On Sunday the 5th, Hubby and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. We chuckle about this, because we have been together for over 15 years, but finally decided to “pull the trigger” and make it official in the eyes of the law just last February, with a 10-minute affair in our living room, officiated by a former mayor, witnessed by our next door neighbors, and followed by an afternoon of downtown pub crawling and Chowderfest fun. No frills, no fuss. Being not-so-conventional, no honeymoon either. But my mom, brother, and sister-in-law did give us a most generous wedding gift–a getaway to the amazing Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid, New York–which Hubby and I enjoyed this past weekend, in celebration of our “first year” together.
Lake Placid is a great little village, nestled in the heart of the High Peaks region of the immense Adirondack Park, about 110 miles north-northwest of our Saratoga Springs home. While travel by car takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes, travel through time takes us backward about 30 years. You see, Lake Placid hosted the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games–a feat that seems almost unimaginable now, given the town’s size, (lack of) infrastructure, and absence of urbanity, when compared to more metropolitan and glamorous Games hosts (think St. Moritz, Innsbruck, Oslo, Vancouver)–and there is some sense that time has, well, stood still in the village since its 1980 eminence.
Then again, most villages located in the Adirondack Park feel a bit anachronistic. “Charming rustic”, teetering on “past-prime shabby”. I think this is due in large part to the strictly regulated development within the Blue Line boundary of the 6 million-acre state park. Since early discovery by westward-moving American pioneers, the Adirondack Mountains have been continually exploited, for fish, game, furs, lumber, minerals, ores…even for the curative fresh mountain air. Wonderful safeguards have been put into place to ensure that the natural beauty of this ancient mountain landscape is preserved for future generations. But these same measures have also made it difficult for any meaningful industry, development, or economic progress to occur within the protected park, which is really a complex patchwork of public and private lands.
Lake Placid and its environs have not been exempt from these restrictions. Whatever development and progress the village enjoyed in the past few decades was from the spurt of building activity leading up to the 1980 Olympics, and from posh private homes built for seasonal enjoyment by a wealthy few since then. Its main street has an eclectic mix of stores and restaurants, but sadly, the architecture is more urban renewal ugly than quaint, vintage Alpine. The Olympic facilities are still in use, and where budding athletes from the region still train. But like the village’s downtown, a lot of these once impressive structures now seem hokey, aging, forgotten. So, is the village of Lake Placid pretty, and worth visiting? In a word, “no”.
But look beyond the village, to the lake for which the village is named. Or to the lake that the village actually rims (oddly, not the same…Lake Placid, the village, sits on Mirror Lake; Lake Placid, the lake, is sort of hidden behind the village, with a really unprepossessing marina for public access). And to the majestic high peaks that ring the area. And yes, for this, the Lake Placid region is beautiful, and well worth the visit.
Hubby and I have only been to Lake Placid a few times, and this visit was our first in the winter. For us, we decided that there is no better time to go. Most other people think differently, I guess, since the “in” season for this historic winter sports haven is actually summer. Go figure. On this weekend, we embraced the area’s tranquility, free from throngs of tourists, and enjoyed a frosty corner of the forest with the laid-back local folk. Beyond unwinding, eating, and drinking, we didn’t do much during our two-night stay. And we still can’t claim to have partaken of any “Olympic Experience” activities. But here is a list of five things we did do, and enjoyed, and would recommend to anyone else wandering over Lake Placid way on some random winter weekend.
Five Fun Things (Winter Edition)
Getting to Lake Placid is half the fun. State Route 73 winds westward from Interstate 87, much of it along scenic brooks, streams, waterfalls, gorges, and ponds, through rustic villages like Keene and St. Huberts, and past numerous trail heads to rises and rifts with names like Rooster Comb, Pitchoff, Chapel Pond, and Bear Run. The route is often precipitous, and the bare birches seem to beckon like skeletal fingers, luring you deeper into the wilderness, up into the mountains. The approach to Lake Placid opens to a wide clearing, where the majesty of the surrounding snow-dusted mountaintops is truly awesome.
Retreating into the woods and away from the noise and pressure of the daily grind guarantees a sound sleep. And there is no better place to rest your weary head than at the Mirror Lake Inn. “Polished, not snooty” is how it’s been described. It’s pricey, but well worth the splurge. Almost every room has a beautiful view of Mirror Lake and the string of towering peaks, like Mount Marcy and Algonquin, in the distance. Afternoon tea with homemade cookies is served daily in the main building’s cozy living room. You can cuddle up in front of a crackling fire and play board games in the adjacent wood-paneled library. Luxuriate in the indoor pool/sauna/hot tub or indulge in a spa treatment. Eat all manner of incredible edibles, from baked brie and fried brussels sprouts, to venison burgers and lobster risotto–and everything in between–at one of the onsite eateries. Do all that, then collapse in to the super sumptuous bedding, and sleep like a baby.
See #2 above. Of course, there are a number of other great places to eat in Lake Placid and the surrounding area. One place we’d like to return to is the Brown Dog Cafe & Wine Bar. We got here too late on our first night to have much more than a cheese board and some wine. (Second night was Super Bowl Sunday, and restaurant was closed.) But the owner, an affable Jersey Boy named Jim, was so welcoming, despite our late arrival. He joined us at the bar as he wound down, regaling us with stories and a photo album of his prize English bulldog, Rolex, who had apparently supplanted in Jim’s heart the chocolate lab for whom the restaurant had been named. Otherwise, we were content to enjoy the unusual menu of small plates at the MLI’s bistro, called taste, and the hearty Adirondack breakfast served in the hotel’s main restaurant, The View.
#4: Visiting a palace
Happenstance had it that the neighboring village of Saranac Lake was kicking off its annual winter carnival on the Saturday we arrived. Quintessential small-town charm and tradition. A palace built of over 1,000 massive ice blocks cut from Lake Flower in the heart of town, and magically illuminated from within. The “lighting of the palace” preceded a stellar fireworks display over the frozen lake. A wonderful 115-year-old Adirondack ritual to break the season’s monotony and celebrate winter’s brighter side.
#5: Walking/snowshoeing/skiing/skating/tobogganing/dog-sledding on Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake is not that big. Originally, it was called Bennet Pond, named for one of the founding settlers. But at some point in the late 1800s, with the advent of stagecoach and then train travel, the area began to attract tourists who would vacation at grand hotels and inns that sprang up around the lake. The reflective tranquility of the water prompted some to compare it to a mirror, and the more romantic name stuck (I have learned this while reading The Plains of Abraham: A History of North Elba and Lake Placid, a fascinating collection of writings by Mary MacKenzie, a long-time town historian). But I think it’s even more beautiful in winter, when frozen over and covered with snow. At this season, it becomes like a big playground. People cross-country ski on it, traverse it on snowshoes or ice skates, and take dog sled rides. A toboggan chute at the lake’s southern end sends squealing riders out across the frozen expanse. This sure looked like fun…
…but ultimately, we opted to save our spines and invest in what seemed like a much more serene turn on a dog sled. We weren’t fully prepared for the extra gifts this team of handsome huskies bestowed!
Have you been to Lake Placid in winter? Please share any recommendations for fun, food, folly…
The ramble in pictures