Anything but Vacation – Lake Placid, NY

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Image credit: Tripadvisor

Where in the world to start with Lake Placid? I cannot think of a better place to spend a week during the Winter Olympics, yet our being there was an accident of fate, or rather hurricane. Originally our February vacation week was planned for Puerto Rico but then Maria happened and we had to make a call about whether or not the island would be ready for tourists six months later. We decided to postpone Puerto Rico and somehow we found ourselves heading five hours west and north to the Adirondacks where Lake Placid nestles in some of the prettiest environs this side of anywhere.

We were in a group of six, my family (11 year old twins) as well as my husband’s son and his girlfriend (mid 20s, both of them). The older “kids” were not winter sports afficionados–they both grew up in Brazil–but were totally game for everything we presented as options. And I think we pretty much did everything: cross country (nordic) skiing, alpine skiing, bobsledding, skating, snowball chucking (not an Olympic sport, strangely–I mean, if you can chuck a large rock down some ice and sweep it, why are we not beaning people with snowballs and rating it? Mystery). Unfortunately the kids were not allowed to learn biathlon until age 13 nor luge or skeleton, so we had to give those a skip.

We had the typically crazy weather of the Northeast. We arrived to cold and snow on the ground, then it dropped to 18 degrees F for Sunday, then up to the mid 30s, then up further to the 50s, until it dropped again to the high 20s on our departure day with giant snow flurries dropping on us as we loaded up the cars. Fortunately, we were able to plan out our time so that we could participate in the right sports on the right days–the things we also have to go back for are skating on Mirror Lake (there are “sidewalks” cleared on the lake’s ice so you can cross over for dinner or tobogganing — true story– by skate), skating at the speedskating (outdoor) oval and for more time in the woods.

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What skating on Mirror Lake looks like if frozen enough. Photo credit:

The trip from Boston to Lake Placid was on the back routes up through Massachusetts and Vermont. I am always gobsmacked by the natural beauty of that part of New England, and also the decrepit poverty of some of these old historic towns. Boarded up storefronts, pawn shops. Especially Vermont, poor Vermont. You are on my list, you beautiful state, for my next tourist dollars. We crossed over to New York on a tiny bridge over the Hudson River to Crown Point, then weaving through small towns. In Keene, NY, you start driving through a winding canyon with vistas of a frozen river and Lower Cascade Lake where we saw kids playing hockey. This is the kind of skating I love–outside on a mountain lake. Next time.

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Lower Cascade Lake. Photo credit: All Over Albany

We had decided to stay in a three-bedroom VRBO with a fenced yard, so crazy Katie Puppy , our Labrador mix, could come with us. It was absolutely perfect for us except that you cannot read this blog to get ideas of which restaurants to go to: we did not go to even one (unless you count the Bear Den Lodge at Whiteface Mountain: I don’t). We had a kitchen loaded with cooking gear, and a downstairs bar area with a refrigerator filled with beer and ice cream. What more can you possibly want?

The view from the patio of Whiteface Mountain

Our arrival afternoon was filled with snowball fights, playing with the dog outside, and messing with the gas stove so much that it became tropically warm in the moose antlered and birch bookshelves cute Adirondack home. I’ll include the link here for that house, because it is so worth staying there if you have a bigger family.

I will save some of our tourist trips for upcoming blogs–Mt. Hoeverberg nordic skiing was to me the clear winner–but I have to explain the title of today’s blog. Lake Placid is anything but placid. I am not sure, even in summer, if you could come here to just relax. People are running in rain, running with Yaktrax on snow, snowmobiling, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, downhill skiing in poor conditions and great conditions: no matter how fit and athletic you are, I guarantee you will be passed by a person running with a baby on his back in snowshoes up a mountain. Humbling. Truly.

And of course, there is the excitement of being at a former Olympic site. I had not known that Lake Placid is one of only two towns to have hosted the Winter Olympics twice: once in 1932 and once in 1980. There is a tiny Olympic Museum in town (very interesting  but overwhelmed with people avoiding the rain on the day we went) with black and white photos of the 1932 Olympics…imagine, right before World War 2 and in the middle of the Great Depression. Only 17 countries participated (the Netherlands did not come and I’m guessing the medal count, which the US won, would have been different if they had!). Anyone know the name Sonja Henie? She won her second of three Olympic gold medals in Lake Placid. She was an amazing competitor, if you read her bio. I did.

In 1932, dogsledding was a demonstration sport (not for medaling). Curling too. Alpine skiing was not included (for the last time–it was a medal sport in 1936). And my favorite bit of trivia: Franklin D Roosevelt opened those Games as Governor of New York state. Nine months later he would be elected president.

The museum is totally worth a visit but get there early so you have some space to look and to read, and to contemplate the video of the “Miracle on Ice” game that the US won over the Soviet Union in 1980. Practice curling with wood rocks. Read about the Netherlands and their dominance of speed skating. Marvel at the old style bobsleds and helmets. Worry about your kids’ heads. You can get in “free” with an Olympic Sites passport–I highly recommend it.

Above the museum is the 1980 rink where Miracle on Ice actually happened (do not underestimate this visit: even I, who does not ever watch hockey, got a bit of a chill there.  It was not particulary cold. And the 1932 rink where I skated with the kids on our last afternoon. Things got better in terms of comfort in 1980, by the way.  A lot better. Skate rentals and hours are available on the site. You can also skate on the outdoor speed skating oval if weather permits (it did not).

So phew, lots to talk about in Lake Placid. Hope someone reads it. Oh wait, there’s me! I’ll read it! See you tomorrow.

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