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Published: February 28th 2016
Even though 2016 is not an Olympic year for winter sports, the Olympic spirit is alive and well if you travel to Lake Placid, New York in the sublime Adirondack Mountains. My family and I recently spent a fun-filled long weekend in this sports mecca, where we had been twice previously but never in the winter. Even though the weather was frigid with wind chills below zero Fahrenheit, the various activities we engaged in kept us warm (for the most part!).
Upon our arrival on a Thursday afternoon, we strolled through the village’s charming and vibrant downtown area, which boasts many excellent shops and restaurants catering to everyone’s budget and from which you have sublime views of Mirror Lake and snow-capped Whiteface Mountain in the distance. The town was bustling with energetic youth hockey players who were competing in a tournament held in the ice arenas that hosted both the 1932 and 1980 winter games—the latter made famous by the legendary “Miracle on Ice” in which the USA men’s hockey team defeated the seemingly unbeatable team from the former Soviet Union. The pint-sized hockey players we encountered were thrilled to be playing on this sacred ice. After dining at a
fine Italian restaurant called Nicola’s, we watched a spirited high school hockey match at the 1932 arena between the Lake Placed Blue Bombers and the Plattsburgh Hornets. The stands were filled with full-throated family and friends and lots of cowbells that added to the raucous atmosphere. The game featured hard hits and skilled playing. Lake Placid prevailed 5 to 1.
The following day in the bitter cold we went on a hike through the forest at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex, which was used to host the bobsled competition in 1932 and in 1980 the bobsled, luge, cross-country skiing and biathlon events. The highlight of the day, however, was actually going on the Olympic bobsled run with my son. Called the Olympic Bobsled Experience, visitors can ride with a professional driver and brake person in a bobsled that hurls down the track hitting speeds of over 60 miles per hour (for safety considerations, we didn’t even start at the top of the run). The adrenalin rush was incredible. Watching the event on television does not do justice to the speed and G forces that you experience. While we were at the sports complex, we also saw future Olympic lugers practicing. Huddled in a lounge with television monitors, there was a pack (a gaggle? a pod?) of “luge Moms and Dads” (as I dubbed them) watching their offspring flying down a serpentine ice chute at extreme velocities. One parent with whom I spoke mentioned that his fourteen year old daughter lived at the sports center in Lake Placid and hoped to make the US team in luge for the 2022 winter games. After a day at the sports complex, we enjoyed an excellent meal at one of our favorite eateries: the Brown Dog Wine Bar and Café.
The following morning we drove to nearby Tupper Lake to the Wild Center, which is an exceptional museum and nature center that is dedicated to educating visitors on the plants, animals, ecosystem and natural history of the Adirondacks. After returning we had the pleasure of watching an amateur speed skating competition at the 400 meter outdoor Olympic speed skating oval, where Eric Heiden won five gold medals for the US at the 1980 games. This was the first time we had seen speed skating in person. The grace, speed and athleticism of the participants was inspiring and humbling. After the competition had ended, the oval was opened for public skating. Although a youth hockey player by preference, my son wanted to test his speed on the oval. With glee and determination, he flew around the track with other children and adults who hoped to capture—at least for a moment—the spirit (if not the talent) of the great champions who had skated on the same ice.
Our last night ended with a special culinary treat at the elegant Mirror Lake Inn, where the food and the refined ambiance did not disappoint. But the evening was not entirely high-brow, as my son insisted on getting his photo taken next to a moose’s head in the Inn’s cozy library, which smelled of a wood fire and old books.
The Adirondacks in general and Lake Placid in particular are special destinations in my book. The natural splendor and numerous options for activities are hard to match in the United States.
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