Winter? These Guys Made Winter.

The Backcountry Retreat

Dec 1, 1998
Outside Magazine

After a day or two in this five-ring circus, you'll need an antidote. Good thing Lake Placid is situated among all those 4,000-footers, known locally as the High Peaks. To the north and west lie hundreds of remote lakes; spreading to the east are the largest of the mountains, which rise precipitously from the foothills near Lake Champlain. The Adirondacks' entire alpine area is only 85 acres—the combined square footage of all 46 summits—but when you break out of the stunted spruces onto open rock, watch out: The cones of these mountains can be coated in ice and blasted by wind and snow even when the valley floors are relatively tranquil. On clear days, thankfully, the sweeping views are commensurately bracing.
The trailheads for Lake Placid's most popular climbs are a 20-minute drive south at the rustic Adirondak Loj (518-523-3441), where the Adirondack Mountain Club now offers dorm-style and cabin accommodations, ski rentals, lessons, and guided tours. With its perpetually roaring fire, the communal living room is also a friendly place to dry off and recount the day's exertions.
For snowshoers, the prime day-trip is Algonquin, climbing above the Loj to 5,114 feet but entailing only an 8.3-mile round-trip. Take an ice ax for the top, and be prepared for a few rock scrambles. Cross-country enthusiasts, on the other hand, should head for the network of narrow trails that winds around the Loj and then connects with four nearby touring areas via the 31-mile Jackrabbit Trail. Or, better yet, there's the path to Avalanche Lake: When the snow is fresh and deep, intrepid intermediates can manage this six-mile, 635-foot climb, especially if they're not too proud to sideslip a few steep spots on the return. And what a trip it is, ending at a narrow lake flanked by towering granite cliffs.

Those who crave a real test, though, will eventually try 5,344-foot Mount Marcy, New York's highest peak. The 16-mile route begins at the Loj and climbs more than 3,000 feet, necessitating skins on the upper section. From the summit the view spreads east for miles, all the way to iced-over Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont. The descent offers the chance for some dancing turns—or for grabbing randomly at trees in a frantic effort to check your speed.
To experience Lake Placid's single finest moment, though, you need no fancy equipment, not much stamina, and only a modicum of nerve. The town operates a venerable toboggan chute, a creaking, 1920s-built wooden structure that rises 30 feet from the edge of Mirror Lake. Pay $5 any evening and they'll loan you a battered old sled and let you walk up the ramp. Climb aboard, tuck in your feet, clatter down the hard-packed run with a whoop, and then go skittering off across the ice, a thousand feet or more into the frigid dark, with the lights of town in the distance and the stars overhead. It is what I like to think of as the Hot Cocoa of Thrills, and worth the trip itself.