a quick shower, we needed some food so headed down to Delta Blue for dinner.  Delta Blue bills itself as a bluegrass/southern rock joint and the menu showed, with such selections as gator bites, blackened catfish, and a large selection of po’boys and gumbo.  Unfortunately I was at that point where I was so hungry I had to get something I knew I’d be able to eat and chose wings (and ended up eating most of my cousin’s calamari which had a delicious bbq dipping sauce).

Lake Placid, Margarita
To continue our summer-drinks-on-a-ski-trip-theme, we got a round of Margaritas at dinner. We had an excuse for these though, February 22nd is National Margarita Day.

The band playing after dinner was typical, what I call ski-music, sort of blue grass, sort of psychedelic, sort of jam bandy, not terrible, but not our style so after dinner we headed next door to ZigZags.

Zig Zags is what I’d guess it the most barry-bar in Lake Placid.  It sits right on the main drag, has a bobsled cemented to the sidewalk outside of it, and is open every day from 3PM-3AM.  I liked Zig Zags after our last stint in Lake Placid and I like it even more now.  We stayed for a couple of drinks, played a couple of games of Foosball (I don’t know why more bars don’t have foosball) and then decided to check out one more place before retiring for the night.  We had an 8:00AM appointment to snowshoe and didn’t want to ruin it with hangovers (growing up, yikes).

Foosball at Zig-Zags.  Not trying to brag, but I'm really good.  I won several rounds of drinks.
Foosball at Zig-Zags. Not trying to brag, but I’m really good. I won several rounds of drinks.

There are several other bars within walking distance of Zig Zags but we made the executive descision to only hit one more Friday night.  We chose the Straight Shot Lounge, simply because of it’s proximity to our hotel.  It was a pretty generic hotel-type bar that probably would have been more appealing if you’re into wine or fancy mixed drinks.  Despite its mediocrity we had a good time at Straight Shots just sitting around conversing and knocking a few back.  My sister was also happy to find it one of the only spots in Lake Placid to have cider.  We left Straight Shots just when we felt we were about the reach the tipping point where we’d stay out all night if we didn’t go to bed at that instance.

There are a few other bars in Lake Placid.  While doing a little research for this post, I found this cool blog on all the bars in the Adirondack region.

Snowshoeing Pitchoff with High Peaks Mountain Guides

6:30 AM after a night of drinking is not pleasant regardless of how early you retire.  We woke up, made some breakfast (our room had a kitchenette) and drove the 2 minutes to the High Peaks Mountain Guidehouse where we had made reservations for a half day (4 hour) guided snowshoe trek.

All four of us that went up are avid XC skiers, but only myself and my cousin had snowshoed before and both of those almost didn’t count.  She’d gone snowshoeing around a field with a group of students during her student teaching experience and I’d gone during high school on a trip to Vermont with friends who didn’t want to stay out for more than hour.

The High Peaks Mountain Guide is an offshoot of High Peaks Cyclery, a outdoor/biking store that also houses a yoga studio, rock gym, and rental company.  The cost of the trip was $300 for four people which I thought was reasonable and included rentals, instructions, the guide, as well as snacks and water for the trip.

When we arrived our guide, Jeff, was waiting in the parking lot.  Jeff looked exactly like an Adirondack wilderness guide should; older, in shape, with a unkpet beard,  glasses and a hippiesque lilt to his voice.  We learned during our hike that he was a former, lawyer, teacher, college professor and current private pilot, who also hailed from PA (albeit the western Pittsburgh suburbs).  He got our gear out and then immediately endeared himself to my friends when he passed out granola bars to each of us, giving everyone two but me four, because “I look like I eat a lot.”

Touche, Jeff.

What I liked about our experience at High Peaks is that we were given several routes to chose from.  A long and very high route, a mid range route that he promised had incredible views and a “nice hike through fields outside of town that is good for beginners” that we didn’t want and could tell he didn’t want either.  We decided that based on my sister and my shared crippling fear of heights we should do the middle route with the good views.  We signed our lives away, got into the car and drove ten minutes out of town to the trailhead.

Lake Placid, Pitchoff
Pitchoff Trailhead.

The Adirondack park has what is known as the “high peaks”, 46 mountains over 4600 feet high.  Cascade, one of the 46, was immediately across the street from the mountain we selected and was the too high option we didn’t pick.   Our mountain’s name was Pitchoff, a 3600 feet “small” peak located just off outside of town.  Jeff assured us that we’d trek through the forest and along a ridge with breathtaking valley views before we’d go up a “rock scramble” and walk around the mountain to the summit that would be bracingly cold but  boasted 360 degree views.

Snow Shoe, Lake Placid
All strapped in.

Snow shoeing turns out to be easy and a good workout.  Modern day snow shoes do not resemble tennis rackets, and strap to whatever footwear you have on.  The point of snow shoeing (versus XC) is that you could climb and travel in deep snow during the winter. XC skis would have been useless on the Pitchoff trail.

The trail started off easy enough walking through a pine forest.   The weather was perfect once again.  Saturday had the added bonus of light flurries. Jeff went at the perfect pace, fast enough to be warm and start working up a sweat but easy enough that we weren’t out of breath.  While the packed down snow made it evident that the trail was popular, we didn’t run into anyone else on the first leg of our hike and realized once we go close to the top of the mountain that we were breaking the trail for the day.  Snowshoeing over this portion was simply like walking in the snow, only easier.  After about a mile we could to our first “scenic overlook” and stopped to take some pictures of the valley below.

Lake Placid, Pitchoff
Early morning Lake Placid views.

This is where the hike started getting steep and difficult and Jeff taught us how to dig our snowshoes in and climb up almost vertical ice and rock formations.  I was probably 7 on 1-10 scared scale.

Lake Placid
Looking across the valley to a chute I believe Jeff said he skied down. I can’t confirm this as I’m pretty sure I was blackingout from fear as this conversation went down.

We summited a small ridge and Jeff stopped to give us some history on the landscape.  My fear was now at 11.  The spot he decided to stop at hung precariously out over the valley and the highway below was visible.  My fear of heights is completely irrational.  As long as I’m moving I could ignore my surroundings but the second we stop I freeze up.  Jeff stopped to talk for I’m sure was only two minutes but felt like ten.  I literally wasn’t sure I was going to be able to make the rest of the journey, but luckily this was the only exposed view.

Lake Placid, Pitchoff
Starting up the “rock scramble.”

We then reached the “rock scramble”, a steep portion of the hike where climbing was essential before circumnavigating the remainder of the mountain till we got to the summit.

Once we got to the top of the mountain we stopped for some snacks, drinks, and pissing before continuing the flat rock with 360 degree views.  We emerged from the woods, the temperature dropped dramatically, and the scenery took on what could only be dubbed Narnia meets North Pole quality; soft flurries, drifts, panoramic views, and pine trees everywhere.

The Pre-Summit "Winter Wonderland"
The Pre-Summit “Winter Wonderland”

The summit was amazing and had a dramatic, almost lunar quality.  It was freezing and with no treeline for a buffer the wind and snow had picked up.   Jeff told us that the minute our bodies started getting cold to let him know and we’d backtrack.  My sister and I, being the pussies we are, hung back and let Jeff, Eric, and Casey  peer over the side for the best views.  Here are some pictures.  Words can’t do it justice.

Lake Placid, Pitchoff
Top of the world.
For you fellow nerds, the summit of Pitchoff reminded us of Games of Throne’s north wall.

The trek down the mountain was much, much harder than the ascent.  The way the snow shoes are constructed causes you to point and pivot your ankle in ways that are simply unnatural and took some getting used to.  We must have looked like we knew what we were doing at least because by this time (it was around 11..AM) the trail was getting crowded and we ran into alot of people climbing the mountain.   Jeff let us lead the way this time and several people coming up the mountain stopped an asked us things like ,”did you do linear or vertical?” or “better for shoes or the microspike?”  We had no clue what they were talking about, but were flattered they thought we knew what they meant.

We arrived back at the trailhead at 11:50. 4 miles and 3600 feet in 3 hours, and all before noon.  I’m normally a fan of last call but I was beginning to dig the Lake Placid early bed early up lifestyle, especially because it gave us an excuse to have a liquid lunch.

Skijumping & Wine

 We decided to do lunch at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery which Jeff warned us was too touristy, but since we are tourists, we figured what the hell.  We got  cheese fondue, beer, and buffalo fish and chips (which is much better than it sounds) was just the ticket after our morning activities.  My one complaint was that the surface was excruciatingly slow.

XC skiing should always incorporate fondue and beer.
XC skiing should always end with fondue and beer.

After lunch we headed to the Ski Jump Complex.  For $11.00 you could take a chairlift and then glass elevator to the top of the tower which also afford you 360 degree views.  Katelyn and I had been there last year, but I think it’s impressive and not something you get to see everyday so decided to force Casey and Eric into it.

On our way we made a pit stop at Swedish Hill Winery.  For  five dollars you could sample six types of wine.  I’m not a wine fan, but the other guys all left with a few bottles.

View of Lake Placid from the former Olympic Ski Jump.
View of Lake Placid from the former Olympic Ski Jump.

After the ski jump we went back to the room to shower and stopped at Zig Zags for one last round of Foosball before going to the Cascade XC Ski Center Full Moon Party.

Cascade XC Ski Center Full Moon Party

Lake Placid, Full Moon Party
Giving the XC skis a rest so I could drink some beer and roast some wieners at the Full Moon Party bonfire.

The reason we schedule this trip on the weekend of February 22nd rather than the easier and more convenient President’s Day holiday one weekend earlier was so we could attend the Full Moon Party at Cascade XC Ski Center.  We had seen this last year and vowed to come back for it.  The posters advertised skiing on full moon lit trails to bonfires where you could get beer and hotdogs.  When I called earlier this year to confirm this was indeed happened I was told that it was a fifteen dollar trail fee if you brought your own skis. I was pumped, it sounded like the perfect night.

If you’re looking into doing this next year (they only do it two or three times a year and are done for the 2012-2013 ski year) ignore any negative yelp or travel advisor reviews you read.  I promise, they’re bs.

We arrived at the Cascade Ski Center a little after 6:30 with the misinformed intent of getting dinner before embarking on the trails.  The bad news: they only serve food for lunch. The good news: the $15.00 trail fee includes not only skiing, but unlimited beer, marshmallows, and hotdogs.  It might have literally been the best bargain ever.  The party technically didn’t start until 7:30 so we sat around the bar and had a couple of rounds.  In hindsight this was a bad idea, only because we’d been drinking since noon and were all a little more worse for the wear then we thought (isn’t that always the case?).  Our stop at Zig Zags and an encounter with some Absolut Vodka girls didn’t help (I’ll drink anything for a free tee shirt…it’s my Achilles Heal).

I only mention this because intoxicated XC skiing is much harder than sober XC skiing.  I fell twice in the first five minutes and have been XC skiing since I’ve been young.  I kept trying to blame it on not being used to the groomed trails, but in hindsight it was the booze.

Once we finished those aforementioned, ill-advised rounds we went back to the car, go our skis, and proceeded to the entrance to the ski area.  Now, the bad news was that the all day snow was still somewhat around, the blocking the full moon.  The good news was that the trails were not only lit but the party was very heavily attended.  I’d say a good 200 people (and that’s just what we saw).  You can rent or bring your own XC skis or snowshoes, and plenty of people were simply walking.  Entering the woods, it reminded me (and I’m copyrighting Eric’s words here) of a Haunted Hayride, but without the scares and a more party like atmosphere.

I’ve always wanted to get into XC night skiing (I bought a headlamp for it) but this was my first time and it was gorgeous.  The fact that the trails are heavily traveled and you could hear the familiar roar of a party in the distance only added to the excitement.

There were two bonfires the night we went, each located about half a mile from each other.  After the half mile ski, you knew you were close when you could see the familiar orange of flames between tree branches, hear chatter, and see rows of skis stuck in the snow along the trails.

It reminded me of high school parties in the best way.

Full Moon Party
Crowding around the keg, high school style, for warmth. I’m surprised I didn’t see any keg stands.

There was a fire in the middle of the clearing, kegs of Molson (I think because of the highschool throwback vibe, I was happily nostalgic for a shitty heavy beer) and a table with marshmallows, cups, and hotdogs along with utensils for roasting these.  We huddled together, lined up for the keg and reunited with our tour guide Jeff from earlier that morning.

Full Moon Party
The party spread.

Jeff told us that the parties were primarily tourists but that some locals did venture out and that they typically got 200-300 people at the parties which last until all the kegs are kicked.  We stayed at the first fire for about a half hour before attempting to go to the second one.  By the time we got there it was so crowded we decided to not even chance it and returned to the first fire.  We got there just in time for a second (or maybe third?) keg to arrive.  That was the best part.  They were delivered via snowmobile.

Lake Placid
Keg delivery service.

I’d suggest the Full Moon Party to anyone visiting the Lake Placid area or to anyone looking for something different on a Saturday night.

Late Night Lake Placid

We decided to head out from the ski party around 11 as I still had to drive back into town.  I am curious to see how everyone made it back safely.  Unfortunately we were back at Delta Blue just as the band was ending.  Judging by their last song, Wagon Wheel, they would’ve been good.

After Delta Blue we headed over to check out Roomers, Lake Placid’s only nightclub.  It was about as awful as it sounds, and even worse it looked like most of the under 30 population at Lake Placid had flocked there. There were dumb looking security guards, overpriced drinks, and while we were there someone had turned “Wonderwall” into a ten minute techno song.  Roomers was a one and done and we headed back to Zig Zags.  Last call at Zig Zags is 3 and we stayed till 3, ending the night with a sad photo shoot at the bobsled outside.  I believe we tried to create “Washington Cross the Delaware.”

Why I’ll Be Back

Why wont I be back should be the question.

Last year I left Lake Placid with the promise to return for the Full Moon party and guided snow shoeing.  For my next return, I’d like to snowshoe a taller mountain (Cascade), XC ski EVERYDAY (preferably every  morning), and go snow mobiling.  I’d also like to find legitimate dog sledding and possibly take side trips to Saranac Lake, Burlington VT, or even Montreal.

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