Start: 1,040 feet
Finish: 4,606 feet
Length: 7.9 miles
Total Elevation: 3,566 feet
Rating: Cat. 1
Located in the Adirondacks of up-state New York, this climb is almost identical in length and grade to l’Alpe d’Huez, considered one of the most difficult climbs of the Tour de France. It is closed to bikes until 5 p.m., so plan an hour and a half to tackle it (though the record stands at 43 minutes). The grade is sturdy right from the start, so a warm up is probably a good idea. After three miles and a toll booth, the grade averages ten percent for three miles. Closer to the summit, the slope finally eases, the trees clear, and views begin to appear. A few large and graceful turns lead you higher on the mountain over moderate grade. The climb ends where the road dead-ends at the upper end of the parking lot, from where you can hike or take an elevator to the very top of the mountain. The visitor’s center is in Whiteface Castle, at the peak’s crest, where you can see all the way to Vermont and Canada on clear days. Whiteface is also one of the fastest descents in the U.S., and there is an annual race down its slopes.
Summerson says: “I got interested in Whiteface once I realized that it is almost identical to Alpe d’Huez. I’ve ridden it three times since. That’s part of the fun of doing these climbs: finding out how our climbs and numbers compare to the big ones we always see in Europe. Don’t underestimate Whiteface because of the short distance. It is hard.”
Logistics: Host to the alpine skiing events in the 1980 Olympics, Whiteface Mountain, and the town of Lake Placid to the south, have a healthy tourist infrastructure. The sprawling wood and stone Lake Placid Lodge (from $350 a night) is one of the most beautiful spots to stay in the area. In Wilmington, NY the climb begins at the junction of Routes 86 and 431 by heading up 431.