Winter? These Guys Made Winter.

Seven Olympic venues, one charming Main Street, and a host of High Peaks—it all adds up to Lake Placid, America's original snowbound resort.

Dec 1, 1998
Outside Magazine

As you drive into the snowy settlement of Lake Placid—past the looming twin ski jumps; past the futuristic "Miracle on Ice" hockey arena; past, even, the fivesome of holiday wreaths linked in that telltale pattern—you'll soon understand what the locals have long known: that the business of those closing ceremonies was merely a formality. In this otherwise quiet corner of the northern Adirondacks, Olympic fever shows no sign of abating 18 years after Eric Heiden skated off with his fistful of golds.
Host to the Winter Games in both 1932 and 1980, Lake Placid is perhaps more closely associated with the Olympics than any place save Athens. And because the Games' venues are open to the public, a winter visit represents not only the ultimate nostalgia trip, but also a chance to try out every winter sport ever devised. The adrenaline junkie inside you is guaranteed to emerge, driving you from the speed-skating oval to the luge run to the cross-country ski center.
But that's not to suggest that playing Olympian is Lake Placid's only allure. In fact, you can still find other, more tranquil faces of this small town with relative ease. Just head a few miles in any direction and you'll enter seemingly endless, snow-muffled wilderness. Places like Avalanche Lake, hidden at the end of an inviting cross-country trail. Or the 70-year-old Adirondak Loj, built by Melvil Dewey, the unlikely progenitor of what would become America's first winter resort.
Starting in the 1880s, Lake Placid was a posh summer spot for industrialists aspiring to the Great Adirondack Camp style of the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. But it wasn't until 1904 that Dewey, a rabid anti-Semite, inventor of the card catalog system, and spelling-simplification enthusiast, decided to keep his Lake Placid Club open once the snow flew. He imported ten pairs of skis, and soon the village was as crowded in winter as it was in summer.
Right from the start the emphasis was on competition. In the two decades following the 1932 Games, Lake Placid held more international events and turned out more Olympians than any other town in the nation. After a period of decline, it ramped up again for 1980, an affair that attracted more visitors in just two days—100,000—than had attended all the 1932 events combined. Since 1982, regional authorities have poured more than $40 million into venue improvements and are actively courting the next U.S. bid—perhaps in 2014.
In the meantime, those of us without national team affiliations can take our pick from between the Placids: interactive Olympic theme park or venerable backcountry retreat. Or better yet, indulge your schizophrenic recreational tendencies and enthusiastically embrace both.