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Skiing in Lake Placid, New York

Updated on January 17, 2011
dohn121 profile image

Dohn121 is a freelance writer who currently resides at the foothills of the Shawangunk Mountains of New York's famed Hudson Valley.

How I Learned to Ski on Whiteface Mountain

Back when I was in college in Plattsburgh, New York, I was told by my advisor that I had to choose an elective in order to suffice my General Education requirements. I had so many choices and didn’t like any of them with the exception of one: Downhill Skiing. Not only did it sound fun, but it was a one-credit course in which only met for a total of four consecutive Sundays, between eight in the morning until four in the afternoon after the NFL season, mind you. It sounded almost too good to be true and in one of the rarest of occasions, it was actually better than even that, as I would later come to find.

When I checked out the course description, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a professor of mine who was popular among the student body that went simply by the name “Coach” who would be teaching the course. I’d already taken a course with him on Wilderness First-Aid and Adult CPR (don’t ask me why they didn’t include Child CPR, as for the life of me I still don’t understand it to this day). I actually delve into some of the incredible things that I learned under his tutelage as a student. In my hub, titled Wilderness First-Aid and Outdoor Survival, I’ll teach you how to find clean water, build a fire, a shelter, and built a makeshift-stretcher should the occasion call for it, among other things. Such information could be put to good use if ever you’re in the woods and tragedy strikes.

With that said, Coach and I had a pretty solid rapport with one another, as I was one of his favorites in his previous class. When I finally decided to take up Downhill Skiing, I was floored to learn that the class size was for only 25 with 8 more on the waiting list. I became queasy. All I could think about was not graduating due to my missing a one-credit elective! I went to his office without an appointment, as I practically barged in. I was getting ready to start begging. I left shame outside in the hallway before walking in and once there, I told Coach my story and he listened very carefully and smiled at me.

“How’s your driving record?” He asked me.

“Good! No tickets, no accidents…Clean.”

“Any DWIs?” I smiled.

“Nope. Not yet anyway.” I gave him a wink and he let out a laugh.

“Well, how would you like to drive one of the passenger vans for me?”

“Sure, I don’t mind.” And I didn’t. The past summer, at a New Hampshire sleep-away camp, I drove a 15-passenger van almost daily while chauffeuring around some of the staff whenever they needed to go into town or during camping trips. “But what about the other students that are on the waiting list?”

“Sucks to be them…I got a second driver!”

I was elated.

One of these vans would be waiting for me at seven o'clock every Sunday morning
One of these vans would be waiting for me at seven o'clock every Sunday morning

So Coach drove one van of thirteen of my peers and I drove the second van carrying the other twelve, along with all of our gear, which we barely had enough room for. On Coach’s van, a hitch with a dolly carried all the rest of our equipment. The only bad thing about having to drive the van was the fact that I had to meet Coach on campus by seven in the morning (so as to start and load up the vans) during the Plattsburgh winter which sometimes saw temperatures dip well below zero with the wind chill. This of course meant that I couldn’t party like a rock star the night before, yet my peers could, as they were able to catch about forty-five minutes of sleep before reaching Lake Placid. This apparently made me a bit jealous, because I got even with my passengers by blasting music, refusing to turn on the heat, and stopping short for no apparent reason and covered up by yelling, “Squirrel!” Some of these bastards even smelled like alcohol while walking past me to take their seats! Damn kids!

Upon driving into Lake Placid, New York, this is exactly what you would see
Upon driving into Lake Placid, New York, this is exactly what you would see

Before going to Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain, I failed to ever learn how to ski and so sincerely wanted to remedy that. But Coach didn’t care. He told me when we reached the humongous lodge that I could hang out there, read all day, catch up on my school work, or go snow-bunny hunting if I so chose, and that as long as I didn’t get in any trouble with the law, I’d get an “A” just for driving the second van for him. But I really did want to learn how to ski and so actually learned it quite well. In fact, I did so well that Coach told me that I would’ve gotten an “A” grade regardless if I drove the second van or not. That of course made me pretty warm and fuzzy inside (kind of like a snow bunny, perhaps) Truth be told, my Downhill Skiing class would become the most fun I’d ever have all through my years of college for so many reasons and Coach was one of them. He was the first and only college professor to tell me personally on the very first day of class that the class would be an “Easy ‘A’.” How many college professors ever did that for you?

Picturesque Whiteface Summit

Do you hunt Snow-Bunnies?

Typical Snow-Bunny in fashionably seasonal attire
Typical Snow-Bunny in fashionably seasonal attire
Miracle on Ice: USA defeats USSR at the 1980 Winter Olympics
Miracle on Ice: USA defeats USSR at the 1980 Winter Olympics

Please click to enlarge

Olympic Ski Jump
Olympic Ski Jump
Olympic Ski Jump
Olympic Ski Jump

1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid, New York

What Lake Placid, New York is famous for is not its lake or its paltry population of 2,300 or so, but for its playing host to the XIII Winter Olympic Games from February 13 through the 24 of 1980. It represented 37 of the world’s nations and saw the United States take home a total of 12 medals: 6 Gold, 4 Silver, and 2 Bronze and was third in medals won behind what was the U.S.S.R. and East Germany.

But by far the most important medal that was won was by the United States Olympic Hockey team who shocked the world by beating the heavily favored Russians 4-3 in what may be the single-most amazing feat in all of sports, due to the implications between these two world powers during the Cold War. In fact, the event would later be dubbed, “Miracle on Ice.” The 2004 movie titled, “Miracle” retells the tale of David versus Goliath. Every year, Olympic athletes from all over the country come to Lake Placid to train, bringing with them many spectators who take great pleasure in watching them. They really are amazing to watch live, rather than on a TV tube. I highly recommend coming to Lake Placid just to catch a glimpse of them training. Please check out the video clip of it below.

Whiteface Mountain

Please click to enlarge

Whiteface Mountain and Mount Esther seen from Jay Ridge
Whiteface Mountain and Mount Esther seen from Jay Ridge
Diagram of trails at Whiteface
Diagram of trails at Whiteface

Whiteface Mountain and Ski Resort

Whiteface Mountain is the fifth-highest mountain within the New York State’s Adirondacks. Despite what the title of this hub suggests, the actual town in which Whiteface Mountain is located is Wilmington, New York. The town of Lake Placid, which was named after its popular lake, but in all actuality, is about thirteen miles from Whiteface Mountain which boasts the steepest vertical drop in the eastern part of the United States at 3,430 feet. In comparison, this is much higher than Aspen Mountain in Colorado; Park City Resort in Utah; Killington, Stowe, Jay Peak, and Stratton in Vermont; Sunday River in Maine; and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. Whiteface Mountain is one of the highest peaks in New YorkState and on a clear day, visitors can get a glimpse of Vermont and even Canada. It has a base elevation of 1,220 feet and has a lift service terrain from 4,386 feet (1,337 meters) and a hike-to terrain from 4,650 (1,420 meters) and nearby Little Whiteface has an altitude of 3,676 feet. Skiing enthusiasts will find a total of 18 miles (29 kilometers) of ski terrain stretching out over 76 trails.

Bunny Slopes and "Iceface"

Among the 220 acres of ski area, 35 acres are dedicated to expert or extreme adventure terrain not for the weak of heart. Such terrain is known as, the “Slides” which is rugged, unkempt wilderness area that is rarely open to the public due to the safety hazards and so can only be accessed via hiking from the top of the Summit Quad. WhitefaceMountain offers a separate area for beginners called Kids Kampus or aptly referred to as the “Bunny Slopes” which unfortunately seldom plays hosts to any Snow-Bunnies from my experience. Sometimes referred to as “Iceface,” due to it’s southern exposure during the course of the day, causing the powder to melt and refreeze, Whiteface can surprise many skiers as what looks like packed snow is actually a thin-layer of powder covering solid ice, so skiers beware! I damn near tore my knee up whilst attempting to ski down an intermediate slope and around a bend only to wind up with my back against the orange safety webbing that saved me from falling about 300 feet to my death—that is if I didn’t smack against one of the many pine trees on the way down. A couple of skiers stopped to check me out; I was a living work of amateur ski art for all to enjoy, free of charge of course.

Please click to enlarge

Cross-country Skiing
Cross-country Skiing

The Slides

Over the past ten years, some major overhaul was done to remedy Whiteface being notoriously referred to as “Iceface” About 98% of the trails are now covered by snowmaking which of course does not include the Slides. In all due respect to the imminent dangers involved, the Slides are double-diamond runs that are only open at the very end of the skiing season due to (would you believe it?) avalanche danger. Whenever I saw a helicopter around WhitefaceMountain I always get the chills and not because of the Nordic weather, mind you.

The Sensation of Skiing

In the four Sundays in which I learned to ski for the first time in my life at Whiteface Mountain, I improved from beginner to intermediate, relishing and wanting more the rush of speed that I felt while accelerating down a slope. There really is nothing as exhilarating, at least to me, as gravity takes over and your sensations scream. Overall, I highly recommend that you visit Whiteface Mountain as it sure to challenge you as it challenges Olympic skiers from all over the country whenever they come here to train. Thanks for reading me and I hope to see you on the slopes!

You can visit the official Whiteface Mountain Website by clicking here.

Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain Photo Gallery

Lake Placid, New York in the Spring

Lake Placid as seen from Whiteface Mountain
Lake Placid as seen from Whiteface Mountain

Lasting Impressions

Anyone want a puppy? (In case you're wondering, they're West Highland Terriers)
Anyone want a puppy? (In case you're wondering, they're West Highland Terriers)

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