Freshly chilled air, snow white mountain peaks, fluffed up evergreens, icy rock faces, frozen rivers – this is the kind of nature that wraps itself around you and gives you a giant bear hug as you make your way into the Adirondacks. Road-trippin’. Five hours away from a mildly wintered NYC, the drive – along Interstate 87 and then through the scenic High Peaks 73 – feels all the more worthwhile as you catch sight of snow and ice enroute to Lake Placid.
Located in Northern New York State, the Adirondacks are named for the high peaked mountains within the park’s wild wilderness, and the region forms part of the Northern Deciduous Forest – the largest temperate forest in the world.
The very figure, 6 million, is enough to boggle the mind, yet this is the acreage of the Adirondacks. To put this vastness into perspective, the area is larger than Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Great Smokies and Yosemite national parks combined.
Lake Placid is just one of the many villages in the Adirondacks; it is home to only 2,500 though may be better known for much grander associations – as the first North American city to host two Winter Olympics. The town may forever find it hard shake off this moniker given all of the Games references carried over from 1932 and 1980 – though why should it try to?
It’s quite endearing to see a place so proud of its past – it’s where the US ice hockey team defeated their more seasoned Soviets rivals in a major triumph that inspired the Kurt Russell film, Miracle; it’s the site of some serious ski jump towers ~ at 90- and 120- meters high, you can ascend the tallest via elevator and see exactly what the athletes would have faced right before taking off into the air; it’s home to a major ski-area, Whiteface Mountain, whose high vertical drop showcased dare-devil downhill and alpine skiing during the 1980 Games.
Another tradition making history in the area is The Saranac Lake Winter Carnival – the longest running event of its kind in the eastern US. Celebrating a 115 year anniversary this year, its Space Alien Invasion themed, extra terrestrial inspired ice sculptures are decidedly smaller than structures of previous years; not due to lack of workmanship, but more so as a consequence of a warmer winter. The higher temperatures have melted the sculptures a number of times, and rebuilding has been quite laborious; in turn, the span, shape and scope of architecture has been affected. That said, expect to freeze in your boots if visiting the installation in the evening; temps hover around 19F.
Summertime attracts the crowds including over 8,000 second home owners ~ such a pilgrimage started in the 1800’s when the wealthy would vacate their regular city surrounds, so heated-up in the summer, and head for their Great Camps in the airy Adirondacks. Today, a prized ‘Camp’ (holiday home) on Lake Placid can set one back a few million dollars.
Yet there’s something about waking up to a snow covered view in the cooler months – enjoying a fresh pot of coffee first thing in the morning; feeling the warmth from the fireplace on your back; the smell of wood and pine in the air. Later, perhaps venturing out into the cool air and seeking out the best vantage points from which to see Whiteface Mountain (which conjures up images of Japan’s Mount Fuji); or, taking a stroll along the town’s Main Street, hot chocolate-in-hand, watching brave souls perform daily rituals such as walking the dogs along an iced-over and snowed-on Mirror Lake…. Or, maybe just choosing to sit in the hot tub all afternoon.
Wintertime in the mountains is beautiful, magical and pristine – I’ll save the details of a snow-fix-getaway for my next post.