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It’s because Lake Placid is so beautiful in the summer that it’s so enjoyable in the winter.
The green and leafy months are when tourists visit in their greatest numbers. And why wouldn’t they? They come for the enormous and amazing Adirondack Park—for its cool temperatures, mossy forest paths, wood-smoky campsites, airy mountains, cold streams, and deep clear lakes, scores of them, rimmed with trees chirping with birdsong.
Lake Placid, an outpost of civilization amid these mountain wilds, has a long history of welcoming summer visitors, including many very wealthy ones. American aristocrats from the finest families arrived by train to take their summer in the cool Adirondack air. They brought society and culture with them. They built large (and exclusive) clubs, churches, and the famous Adirondack “great camps.” There’s a redbrick permanence to Lake Placid’s Main Street that speaks of its long history as a thriving retreat for both the well-to-do urban rusticators and the summer masses. Massive trees shade the gracious homes and lawns of its hillside neighborhoods.
That summer tourism history gives Lake Placid a vacationland infrastructure that is outsized for the number of winter visitors. The great restaurants, fine lodges and hotels, bars, brewpubs—they’re packed in July. In winter, there’s still energy and bustle, but you can actually get a reservation.
The shame is that so few visitors experience Lake Placid in its wintertime beauty. On cold nights it glows with just the right incandescence, jeweled with holiday lights. Hardier people tread its sanded sidewalks, just the locals—and skiers—dressed for the cold, breathing the sharp, clean Adirondack air.
Lake Placid’s famous Olympic history echoes louder when Mirror Lake is iced over and snowbanks pile high along Main Street. That’s Eric Heiden’s speed-skating oval in front of the high school, where he won five golds. Nearby is the Miracle on Ice arena, where, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union met its match in an inspired bunch of American college kids. From just about anywhere in town, glimpsed here and there between snow-laden conifers, the view to the East is walled off by the back side of Whiteface, pinkened by afternoon light. Phil Mahre won the combined up there and took the silver in slalom. For proud winter- loving Americans, it was a good Olympics.
Whiteface, of course, has the East’s greatest vert—3,430 feet. And yet it’s seldom crowded. That’s another thing about Lake Placid: It’s a long drive from anywhere. But it’s a beautiful one. And at the end of it, what might be the East’s most charming and least appreciated ski town.
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