Something you learn pretty quickly on a two-day visit to Lake Placid: Two days isn’t nearly enough.
From roadside barbecues to high-end cuisine, and campgrounds to 5-star hotels, there are plenty of places to eat and sleep. Plus, from teens skateboarding down Main Street to climbers heading up Whiteface Mountain, it’s hard to miss the fact that everybody’s on the move.
That’s some of what my son’s fiancée, Shannon, and I noticed recently when we visited this small Adirondack village and neighboring Saranac Lake. Within hours of arriving, we were talking about what we’d do the next time we came.
Main Street is the village hub, with a colorful array of specialty shops, galleries, pubs, bakeries and sporting goods stores. But year-round, its biggest draw is Whiteface and the Olympic sites from the 1932 and 1980 winter games. We bought Olympic Sites Passports ($35 each) that would get us into the Olympics museum and sports and jumping complexes. Also covered was a ride on the Cloudsplitter Gondola up Little Whiteface Mountain.
We decided to save those activities for Sunday and spent Saturday afternoon wandering in and out of downtown shops, where everyone was remarkably nice…a welcome change from some tonier towns with a decidedly dismissive retail air.
A word of caution: If you find yourself in A Pinch or A Pound candy shop, ask about prices. Nothing is marked so we racked up quite the tab, plucking Jelly Belly beans, Pez dispensers, vintage Satellite Wafers and more from the jam-packed shelves on either side of its lone aisle. If you’re looking for things you haven’t seen in a while, stop by for safety lollipops, Laffy Taffy, Razzles and wax mustaches.
Among our favorite stores was the Imagination Station and its eclectic inventory and creative items for kids, including Edible Chemistry Sets and An Assortment of Natural Disasters.
The best thing about downtown Lake Placid, which isn’t true of enough tourist destinations, is that almost everything is open year-round and on Sunday. So heading here this winter won’t leave you wondering why you bothered.
Carol Bell, a clerk at the Olympic Regional Development Authority shop, beams when she describes Placid in winter.
“It looks like a Swiss ski village, and I’ve been to one, so I know,” Bell said, telling us she’d moved to the area from Pittsburgh in 1989. “I came Thanksgiving weekend when there was six feet of snow. I interviewed to be a children’s ski instructor and started teaching Dec. 31.”
The village is on Mirror Lake, which provides a wonderful view from restaurant decks and some open spaces downtown. Lake Placid, itself, is alongside Whiteface Mountain to the northwest. Besides skiing (alpine and cross-country), you can snowshoe on the hiking trails, ice skate on Mirror Lake, take a toboggan ride, watch dog sled races and enjoy a wild game dinner and lantern-lit sleigh ride about a half-hour to the northwest at Lake Clear Lodge & Retreat.
Bell seemed particularly excited about the oldest continuous winter carnival in the country, which is held in early February in Saranac Lake.
“Believe me, we need it by then,” she said with a laugh. There’s a life-size, lighted ice castle, a huge parade, a women’s fry pan toss, and many other events. The 2018 event runs from Feb. 2-11 with an Adirondack Fiesta theme.
While in Saranac Lake, check out The Community Store, which local residents banded together to open as part of an effort to keep Walmart out.
Since much of the Adirondacks is a year-round tourist attraction (if you’re willing to endure “spring mud season” and “black fly season,” as Bell put it) we’d decided to play it safe and reserve a room.
Online, very little appeared available in Lake Placid, and some vacancies ran north of $450 a night. Airbnb reviewers lavished praise on the Partridge Cottage Guest House in Saranac Lake, which had an unexpected opening the night we needed it. The price was reasonable, and the Spring Room (which turned out to be a bedroom and sun porch) had a trundle and double bed. We could have managed with just one bed, but as Shannon told a coworker, “We’re close for a future mother- and daughter-in-law, but not that close.” We shared a small bathroom with the young couples in two other rooms on the second floor and can’t say enough about the wonderful shower.
Hosts Kathleen and Peter Bullard, who live on the third floor and have two beautiful Bernese Mountain dogs, were kind, helpful and chatty, offering tips on where to go and how to get there. We’d been in the house less than five minutes when I said, “I want to stay longer!” Kathleen was showing us where the Keurig and wine glasses were, and I could totally imagine relaxing several evenings on the sun porch.
We decided to take Kathleen’s recommendation and eat dinner at the Fiddlehead Bistro on Broadway Avenue in Saranac Lake. After driving the length of the street without finding it, we turned around, flipped on the GPS, and were taken to a striking but oddly stark, yellow storefront that we’d seen the first time through. But there was no sign. After parking in a municipal lot, we tentatively went in. Sure enough, it was a restaurant.
We’d each had a tasty late-lunch salad at The Cottage in Lake Placid, so we ordered only entrees at Fiddlehead, which offered an interesting but limited menu typical of farm-to-table eateries. Both the Mapo Tofu (tri-color quinoa, chili sauce and rice) and mushroom ravioli (farmer’s cheese, wild mushrooms and local tomatoes) were good. The other options, ranging from $28-$30, were duck soup, a “Big Ass Pork Chop,” grilled shrimp and grilled sirloin.
Our waitress gradually revealed a slightly chatty side, so I dared ask about the lack of a sign. She said the owners couldn’t decide on one when they’d opened the previous December, so they went without. But, she said they’d recently commissioned an 8-foot fiddlehead sculpture that would be “the sign” when it arrives.
After a good night’s sleep, a little jockeying for the shower, and a wonderful homemade breakfast that included pumpkin scones (Shannon’s favorite flavor), we headed back to Lake Placid and the Olympic sites.
One of the few things not open during the winter is Memorial Highway, which leads to Whiteface Mountain, where normally you take an elevator to the top, some 4,865 feet above sea level. We were disappointed to find the elevator under repair but managed the stairs until the ascent turned to boulders, which were more than my bad knees and questionable footwear could take. But Shannon persevered, quite pleased to make it to the top.
The Cloudsplitter Gondola ride up Little Whiteface is open year-round and was also on our must-do list, partly because heights aren’t my thing, and I wanted to wiggle out of my comfort zone. I must admit there’s something about the staccato grumble of gears and other rumbling, screeching and rattling that chips into an acrophobe’s confidence. But, it was an enjoyable adventure with another beautiful view up top.
The Olympic passport is a great deal because it also lets you tour the Olympic museum and bobsled/luge/skeleton track; take an elevator to the sky deck atop the ski jump; and enjoy a Saturday night ice show. It comes with 20 percent discounts on extreme tubing, a bobsled experience, a 4x4 expedition, an airbag jump and yoga on the mountain. So you can’t go wrong.
It’s good for a year (spring to spring), so a long first visit or two short ones are almost mandatory to see it all.
Story topics: Travel