Experience the five-ring circus on a small-town scale.
[Editor’s Note: The Sochi Olympics kick off February 7. We’d rather revel in winter’s cold sting and icy beauty with games of our own. Join us, and check in each week through February 11 for a visitor’s guide to North America’s past Olympic hosts: Squaw Valley, CA | Calgary, AB | Salt Lake City, UT | Vancouver, BC]
When I tell new acquaintances I hail from Lake Placid, anyone past 50 smiles with a mix of nostalgia and glee that says, “Do I believe in miracles? YES! Take that, you red-sweater apparatchiks.” Luckily, thanks to the Disney movie about the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics, even millennial whippersnappers know Lake Placid for the right reasons.
The 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics put Lake Placid on the map, a lone reference point in rural northern New York. And I know it well enough. That hockey team of American amateurs defeated the Soviet powerhouse on the ice rink where I learned my forward swizzles and two-footed spins. From home, it was 10 minutes to Whiteface Mountain or 15 minutes to the base of Lake Placid’s only skyscrapers: the 120- and 90-meter ski jumps. The Olympic venues are a must, but there’s more to Lake Placid than its history of competition. It’s just as fun to toboggan onto Mirror Lake, schuss to backcountry lakes, and sip locally brewed Ubu Ale.
Still, in Lake Placid, the Olympic legacy is no musty, faded artifact. Andrew Weibrecht, a 2010 Olympic bronze medalist in the super-G, calls Whiteface Mountain home. Biathletes Lowell Bailey, a Lake Placid native, and Annelies Cook, a denizen of nearby Saranac Lake, discovered their sport at Lake Placid’s Mount Van Hoevenberg cross-country center. Billy Demong, who won Nordic gold at the Vancouver Game, is from a small burg called Vermontville and learned to ski jump in Lake Placid as an eight-year-old.
For my part, I’ll watch the Sochi action and cheer for them all. But I’d rather live the Olympics in Lake Placid. There, I can hurtle down an icy luge track, shadow Eric Heiden’s blades on the outdoor speed skating oval, and take in a ski jumper’s airy view from 90 meters up. And marvel once more that the Olympics were once the stuff of small mountain towns.
Ski: Navigate Whiteface’s Niagara and Victoria headwalls, then cruise to the ski area’s base. That 3,166-foot descent is the 1980 men’s downhill course; Austrian Leonhard Stock crushed it in 1:45.50. For XC aficionados, Mount Van Hoevenberg serves up a vast network. Or catch a full moon party at the Cascade Ski Center and try the backcountry Jackrabbit Ski Trail.
Ice Climb: Round up a crew for frozen pitches at the base of Pitchoff Mountain (High Peaks Cyclery has gear and guides). Advance to Chapel Pond’s waterfalls or venture into the alpine to climb Mount Colden’s Trap Dike slide. Or keep it mellow at the ice park at Keene’s Rock and River lodge.
Olympic Connection: Get off the couch with the Olympic Sites Passport ($32). Catch Sochi’s opening ceremonies on the big screen and an Olympic-inspired exhibit at the Lake Placid Performing Arts Center. Arrrive before the Sochi Games start? Don’t miss the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, complete with ice castle.
Refuel at Desperados with a house marg and chicken enchiladas. Catch owner Andrew Quinn to talk skiing, tequila, and homemade hot sauces. mexiquinn.com
Rent a fat bike, hit the climbing gym, or catch the Saturday night After Adventure Film Series at Lake Placid’s High Peaks Cyclery. highpeakscyclery.com
The AMGA-certified crew behind Cloudsplitter Guides leads more advanced ice climbing and backcountry ski outings. cloudsplitterguides.com —Olivia Dwyer | Photos courtesy of Lake Placid CVB/lakeplacid.com