Three of the best ski areas in New York are actually owned by New York State and operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority – Whiteface and Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks and Belleayre in the Catskills. (Among the improvements ORDA has made is new RFID technology for direct-to-lift access and online purchasing so you can go directly from your car to the slopes; the ticket can be renewed online.)
Top of the list for ski areas with a world-class reputation is Whiteface, site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics, where in addition to skiing, you can visit Olympic venues and even participate (biathalon, anyone? skate on the Olympic Oval, drive a coaster down the bobsled track).
Whiteface offers the greatest vertical, 3430 ft. from the summit at 4867 ft, of any lift-serviced mountain in the Northeast. This is a serious mountain – actually three mountains, Whiteface summit is a 4,867 ft.; Lookout Mountain tops at 4,000 ft.; Little Whiteface at 3,676 ft. – with more expert terrain, more long, rolling groomers (including the longest single intermediate run in the Northeast, the 2.1 mile-long Wilmington Trail) in the East. It offers 300 skiable acres: 89 runs (24% beginner, 44% intermediate, 33% advanced) and 53 acres of glades and 5 terrain parks, serviced by 13 lifts, including the gorgeous Cloudsplitter Gondola Ride that cuts an aerial path through the Adirondack Mountains on its way to the peak of Little Whiteface.
Whiteface is my favorite ski destination in New York, largely because of Lake Placid, the ambiance and the extraordinary activities.
Experience the thrill of what it was like to be an Olympic Bobsledder during the 1980 Winter Games on the new Cliffside Mountain Coaster at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, which boasts being the longest year-round mountain coaster in the USA. You control the ride – you have the ability to go as slow or as fast as you’d like. Race your family & friends alongside the 1980 bobsled track to the bottom. During the scenic ride to the top of the Cliffside Coaster you learn about the inspiring Olympic history of the Lake Placid Sliding Center.
Other attractions and recent upgrades to the Olympic Sites include the new Sky Flyer Zipline at the Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex, the new SkyRide Experience, an 8-person gondola that brings guests from the Olympic Jumping Complex’s base lodge to the 90-meter and 120-meter ski jump towers, a new glass-enclosed elevator ride to the top of the ski jumps for a panoramic vista of the Adirondack High Peaks (and to experience what the jumpers see as they start to accelerate towards the end of the ramp!), new Nordic trails at Mt. Van Hovenberg (where you can try your hand at the biathalon).
In Lake Placid village, visit the Olympic Center, skate at the Herb Brooks Arena and on the Olympic oval, and visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.
There is no lodging on the mountain (it’s a wilderness area, after all), but many lovely inns, bnbs, hotels and resorts nearby, including the Whiteface Lodge Resort & Spa and Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, conveniently located in Lake Placid village, walking distance to everything, and accessible to a convenient shuttle bus to the mountain (www.golden-arrow.com).
Also High Peaks Resortwhich offers three unique lodging experiences overlooking Mirror Lake and the Adirondacks: The Resort, a traditional hotel featuring 105 guest rooms and suites (newly renovated in March 2020); the modern retro-vibe Lake House with 44 guest rooms; and the private and serene Waterfront Collection, featuring 28 guest rooms including 10 suites on the shores of Mirror Lake. Amenities available to all guests include the Spa & Salon at High Peaks Resort, two indoor and two outdoor heated pools, an indoor Jacuzzi, an on-site fully-equipped fitness center, and a full-service restaurant, Dancing Bears, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Guests also enjoy private access to Mirror Lake with complimentary use of skates, along with admission to Lake Placid’s full-service Nordic Center, Cascade Ski Center, with more than 12 miles of groomed trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing (complimentary use of showshoes). Dogs are welcome, with special canine-friendly treats and amenities. (High Peaks Resort, 2384 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY 12946, 518-523-4411, 800-755-5598, www.highpeaksresort.com)
The newest additions are The Lake Placid Inn (opened July 2020) and the Saranac Waterfront Lodge, an eco-luxe independent boutique hotel that opened Nov. 1, 2020.
As a perennial blue-trail/intermediate skier, Gore Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski. Nestled in the Adirondacks, it offers expansive views of a real wilderness. You actually feel as if you were in the Rockies.
Gore Mountain is New York State’s largest ski and ride resort with. 439 skiable acres, it spans four mountains, including Gore, Bear Mountain, Burnt Ridge Mountain and Little Gore Mountain, a vertical drop of 2,537 feet from the summit at 3,600 ft, 121 trails (10% beginner, 50% intermediate and 40% advanced), including 110 alpine trails (longest is 4.4 miles), with 28 glades, 8 freestyle areas and 11 cross-country and snowshoe trails, all serviced by 14 lifts.
This season, Gore is unveiling two new lifts: a new quad replaces the High Peaks chair to deliver skiers toGore’s true summit, opening up fresh access to all four peaks and the entire Straight Brook Valley; and the Sunway Chair has been upgraded to a quad. The Cutoff trail in the Northwoods Area has been lengthened and redesigned to become an easier-rated trail. “Pete’s Paradise” now is an additional beginner option. There is also a significant increase in snowmaking capacity.
There is no on-mountain lodging, but there is the delightful Copperfield Inn (www.copperfieldinn.com/) in nearby North Creek which we enjoyed one Christmas; for a grand, luxurious stay, The Sagamore, in Bolton Landing on Lake George is 45 minutes away (www.thesagamore.com).
In addition to skiing and snowboarding at Whiteface in Lake Placid and Gore Mountain in North Creek, there are plenty of other ways to embrace the cold in the Adirondacks: hiking (including five fire tower trails in Hamilton County that travelers can visit and climb even in the winter!), cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, dogsledding, pond hockey, ice skating and ice fishing.
Mirror Lake has plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy on the ice, including skating, cross country skiing, toboggan rides, dog sledding and skating on the Olympic Oval, just as the Olympians did. The Wild Center in Tupper Lake transforms into a winter playground once the snow hits – Winter Wild Walk, a learn-to ice-fish program, snowshoeing, and some other outdoor winter programming and activities. Oak Mountain (about 2 hours from Lake Placid) is a small family-friendly ski resort ideal for avoiding crowds and offers skiing, snowboarding and tubing along with disc golf and free snowshoeing. Ausable Chasm, the Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks, offers winter tours of frozen waterfalls and spectacular sights, less than an hour from Lake Placid. And at the end of the day, Main Street Lake Placid has plenty of boutique shops and restaurants to welcome visitors in from the cold.
The Adirondack Wayfinder, a new virtual service that showcases the park through thematic road trip itineraries, takes the guesswork out of planning where to go by allowing users to search through a variety of curated itineraries that appeal to different interests, from outdoor recreation, wide-open spaces and family-friendly itineraries to dining, brewery tours, and more. (www.adirondackwayfinder.com)
There are lodgings you choose to hang your hat after skiing, and then there are lodgings you choose because they are absolutely enchanting, especially for the winter holidays, which have the added delight of providing proximity to great skiing – ideal for families when not everyone’s cup of tea is skiing. Here are some of our favorite places to spend the winter holidays:
Mountain Top Inn & Resort, where we had the most delightful Christmas last year, is breathtakingly enchanting, complete with rides on a horse-drawn sleigh gliding across its expansive fields, a Currier & Ives landscape come to life. The setting, on 350 acres with a 740-acre lake, and ringed by the Green Mountain National Forest, offers its own 60 km cross-country ski trail network; a small old-fashioned (natural) skating pond; snowshoeing (twilight tours available); snowmobiling; spa; hot tub; fire pits; and the coziest fireplaces. It’s also a 30 minute drive to Killington Mountain for downhill skiing (shuttle transportation available, 8:30 am, returning 4:30 pm; reserve in advance). Mountain Top Inn & Resort, 195 Mountain Top Road, Chittenden, Vermont 05737, 802-483-2311, www.MountainTopInn.com.
The Sagamore, a grand historic hotel dating back to the 1880s that sits on a private 70-acre island on Lake George, is a sensational self-contained resort in one of America’s oldest tourism destinations. It is just 45 minutes from Gore Mountain, one of the best ski destinations in the East, certainly in New York State (a shuttle is provided); also nearby is West Mountain (downhill skiing, tubing, night skiing) and Crandall Park (cross country skiing, night skiing). The full-service resort offers ice skating, snowshoeing, indoor pool and spa, special holiday activities, (www.thesagamore.com, 866.384.1944)
Mohonk Mountain House has been enchanting guests for more than 100 years. Founded by the Smiley Family in 1869, the Victorian castle resort, a National Historic Landmark, is set on cliffs overlooking a lake, nestled in the Hudson Valley surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forest, only 90 miles north of New York City. Mohonk offers a world-class 30,000 sq. ft. “eco-friendly” spa, indoor pool, a spectacular skating pavilion, rock climbing, 85 miles of trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. New winter “wellness” programming is designed to help guests combat the “winter blues” and embrace the beauty of the season, with new mindfulness offerings that include fireside meditation, winter forest bathing and mindfulness lectures. If you can pull yourself away from its warm embrace, downhill skiing in the Catskills (Hunter Mountain, Belleayre, Windham) is an hour away. (844-207-8372, www.mohonk.com)
Now an Omni Hotels resort, the elegant Mount Washington Hotel, “a favorite New England retreat of presidents, poets and celebrities,” is just across the road from New Hampshire’s largest ski area, Bretton Woods (yes, that famous mountain hotel where world leaders signed the 1944 Treaty of Bretton Woods ending the gold standard in, fittingly, the Gold Room), with numerous trails and glades and three terrain parks. The grand resort has its own cross-country skiing on the golf course; one of the longest zip line tours in New England (year-round); a full-service 25,000 sq. ft. spa; two 4-diamond dining rooms (one is a former speakeasy) and sleigh rides. (www.omnihotels.com/hotels/bretton-woods-mount-washington)
Stockbridge, Massachusetts is another utterly picturesque New England village which is like a Norman Rockwell painting of Americana – in fact, its Main Street is immortalized in Rockwell’s “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” that includes the Red Lion Inn, where we stayed one Christmas – so much character! The Red Lion has been welcoming travelers to the Berkshires since 1773, one of New England’s few inns that has been operated continuously since before 1800. It is beyond charming – with early American furnishings, much of which has been in place for a century. It has hosted five presidents and other notables including Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Cullen Bryant, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. And much to do in Stockbridge, including the not-to-be-missed visit to the Norman Rockwell Museum, as well as Arrowhead Museum, the home of Herman Melville, in Pittsfield. (www.redlioninn.com).
We were able to combine our delightful holiday stay at the Red Lion with downhill skiing and snowboarding at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, the largest ski and snowboard resort in southern New England (37 Corey Road, Hancock MA 01237, www.jiminypeak.com, 413-738-5500).
A great source for fascinating places is Historic Hotels of America, www.historichotels.org and www.historichotelsworldwide.com, where you can find the perfect destination hotel or resort, intimately connected to the heritage, the people, the personality of the place, wherever you are headed.
Skiing, a Great Way to Spend the Holidays
Skiing (and snowboarding) is the great equalizer for families, something that is adventurous and gets the adrenalin rushing, where you feel a satisfied sense of accomplishment, and where kids can show up their parents. The resorts, especially the self-contained ones built around a small village with cute cafes and boutiques, all do a superb job of being festive. And there’s nothing better after a vigorous, bracing day on the slopes, than coming back and getting cozy in the condo with hot chocolate, or smore’s over a firepit, or a steamy Jacuzzi, or setting out for the skating rink or hopping a gondola to a mountaintop restaurant.
Park City, Utah, goes all out for the holidays and the town itself is utterly charming with sensational restaurants, boutiques, and you can fly out in the morning to Salt Lake City and be on the slopes, just 35 minutes away, by 1 pm. Park City Mountain celebrates the holiday season with Snowfest: a 16-day winter festival, Dec. 22-Jan. 6, featuring après ski events, musical acts, village entertainers, and activities including ice sculptures, s’mores roasting, meet-and-greets with the avalanche dogs and more. Activities will be presented at both the Park City Mountain Village and Canyons Village each day. On Monday, Dec. 24, Park City’s 56th annual Christmas Eve Torchlight Parade takes place, a tradition as old as the resort itself, when 100 Park City instructors ski down with lit torches creating a beautiful scene on the Mountain, joined by Santa Claus. The resort, the largest in the US with 7300 acres of terrain, two distinct base areas, nine hotels, two dozen restaurants and a new eight-passenger gondola, does an excellent job of interconnecting with Park City itself, a most charming Western town. Book 7 days in advance online for discounts on lift tickets; check out holiday packages, events and lodging and updates on terrain and weather reports at ParkCityMountain.com. (Also visit snow.com for info on all the Vail Resorts.)
The Hyatt Centric at the Canyons base, which has been a superb lodging for our stay and has its own lift for ski in/out convenience, and is just a five-minute walk to the shops and restaurants, let us use the outdoor heated pool, hot tubs, sauna and lockers after we were checked out. Our two-bedroom condo (the hotel has 27 two-bedroom suites, which can be turned into 3 bedroom suites, and 15 one-bedroom suites) is unbelievably spacious, outfitted with every possible amenity including a full-kitchen, a dining table that seats eight, three TVs, a Jacuzzi bathtub in the master bedroom, four balconies, windows everywhere there open up to the gorgeous outdoors, and washer/dryer (so convenient when you ski).The hotel also offers a free nighttime shuttle into historic Park City (parkcity.centric.hyatt.com).
Similarly, Lake Placid is a charming village that is the hub for Whiteface in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. Plenty to do, from the Olympic ice skating oval and museum downtown, to Olympic venues (you can even do bobsled, skeleton, biathalon, go up the Ski Jump towers, cross-country – even if there is someone in the family who doesn’t ski, or even if do, there is so much to enrich a trip. (Try to also fit in a hike through Ausable Chasm, incredible in winter). It’s not for nothing SKI Magazine named Lake Placid #1 ski town for Off-Hill activities.
We loved our festive holiday stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, which offers a shuttle bus up to Whiteface, but also is a hub for all that Lake Placid offers: walking distance to the Olympic Oval ice skating rink and museum or ice skate on Mirror Lake just outside the resort; lovely shops and restaurants, and the local “toboggan roller coaster.” Also dog-sledding across the frozen surface of Mirror Lake and guided snowshoeing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. (www.golden-arrow.com, 844-209-8080)
Other favorite New York State ski destinations: Gore Mountain in the Adirondacks (North Creek is a delightful village to stay), Belleayre, Windham, Hunter Mountain in the Catskills. (See Ski New York, www.iskiny.com, for more ideas.)
Other favorites for the holiday vibe as well as great skiing: Smugglers Notch (a complete, self-contained mountain destination that is tops for families), Mount Snow, Stratton (now part of Ikon Pass) and Okemo (now part of Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass) in the Northeast (see SkiVermont.com); Heavenly and Northstar around Lake Tahoe, California; Vail, Breckenridge (a historic town), Keystone Resort (sensational for families, easy to reach from Denver International Airport) in Colorado. Great source for ski holidays, Ski.com, a ski-specializing travel agency.
Warmer-Weather Winter Favorites
St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, lying midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida. The islands are a popular resort playground, offering a mix of natural beauty, rich history and quaint charm, coupled with the allure of inviting year-round weather (winter temps are in the low 60s). Visitors are enchanted by the natural canopy of moss-draped live oaks and the memorable Tree Spirits, hand-carved images of weathered faces that immortalize the area’s sailors who lost their lives at sea. The King and Prince, a member of Historic Hotels of America, offers a complete resort experience, including oceanfront dining, beachfront activities to horseback riding, tennis, biking and fishing. A variety of tours are available that provide samplings of the area’s history and culture, whether by foot, bike, trolley or boat.There are five oceanfront pools including a heated pool; enjoy golf at its famous The King and Prince Golf Course, and tennis. What I especially love is the opportunity to explore St. Simons – especially by bike. There are also dolphin cruises, shrimp boat excursion, kayaking, historic trolley tours of the island. Take time to explore Fort Frederica National Monument (which was an entire settlement, dating from 1736), Christ Church, and St. Simons Lighthouse & Museum. (www.kingandprince.com, 800-342-0212; member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)
Eau Palm Resort in Manalapan, on Palm Beach Island, is a very special place. An intimate ocean retreat, it is both luxurious and comfortable; traditional and modern; playful and indulgent. Situated on the sweeping back drop of Florida’s Gold Coast with seven private Atlantic beachfront acres, magnificently landscaped with lush gardens and exquisite pools, it is one of only two Forbes Five-Star resorts in Palm Beach and eight in Florida. The award-winning Eau Spa is not to be missed. The resort offers an imaginative array of activities, from stand-up paddleboarding, to snorkeling in aquamarine waters, to surfing lessons, tennis. Borrow a complimentary cruiser bike to explore Palm Beach on a fabulous recreational trail. Palm Beach also offers many wonderful museums and historic attractions also, like the Flagler Museum; try to fit in a visit to the Palm Beach Zoo if you can pull yourself from the beach and the stunning pools. (www.eaupalmbeach.com, 800-328-0170).
One of our favorite places is the Colony Hotel & Cabana Club, Delray Beach, Florida – if Cole Porter were a hotel, it would be this one, and just steps away from Delray Beach (I think one of the nicest, most scenic beaches on the Florida’s Atlantic coast); the hotel even has its own private beachfront country club. Delray Beach is a sumptuous confection of art and culture, once voted “America’s Most Fun Small Town.” Among the features are complimentary breakfast buffet; wifi at hotel & club; fitness room; weekend live entertainment; walk to beach and access to private beach club with a saltwater pool). (www.thecolonyhotel.com, 561-276-4123, 800-552-2363; a member of Historic Hotels of America, historichotels.org.)
Another way to get into the spirit of “America’s Most Fun Small Town” is a stay at the Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel & Tiki Bar, which puts you right in the middle of all the activity Delray Beach offers, including a short walk to the beach, and yet makes you feel so far away, in some tranquil, private tropical retreat. It’s whimsical and fun. A fabulous buffet breakfast is served under the thatch roof of the tiki bar. (cranesbeachhouse.com, 561-278-1700, 866-372-7263).
Leave time to explore Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Wakodahatchee (best birding anywhere), Loxahatchee (kayak or canoe in the Everglades, look for alligators!) and Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens.
TheBroadmoor in Colorado Springs is wrapping up its centennial celebrations with the recent unveiling of its largest, grandest holiday gingerbread display ever, a 13 ½-foot-tall, 11×11-120-square-foot gingerbread replica of the original 1918 Broadmoor resort. Situated at the gateway to the Colorado Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor and its Wilderness Experience properties of The Ranch at Emerald Valley, Cloud Camp and Fishing Camp encompass 5,000 acres. The resort campus has 784 rooms, suites and cottages. It includes championship golf courses, a Forbes Five-Star spa and fitness center, indoor pool, nationally recognized tennis staff and program, 24 retail boutiques and 10 restaurants and 10 additional cafes and lounges, including Colorado’s only Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond restaurant Penrose Room. Other activities include falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly-fishing, paintball and more. The Broadmoor owns and manages attractions that include Seven Falls and The Broadmoor Soaring Adventure zip-line courses. During the winter season, Broadmoor guests may choose from a wide selection of complimentary weekend activities and classes designed to enlighten, excite, educate—or simply enjoy, including cooking classes, wine and spirits demos, fly casting instruction, golf instruction, dance classes, fitness classes. Holiday activities include Christmas dining events, face painting, carnival games, laser tag, and story time. Nearby activities include: Bear Creek Nature Center, Cave of the Winds, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Children’s Museum, Florissant Fossil Beds, Hiking in North Cheyenne Canyon, Manitou Cliff Dwellings, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, The Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Royal Gorge Bridge, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall of Fame, The Broadmoor Seven Falls, Western Museum of Mining, and World Ice Skating Arena. (www.broadmoor.com, 855-634-7711)
More Holiday Travel Ideas
Cruising is a great way for families to be together for the holidays. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, Disney Cruise Line, Norwegian Cruise Line and Princess Cruises do a superb job for families, with spectacular entertainment, waterparks and other mind-blowing activities on board and age-appropriate children’s activity programs and dining options. These floating resorts bring families together around activities and interests, dining and entertainment, adding in the incalculable delight in exploring new places. Our family treasures our multi-generational reunion on a Carnival cruise during Christmas week that called at Key West and Cozumel (Mexico), both such colorful places. Your travel agent can best advise on choosing a ship, a cruiseline, an itinerary; also visit cruisecritic.com.
Theme parks really deck the halls for the holidays, with parades, decorations, special activities. Our favorites include Universal Studios Orlando (loved our stay at the Loews Portofino), DisneyWorld (we had a really fun time at the Coco Key Hotel outside Disney, with its own waterpark and shuttle transport to the park), Busch Gardens Tampa (an outstanding zoo as much as it is a theme park) and Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
Close to home and an absolutely delightful theme park destination is Hershey Park (particularly great for families with younger kids): Its most festive seasonal event of the year, Hersheypark Christmas Candylane includes 4 million lights in a choreographed light show, 45 rides and coasters, entertainment, a visit with Santa. “Hersheypark Christmas Candylane Package,” available on select dates Nov. 16 – Dec. 29, includes one night accommodations at The Hotel Hershey (a grand, historic hotel) or Hershey Lodge resort and one day Hersheypark admission for the whole family, milk & cookie delivery, admission for 1 vehicle to Hershey Sweet Lights attraction. Also visit ZooAmerica, an 11-acre zoo with 200 animals open year-round. (www.hersheypark.com, 717-534-3900).
Dude ranches are a hoot; no matter your age, you wind up being a kid again. We had an entirely different holiday experience the Christmas we spent at Pine RidgeDude Ranch (formerly the Pinegrove Ranch, was acquired this year by the former barn manager and two long-time guests). It’s an old-fashioned all-inclusive Catskills Mountains family resort with horses and a “Toy Story” cowboy vibe. So festive, warm, friendly and utterly delightful. It’s a nonstop giggle for children of all ages. Parents will slip back into their own childhoods while making new childhood memories for their own kids. There are activities galore, indoor pool, even laser tag, archery, tubing, iceskating, plus nightly shows and entertainment, three meals daily plus snacks and the holiday atmosphere is so special. Riding horses over snow-covered trails is really special. They regularly offer specials for Christmas and holiday times (some families return each year). Pine Ridge Dude Ranch, 30 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson N.Y. 12446, Ulster County, 845-626-7345, [email protected], www.pineridgeduderanch.com.
Rocking Horse Ranch is a perennial family favorite. In the best tradition of Catskills resorts (all-inclusive) and dude ranch, it offers unlimited horseback riding, an indoor water park, live shows and entertainment, meals and tastings. Activities include bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall, mountain tubing, a spa and “exotic wildlife” exhibit (600 State Route 44/55, Highland, NY 12528, 800-647-2624, www.rockinghorseranch.com).
Believe it or not, New York State, with more than 50 ski areas, has more ski areas than any other state in the country and the biggest vertical ski drop east of the Mississippi; New York is the 4th in terms of skier visits, after Colorado, California and Vermont. The ski areas range from pleasant family-friendly nearby areas that are ideal to learn to ski or ride, to the two-time Olympic mountain, Whiteface.
The three ski areas owned and under the aegis of New York State’s Olympic Regional Development Agency (ORDA) – Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre – are continuing to implement dramatic improvements and programs like SkiNY3 and Parallel from the Start programs, along with state-wide-programs like free skiing programs for 3rd and 4th graders, to entice new skiers.
The three ORDA areas have multi-lesson packages and lift tickets that allow the flexibility of using them on nonconsecutive days and at the different areas.
Already this season, major competitions have been held to decide who the athletes to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, including five major international events at Whiteface – in bob sled and skeleton, figure skating, luge, freestyle aerial.
Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid
Whiteface is New York State’s Olympic Mountain, with actual Olympic facilities all around Lake Placid that you can take part in, as well as special attractions that altogether make for a unique winter experience: skating on the Olympic Speedskating Oval, plunging down the Olympic Bobsled Track where you can try bobsled or skeleton (truly thrilling); touring the Ski Jumping Complex; Nordic skiing on the Olympic course, and testing your own mettle at the biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing with riflery (lesson available), visiting the Olympic Museum.
Whiteface offers the greatest vertical (3,430 ft. of any lift-serviced mountain in the Northeast, mile after mile of groomed cruising trails with 98% snowmaking coverage.
This is a serious mountain, with more expert terrain, more long, rolling groomers (including the longest single intermediate run in the Northeast, the 2.1 mile-long Wilmington Trail). Whiteface summit is a 4,867 ft.; Lookout Mountain tops at 4,000 ft.; Little Whiteface at 3,676 ft.. Whiteface offers the highest skiable terrain, The Slides, at 4,650 ft. elevation. In all, explore 288 skiable acres including 35 inbounds, off-piste double-black diamond wilderness terrain (“The Sliders”, conditions permitting) and 58 acres of tree skiing. There is terrain for everyone: 38% rated expert; 42% intermediate and 20% beginner. Among the lifts is an eight-passenger gondola and a high-speed detachable quad.
There have been extensive improvements on the mountain over the past three years.
There’s so much to do in and around Lake Placid (even a slide onto the lake once it freezes over), that it actually competes for time on the mountain, but richly fills the time after the lifts close down; an all-access Olympic Sites Passport is $35 (provides discounts on attractions and experiences): the Lake Placid Olympic Museum; speed skating oval, Olympic Jumping Complex, Snow Tubing, Bobsled and skeleton experiences, cross country skiing, biathalon.
Save up to 50% on lift tickets by purchasing in advance online at whiteface.com; Frequent skier cards, valid at Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre give you the first day free, 50% off nonholiday weekday skiing, 25% off weekends and holidays and every 6th day free ($99 for ages 20+, $79 for students 13-19; $59 for ages 7-12).
There is no lodging on the mountain (it’s a wilderness area, after all), but many lovely inns, bnbs, hotels and resorts nearby, including the Whiteface Lodge Resort & Spa, Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, conveniently located in Lake Placid village, walking distance to everything, and accessible to a convenient shuttle bus to the mountain (www.golden-arrow.com).
Gore Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski. Nestled in the Adirondacks, it offers expansive views of a real wilderness. You actually feel as if you were in the Rockies.
This season, guests will benefit from major renovations to three lodges.
At the base area there are two two large additions which will streamline the rental process and facilitate getting back on the mountain.
Last season, Gore introduced Nordic skiing, turning its old tubing park into a cross-country ski area –– which will have snowmaking on 3.7 km of its 5 km trails. The new area was so successful last year (even opening by Thanksgiving) that Gore is hosting the NYS Nordic Championships. The Ski Bowl where the Nordic area is also has a half pipe, border skier cross and twilight skiing (til 9 pm).
Gore participates in the I Ski NY Free Passport for 3rd graders; also, kids under 19 ski free with an adult.
Gore Mountain is 30 miles away from Lake George and the magnificent grand, historic Sagamore Resort & Spa, Bolton Landing (www.thesagamore.com).
We loved our stay at the delightful Copperfield Inn in North Creek (www.copperfieldinn.com/), a truly charming village that is just outside the entrance to Gore Mountain, with lovely bistro restaurants and shops. A shuttle bus operates from North Creek and the surrounding properties to the mountain, as well as the train station.
Gore Mountain, 793 Peaceful Valley Road, North Creek, NY 12853, Snow Phone: 518-251-5026, info 518-251-2411,goremountain.com.
Belleayre boasts a new gondola this season (part of an $8 million investment in the mountain), the first one in the Catskills (third in New York State). The 60-car gondola whisks guests from the lower lodge to the summit, bottom to top in just 7 minutes.
A new trail was opened in conjunction with the new gondola: the Deer Run extension trail starts just to the right of Tomahawk Lift parking lot, crosses under the access road via a skier tunnel, and winds down to the lower area popping out just above Running Bear into Iroquois. The mid-section of Deer Run, just above the shale bank, is widened to create a more natural fall line, while on the upper sections, the natural rollers are filled in, creating less of a pitch for easier intermediate skiing from the summit.
The new “Catskill Thunder” gondola will operate year-round – and open up the mountain for mountain biking (now you have to hike up) as well as for wedding and party rentals at the summit. In the next five years, there are plans to open cross-country skiing on the summit’s plateau with snowmaking – which will make for a fairly unique experience.
Belleayre is bigger than people realize but what is especially wonderful about Belleayre, particularly for families, is the natural separation between the beginner area on the lower mountain, and the intermediate and advanced trails at the top. It’s snowmaking and grooming is highly rated. This year, beginner terrain has been doubled in area, and separates snowsports lessons from the general public. Also, gladed terrain is being expanded.
Belleayre is a very family-friendly, comfortable mountain, all the more popular because of its close proximity to New York City – just about 2 ½ hours away.
Belleayre offers a Learn to Ski package at $79 that includes a lift ticket for the lower mountain, rental, two-hour lesson; a three-day package is $169 (it doesn’t have to be consecutive days, you can split them up), and even take the lessons among the three ORDA mountains, Gore and Whiteface.
You can save up to 40% on the price of a lift ticket by purchasing in advance online.
Belleayre does not have lodging at the mountain but there are delightful BnBs, lodges and inns close by (check the website for lodges that offer Ski & Stay packages which provide savings up to 50% on lift tickets.)
Belleayre Mountain is located off of State Route 28 in Highmount, NY, just hours from New York City.
The Discover NY Ski Day will be held on Thursday January 18th and offers discounted lift tickets starting at $12 and discounted learn-to-ski/snowboard packages start at $25. It is open for all and the tickets are typically 8 hour tickets. The Learn-To-Ski/Snowboard packages start at $25 and give people who never skied or snowboarded or haven’t been on the slopes in a long time the opportunity to get on the slopes again. Full details and sales at https://www.iskiny.com/ski-deals/discover-ny-ski-day.
NYC Winter Jam, a free winter sports festival for New Yorkers of all ages will return on January 27, 2018. Presented by NYC Parks, I Love NY, I SKI NY, and the Olympic Regional Development Authority, Winter Jam is a great opportunity to experience skiing, snowshoeing, and winter as a whole. Gore Mountain will blow lots of fresh snow in the heart of Manhattan for all to enjoy. Location and time yet to be determined. Details will be available at nycgovparks.org.
The I SKI NY Free For Kids Passport Program returns for the 2017-18 ski season. For the 2017-18 ski season, I SKI NY is once again offering the award winning “Free for Kids Passport” program for 3rd and 4th graders. The program allows a 3rd or 4th grader to learn to ski or ride for free at all participating ski areas and / or also ski for free when an adult ticket is purchased. The program is free, but there is a small processing fee to enroll. More information at ISKINY.com.
Ski & Stay: The Ski Areas of New York (ISKINY) has teamed up with lodging properties to bring you three special ski & stay weekends this winter (January 5 – 6, February 2 – 3, March 2 – 3). Ski and stay two nights you get a third one free.
Guests can choose to add on the Thursday night before or the Sunday night after for their free lodging and skiing. The promotion is subject to availability and may not be combined with any other offers. The third night lodging and day skiing can be used for a Thursday stay Friday day skiing/riding or Sunday stay Monday day skiing/riding. Lodging for two nights and lift tickets must be purchased for the two days and you will get third free.
Contact the selected hotel directly and identify this promotion as “I SKI NY SKI and STAY” to arrange reservations. Lift tickets will be provided at check in or at the resort ticket window.
The three of us stuff ourselves into the bobsled behind the driver and take hold of a strap along the inside; the “pusher” takes a running start, pushes us off and jumps in behind me, and we begin our descent.
Heart pounding, I feel the rush as our bobsled picks up speed, and we race around the sequence of curves. David calls out “Right,” then “Left” so we lean into the curve to pick up even more speed (he’s not the driver and can’t even see the track in front of him, but we get that extra thrill).
Even though our Bobsled Experience at the Lake Placid Olympic Sports Complex is only half of the length that is used for international competition (literally a half mile, versus one mile), we reach speeds of 55 mph, hitting the turns at 2Gs of force and come away with much greater appreciation for what the competitors do who reach speeds of 85 mph and register 5 Gs at the turns in the course of a mile.
We can’t see the track, we feel it. And we can’t hear it, but we know that there is a track announcer announcing our progress as we whip around one turn and another – the turns have names and reputations – all giving us that extra facet of our Olympic experience.
We reach bottom in 47 seconds according to the scoreboard.
This is just one of the many extraordinary experiences of winter in Lake Placid, which has had the distinction of hosting two winter Olympics – 1932 and 1980 (most famous for the “Miracle on Ice” USA hockey defeat of the Soviet Union).
Few places have such a storied tradition .
Later, at the Olympic Museum in the Olympic skating stadium on Main Street, I appreciate so much more seeing the equipment the early Olympians used, and learning the answer to the question that Eric raised as we arrived at Whiteface Mountain, why did the Olympics come here?
Lake Placid was one of America’s first resorts, and was America’s first winter resort, and as the host of only the third winter Olympics, it developed many facilities – like the bobsled track – that were firsts for North America.
There is no other place in the Northeast to do bobsled, no other place to see a World Cup or international style competition like bobsled, luge, or ski jumping; and because Lake Placid continues to be a major training facility for top athletes, you can watch training exercises.
Olympics are part of the spirit that imbues the community here – kids who grow up here are very likely to pursue some sort of sport.
In fact, Lake Placid is the only community in United States that has sent an athlete to every winter Olympics since the first one in 1924. The very first Olympic medal of the very first winter Olympics in Chamonix was won by a Lake Placid speed skater Charles Jewtraw, for the 500-meter speed skate (which we get to see later at the Olympics Museum on Main Street).
But the thrill is not just that you might see the athletes in training, but that you can ski, cross-country ski, skate, and do such things as bobsled, luge and skeleton, even biathalon on the same Olympic and international competition tracks. This experience gives you a context and an appreciation when you see competitions.
You also appreciate Lake Placid as a destination, with a special allure that brought the earliest visitors.
Today, it is particularly distinctive because it draws so many international visitors – Canadians, to be sure, considering its proximity to our northern neighbor, but also many Europeans who feel quite at home in a village with a Bavarian feel, and the spiking mountain peaks of Whiteface and the Adirondacks, and people from India and other locales around the globe. No doubt drawn by Lake Placid’s Olympic fame and its mystique, their very presence perpetuates the Olympic ideal of globalism.
This is all the more remarkable because of Lake Placid, itself – a tiny, dare I say modest, and unpretentious village. where development has been limited by virtue of being contained within the state’s Adirondack Preserve, so there is a quaint quality, a tradition and heritage that adds so much to the experience.
And since there are no slopeside lodgings at Whiteface, you come to Lake Placid, and ski Whiteface. This means that Lake Placid is a true destination, offering such variety and interest that skiing or snowboarding is just one of the many pleasures and experiences.
Many of the attractions in the area are oriented around the Olympics. Largely because of its heritage, the Olympic feats that were achieved here will never be matched again. The very proximity of the Olympic sports venues to each other is unusual today: within a 10-mile radius, you have Whiteface, the Olympic Center, the ski jumps, the skating venues – and all offer very special experiences for visitors today.
We all get to be Olympian, or at least have a taste of what it is to compete at that level.
It is especially exciting to know this isn’t a tourist track, but the real thing.
That’s what you realize at the Bobsled Experience, which is part of the Olympic Sports Complex.
The track we are on is used for international competition, such as the February 2000 Winter Goodwill Games as well as by the world’s best athletes for training.
“It is regarded as one of the best – not the fastest, but is demanding and technically challenging. You have to be on your game,” says Jon Lundin of the Olympic Regional Development Authority that manages the Olympic venues including Whiteface Mountain.
The upstairs lounge where we waited for our turn and where non-Bobsled guests can watch video of their loved one coming down the track or just watch the event unfold – has a fascinating exhibit about the track and the Olympic bobsled and luge, with some sleds and wonderful historic photos.
This was the first bobsled run constructed in the United States, in advance of the 1932 Olympics. It cost $135,000 to build the track (a small fortune for the tiny village of Lake Placid); and construction began 1930, when the country had already plunged into the Great Depression. The curves of the 1 1/2 mile earthen track, we learn, became world famous: “Whiteface, Shady, Little S, and Zig Zag were respected and feared curves throughout the world.” Hometown heroes Curtis and Herbert Stevens won gold in the two-man bobsled (they were the only team to heat their runners between runs), while the four-man gold-medal team included Billy Fiske and Eddie Eagan, a gold medalist in boxing, who was “along for ride,” who became one of only a few athletes to win gold in both summer and winter Olympics.
The upper half-mile of the track was incredibly dangerous; as a result, the Whiteface, hairpin curve, was only used for the 1932 Olympics.
We realize that like Eddie Eagan, we are “along for the ride” – essentially ballast for the sled, but thrilled nonetheless. You can pack your group as many as four into a sled with the professional driver and pusher. They do about 300-400 runs a day, if you can believe it.
You can also do Skeleton and Luge at select times.
The Skeleton Experience is where you individually ride what looks like your childhood sled, and lying on your stomach, rocket down the ice chute, reaching speeds of up to 40 mph.
There are two kinds of Luge that you can experience: The Regular Athlete, which is offered only four times a year for the public, and the Rocket Luge, only offered Christmas Day using a modified sled but you start higher on track, covering three-quarters of a mile ($65).
We are told that Luge is often called the fastest sport on ice – a test of nerves you travel feet first solo down the track on a sled. There are only five Luge classic events offered during the year at Lake Placid – most uniquely, the Dec 31 New Year’s Eve Party (Riders need to be 13 years old; reservations required at 518-523-4436 or [email protected]).
Our Bobsled Experience is complete when we are handed a copy of the photo they took in front of the sled when we landed at the bottom, a Bobsled Experience pin, and a tee-shirt (all included!), and, after we fill out a survey for Chevy Suburban, the commercial sponsor (and when you get in the SUV for the ride up to the top, you do appreciate the car), we even get a backpack.
There is so much more for visitors to enjoy of the Olympic Experience.
Olympic Ski Jumps, Biathalon, Cross-Country
On the way to our Bobsled Experience from Whiteface Mountain, we emerge from the River Road (this backcountry “shortcut” from Whiteface to Mt. Van Hoevenberg, and get our first look at the imposing 90 and 120-meter Olympic Ski Jump Towers – intimidating even from where we are.
You can ride up a glass look-out elevator to the skydeck of the 120 meter tower (about 26 stories high) for the scenic view of the High Peaks. You approach the elevator via chairlift, which rides up the steep landing hill. Ski jumpers train at the facility year-round. There is access to the breathtaking outside start gate.
This is a year-round activity: Jumping on the 90 meter hill in summertime is possible thanks to a porcelain tile in-run that propels the skiers down the ramp. They land on a synthetic surface that looks like a thatched roof.
Also, there are weekend clinics for beginner ski jumpers of all ages through the New York Ski Educational Foundation (NYSEF). Call 518- 523-1900; (the elevator ride is included in The Olympic Passport,$32).
You can also visit the Freestyle Park where there are the aerial ski launching ramps (known as “kickers”) for freestyle skiing athletes to propel themselves as high as 60 feet in the air to complete rotation and twist maneuvers. In the winter, the snow-covered kickers sit atop a steep, snow-packed landing hill.
In the summer and fall, you can watch aerialists train and compete in the state-of- the-art park as they launch themselves off the ramps and land in a 750,000 gallon heated pool with an impact reducing aerating system. Adjacent to the pool, there is trampoline training. The combination of “tramps and ramps” finds athletes perfecting their tricks in the off-season. You can watch competition and training from surrounding bleachers. In July and August, they offer Wet ‘n Wild Wednesdays, where world-class aerial skiers perform for visitors. Events are scheduled throughout the year.
There is also snow tubing here at the Olympic Jumping Complex, day and some nights (open until 7 pm on Friday and Saturday; $9/hour) You get to catapult yourself down a 700 foot chute Olympic Jumping Complex
The Olympic Sports Complex also includes the Biathalon Center (the sport that combines cross-country skiing with riflery) – and sure enough, you can take part in that, as well. You get to take a freestyle skiing lesson and then test your marksmanship with a 22-caliber rifle and shoot at the same targets used during the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan (or just go onto the shooting range) (the Discovery Biathlon is $55 with lesson, trail pass, rental, biathlon; $36 for range and lesson; in summer, you can just shoot at the rifle range for $15; http://www.whiteface.com/activities/be-biathlete.)
But if you would like to have an Olympic experience, each year, there is a cross-country ski race on the Olympic trails at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, called the Loppett and Kort Loppett, http://www.whiteface.com/events/lake-placid-loppet. You can chose to ski the full 50k in the Loppett event, utilizing all of the trails from the 1980 Olympic Games, or race in the Kort Loppett, a 25k race.
Our Olympic experience began this day on Whiteface Mountain about nine miles outside of Lake Placid village, where we are staying at The Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, literally on Lake Placid (there is a free shuttle bus we could take that leaves from across the street, but we find it more convenient to take the car; parking is not difficult at all, but there is premium slopeside parking at $15/day).
There are many superlatives that attach to Whiteface Mountain: it has the greatest vertical drop, 3430 ft, East of the Rockies – but what distinguishes Whiteface more than anything is character and tradition.
You can ski and ride the trails of the 1980 Winter games: the Men’s Downhill, from Cloudspin to Broadway to Lower Valley; the Women’s, from Skyward to East Street to Lower Valley; the Men’s Giant Slalom course, Thruway onto Lower Valley and the Women’s, down Parkway onto Lower Valley, and the Slalom course on Mountain Run.
At Lower Valley, you see the race finish, the hut where the judges and announcers would have sat, and the race board.
One of the distinctive features that adds to the experience is the number of international visitors that come to Whiteface and Lake Placid- Lake Placid’s proximity to Canada is a natural draw but we also met any number of European visitors. No doubt drawn by Lake Placid’s Olympic fame and its mystique, their very presence perpetuates the Olympic ideal of globalism.
We breeze through the rental process – they have very fine Rossignol equipment – and are impressed by the services in the base lodge, and soon make our way to the Cloudsplitter Gondola that takes us up to Little Whiteface at 3676 feet. The trails from here are blacks and one blue, Excelsior, which gives a lovely view of the surrounding Adirondack peaks.
New this year is snowmaking on Hoyt’s High Trail. Hoyt’s High Trail has always relied on Mother Nature to cover its 1,400 feet of vertical. As a result, the 4,700 foot long expert trail, cut in 2008 and named in honor of Whiteface veteran ski patroller Jim Hoyt Sr., has only been open for a handful of days. That has changed now with the installation of snowmaking.
Intermediate and advanced skiers can start on the Gondola to Little Whiteface, at 3676 feet elevation, from which there is only one blue trail (Excelsior) which is not particularly difficult, and multiple black trails.
Ski down to the Summit Quad to get to the highest point that is served by lift, Top Station at 4386 (Whiteface summit is at 4867), from which there are blue and black trails down.
Because we visited so early in the season, the Lookout Mountain lift was not yet open, but I really wanted to do the Wilmington Trail, a blue that meanders 2.2 miles (the longest on the mountain).
The trails, like many of the older ski areas, tend to be narrow especially from the top, and Whiteface is known to get icy (best to ski as early as possible in the day). Whiteface offers a snow guarantee, whereby you can get a refund on your lift ticket within the first hour if conditions not great.
There aren’t any green trails from the summits (Excelsior is a relatively easy blue), but there is an entire learning area, Kids Kampus, that is separated from the main mountain area, and reached by a delightful sequence of greens from Facelift lift – a shuttle bus from the main base lodge brings kids to the Kids Kampus, where the learning programs are housed. Bear’s Den Nursery is for non-skiers 1-6; Play-n-Ski is for ages 4-6; there is a a new Burton Riglet Park for beginner riders 3-6; Junior Adventure skiing and riding for all ability levels for ages 7-12; and Teen Experience for 13-16 skiers and riders of all ability levels.
During our stay, I was happiest (I must confess) on a sequence of green trails accessed by FaceLift: Easy Street and Boreen, down to the base. On this day, it had the best snow and the best views (which help me zone into my skiing), and I could really just relax and enjoy my skiing.
In all, Whiteface offers 86 trails – over 22 miles of skiing and riding. It claims the greatest vertical drop in the east, at 3,430, from a base of 1220 to The Slides, at 4,650 (the highest lift goes to 4,386).
There are some beautiful eateries at midmountain: Boule’s, a bistro serving fine foods and crepes; and the Mid-Station Lodge, serving up traditional resort fare, which also has a magnificent view.
The base has a nice selection as well – Base Camp Market, Cloudspin Lounge, Black Bear Cafe and J Lohr Cafe and Wine Bar.
Other practical considerations: you can check your skis with unlimited access for $5 for 24 hours; and $4 for bin, or you can rent a locker (which can accommodate up to 3 sets) for $15 for a 24-hour period.
There is a premium slopeside parking lot for $15/day on weekends, holidays, $12 for midweek/nonholiday.
With all that the Lake Placid area offers, you need to build in extra time in your visit. The Whiteface lift tickets allow for such flexibility to take a day off to explore, 2 out of 3 days, 3 out of 4, 4 out of 5) – to have this extraordinary experience of getting a taste of what it is to be an Olympian.
Indeed, what makes Whiteface Mountain special is Lake Placid – the history, tradition. This is a real place, not a creation of a ski resort.
For information, www.whiteface.com, where you can prearrange trip, get tickets to special events, track snow conditions, see live webcam, book ski/stay packages.