First resort: Lake Placid lessons and lunch
There are many ways to enjoy snow and eat well, too.
By BETH J. HARPAZ
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Skating on a frozen lake was fun. So was taking a dogsled ride, snowshoeing to an ice-encrusted gorge and learning how to cross-country ski beneath snowcapped evergreens.
But after spending six hours outside in 5-degree weather, the very best part of visiting Lake Placid was warming up at the Lake Placid Pub & amp; Brewery, washing down nachos and wings with great beer, followed by hot chocolate and -- heaven! -- s'mores made right at the table.
Apres ski, American-style, it doesn't get much better than that -- though soaking in the hotel hot tub a half-hour later wasn't half-bad either.
The sheer variety of winter activities in the Lake Placid area, combined with good restaurants and other amenities, are what make this Adirondack Mountain resort town so special. Also unique is its Olympic history, as host of the 1932 and 1980 winter competitions. Athletes from the 1980 games will return to Lake Placid for a 25th anniversary commemoration, Feb. 12 to 27, that includes a torchlight parade, parties and sporting events that the public can join.
Visitors can choose among many ways to enjoy the snow, all within a 10- to 20-minute drive of the center of town. Whiteface Mountain is for downhill skiers. For cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, head to either the Cascade Ski Center or Mount Van Hoevenberg, which was recently renamed the Verizon Sports Complex. Mount Van Hoevenberg also offers rides in a luge or bobsled, but the two-minute thrill will cost you -- $30 for the bobsled, $25 for the luge.
You can ice skate at the Olympic Oval, on Lake Placid's Main Street, or skate right on Mirror Lake (look for a glistening rectangle of ice near the public beach; you'll see sand beneath the snow if it's not too deep). Main Street is lined with hotels, eateries and shops, including an Eastern Mountain Sports outlet in case you need warm socks or gloves. A renovated 1920s movie palace shows first-run films. Teams of dogs are stationed at the edge of the lake, behind the Hilton and the Best Western, to speed you across the ice on a sled ($5 for five minutes).
My husband, my sister and I -- city folk who can't tell a boot from a pole, all of us failures at downhill skiing -- learned to cross-country ski in an hourlong lesson at Mount Van Hoevenberg. Our Zen-like teacher, Joe Kahn, taught us so well that we spent another couple of hours there on the wooded trails when our lesson was over.
Just as Joe instructed, I glided like an ice skater on the straightaways, walked like a duck up the inclines and put my arms out in front of me to flow down the hills without losing my balance. I grinned like a kid and shouted "Whee!" as I got the rhythm of it; it was simply exhilarating. The wooded trails were a study in green, brown and white as we skied past an endless forest of Christmas trees dusted with snow. And when we were ready to come inside, the chili at the concession stand was yummy.
The cross-country lesson, all-day trail pass and gear rental cost just $35 a person. My kids had an equally wonderful experience improving their downhill skiing at the Kids Kampus at Whiteface Mountain, but it was more expensive -- $120 a child, including helmets, for a five-hour class, gear rental, lift ticket and lunch.
The other highlight of our trip was trekking through the snow at High Falls Gorge to see roaring waterfalls framed by spectacular formations of ice. For $20, you get two rounds of footgear, access to the trails and snacks. First, you put "YakTrax" over your shoes -- an elastic net of coils that gives traction on slippery surfaces -- and hike to see the waterfalls.
When you come back, roast a marshmallow over an open fire, have some coffee or hot chocolate, and put on high-tech snowshoes for a hike over more challenging terrain. These are not your grandfather's snowshoes; they look nothing like tennis rackets for your feet. Made by a company called Mountain Brand Safety, they have steel teeth to keep you from falling as you trek up and down icy rocks in the woods.
Nobody goes to Lake Placid just for the food, but it sure was nice to come in from the cold to great restaurants with so many choices under $10. At the Lake Placid Pub & amp; Brewery, I had divine shepherd's pie, like something the English grandmother I never had would have made.
A sampler of the pub's fresh-brewed ales -- six four-ounce glasses, ranging from light and crisp to dark and stout -- was $5.95. The Ubu ale was a favorite of Bill Clinton's when he stopped by to celebrate a birthday a couple of years ago.
We had our pig-out feast of nachos, wings and s'mores on a second visit to the Lake Placid Brewery. The s'mores -- marshmallows and chocolate melted in a graham cracker sandwich, using skewers and a Sterno can at the table -- were as good as any I've made over campfires.
Other great meals were a pizza delivered to our hotel room from Mr. Mike's, as good as pizza we get home in Brooklyn; lunch at the Black Bear, where breakfast is served all day; and the Cottage Cafe, owned by the adjacent Mirror Lake Inn, a Lake Placid institution known for its friendly staff. Even if you're not staying there, have a drink at the Inn's tiny bar or warm up in front of the library fireplace just off the lobby.
We never made it to the bobsled or luge facility or the Olympic skating rinks. No doubt they're a lot of fun, but we didn't have time. We were too busy skiing, snowshoeing -- and eating.