A taste of winter

Snow along a stream outside Saranac Lake. Photo by Phil Brown.
Snow lines the banks of a stream outside Saranac Lake. Photo by Phil Brown.

We awoke in Saranac Lake this morning to find an inch of snow on the ground. We’ve seen flurries a few times in the past two weeks, but this was the first accumulation at lower elevations. It won’t be long now before people are skiing the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway. The highway has had enough snow to ski before this, but it was plowed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority. Starting today, that won’t be an issue. ORDA keeps the toll road open for tourists only through Columbus Day, which was yesterday.

For many Adirondack skiers, winter starts with a trip up the Whiteface highway. The road is skiable with just an inch or two of snow, and you have to love the destination: the top of the fifth-highest mountain in the state. The 5.3-mile road ends just short of the summit, but you can hike the remaining quarter-mile to the tippy-top. It can be brutally cold at the higher elevations, especially if the wind is whipping, so bring appropriate clothing.

The descent of the highway is long but gentle. If conditions are right, a novice skier can handle it. If the road is icy or has a lot of bare spots, intermediate skills are required.

The highway is best skied on a sunny day so you can enjoy the views of Lake Placid and the High Peaks. If you don’t have the time or energy to go to the end of the road, you can turn around at the first hairpin turn, reached after 3.5 miles. The view from the turn is well worth the journey.

About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

Reader Interactions


    • Phil says

      I received an e-mail from the photographer Nancie Battaglia, who says the road was plowed yesterday–even though I was told by ORDA that the road wouldn’t be plowed after Columbus Day. I’ll have to check with them to see what’s up. Although the road was plowed, a skier had made his way up the shoulder, Nancie said.

  1. ron konowitz says

    i arrived at the gate yesterday around 4 to find the road plowed……. contemplating my dilemma i turned and drove down as far as santas workshop before making a 360 in favor of winter….skied up the shoulder for about a mile before the temps warmed enough to cause massive clumpola on my kahru guides…maybe i should just go back…..began walking the road …..it just felt great to be in my ski boots with skis on my shoulder…winter thoughts…altitude ….next thing i know it’s getting dark and i’m tightening my boots…..headlamp on…….first section is a little shaky as the plowed chunks of snow are now frozen…..grabbing road signs as they whiz by seems to be the braking technique of choice since turning isn’t really an option….maybe i’m getting a little old for this enters my mind as the granite walls,ditches, and pavement fly by……it’s only the toll road i keep telling myself…… the 40″ wide ribbon of chunks eventually softens and i’m actually turning(sort of)….leaves crinkle in the snowpack as i close in on the toll house…..i raise my skis to the sky and gives thanks…snow, what a concept….day 1

    • Phil says

      Nancie and I both suspected that the tracks were yours, Ron. Because most people won’t try skiing if there isn’t any snow. Thanks for the report. Looking forward to a great winter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *