By Carla Marie Rupp and Jason Rupp
If you can’t make it to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, consider a trip to Lake Placid, America’s first winter resort. It will help you understand what makes the Olympics so wonderful.
Everyone ought to visit Lake Placid, the cute, tiny village in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. In fact, it should be considered every American’s patriotic duty to visit the site of two legendary Winter Olympics, in 1932 and 1980.
There’s so much pride here: we couldn’t recommend it more highly. And you might even run into a past or future Olympics star!
Lake Placid continues to be just as breathtakingly beautiful as ever. We know this from experience following several nostalgic visits over 30 years in different seasons – in the autumn when awesome colors cover the mountains, in the summer when we spent gorgeous days on the region’s lakes, and in the winter when it’s transformed into a wonderland.
Surprisingly, even though Lake Placid is renown for its winter sports, about 70 percent of visitors come here in the warm months. But even if you hate snow, you’ll love this famous American village that offers everything from eclectic shopping and dining on the quaint Main Street to extreme outdoor adventure in the Adirondack High Peaks, the 46 mountain summits in the region.
During the exciting heyday of the 1980 Winter Olympics, we spent a month there, celebrating our country’s victories, watching the nightly fireworks on the lake, just enjoying the setting and the lifestyle.
It’s just as picturesque today – and there’s a lot to do, whether you like outdoor recreation, shopping, a laid-back peaceful feeling, friendly people and nice scenery.
On this visit, we flew into the Adirondack Regional Airport in Saranac Lake and picked up our rental car at what is absolutely the cutest airport, easy accessible because it’s so small and cozy. It even has a tiny lounge with books to browse and a new restaurant.
We soon were off driving past the lake, talking about the times many years earlier when we walked across its frozen surface, four-year-old Jason in a sled, on our way to the Olympic shuttle bus.
Reliving Olympic Memories
We wound our way to Lake Placid, where Carla worked during the Olympics for the Associated Press. We passed Lake Placid High School, where the media headquarters had been located, and remembered being thrilled by the speed skaters practicing and competing in front of the school. We also saw where Jason was in school and daycare during those Olympic weeks. After checking into our hotel, we were soon off again, reliving more of our Olympic memories while touring the Olympic sites and wandering about the village as we had on other visits.
After the 1980 Games, New York State committed to maintaining and managing the Olympic venues under one organization, the Olympic Regional Development Authority. Luckily there have been updates to the venues over the last 30-plus years, as the community has continued to bid on international winter-sports events.
An Olympic Training Center was built in 1995, and a new combined bobsled, luge and skeleton run was constructed in 2000. Improvements have been made at nearby Whiteface Mountain, including the addition of a high-speed gondola and quad, and most recently, construction of a new conference center, a state-of-the-art meeting facility that opened in the spring of 2011.
A Great Museum, a Wonderful Inn
A must-visit for anyone here is the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, the only museum in North America to interpret two Winter Olympic Winter Games. It’s fascinating to see so much great memorabilia assembled, thanks to many individual donations. Of course, this is where you will see memorabilia from the “Miracle on Ice” hockey team! We often talk about how we watched the U.S. and Russia battle it out in hockey, memories never forgotten! They also still have the bobsled and skates of champions from 1932 on display.
The Olympic Museum was opened in 1994 and is part of the Olympic Center, where we watched ice skaters practice in the big rink, which still holds championship events. There are also hours for the public to skate at a reasonable price and it’s fun to see amazing skaters now practicing where we skated over 30 years ago. It’s also interesting to see all the Olympic pictures of medalists along the wall of the Center, lovingly presented for visitors to admire. Our country’s victory over the Soviet Union was 4-3 in the must-see Herb Brooks 1980 Arena, named after the winning coach.
The Mirror Lake Inn, a block from Main Street, is a relaxing and casual-yet-classy place to unwind and spend the night. A highlight at the inn was its delicious, bountiful breakfast buffet incuding all kinds of eggs to order and everything to go with them, great hot coffee, and a specialty, the homemade muesli with yogurt and fruit. We also tried a bit of the best hot oatmeal. They’ll even give out recipes if you ask!
The fireplace is great for warming because the area around it is so cozy, and it’s fun to talk with other guests. We also couldn’t resist the wonderful spa, with professional massages, indoor pool, sauna and jacuzzi.
Bobsled and Luge Rides
One day we headed to Whiteface Mountain, the fifth highest peak in the state, and site of the downhill skiing events in 1980 and now also good for snowboarders. We took the thrilling bobsled and luge rides at the Olympic Sports Complex, finding it surreal to be doing so at the same venue where the world’s best athletes once competed.
Whiteface can be accessed on foot (if one wants to hike), by riding the gondola, or by car or bike up the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway, dedicated in 1935 as a tribute to World War I veterans. From the top, you can see Vermont, Lake Champlain and even Montreal on a clear day.
Circling the lake one day, we found the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, a fun stop that people in town had been talking about. We tasted the fresh micro-brewed ales and lager-beer sampler and toured the beer vats. Lake Placid has a long list of après-ski options for dining and drinks.
We also visited The Cottage, another popular hangout located right on Mirror Lake, which provided a lively atmosphere and was conveniently located right across the street from our hotel. Later we enjoyed the Dancing Bears Restaurant located nearby at the end of Main Street, now part of the High Peaks Resort, and formerly the Hilton during my time here many years ago.
We also browsed the shops on Lake Placid’s quaint, old-fashioned Main Street where we bought beautiful hand-knit stocking caps and a multi-colored blue handmade jacket that looked as if it had been fashioned from old-style bedspreads.
Celebrating the 2014 Games
In advance of the 2014 Sochi Games, Lake Placid officials have announced a series of programs and events that celebrate the international spirit of the Olympic Winter Games and Lake Placid’s robust winter sports heritage. Visitors and residents are invited to participate in several programs taking place in and around the village that has been festively decorated in red, white and blue lights and celebratory banners. There are special events, including a 1980 Winter Games Trivia Contest. (For information about the Olympic-related events and contest details, visit http://www.lakeplacid.com/events/sochi-lake-placid.
All in all, Lake Placid is a wonderful, lively place where you can make new memories while exploring Olympic history and all its nostalgia in small-town America. It has preserved the legacy of the Olympics for all of us to enjoy. We dream of returning.
If you go:
Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism
2608 Main Street
Lake Placid, New York
Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa
77 Mirror Lake Drive
Lake Placid, New York 12946
Lake Placid Pub and Brewery
813 Mirror Lake Drive
Lake Placid, NY 12946
Dancing Bears Restaurant at High Peaks Resort
2384 Saranac Avenue
Lake Placid, NY 12946