Well, we didn’t get the 4 to 7 inches of snow in the forecast, but we did get a few inches–enough to make the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway skiable from top to bottom over the weekend.
I did the road on Sunday with Ron Konowitz, one of Keene’s more prominent ski bums. When we got to the tollhouse about 10 a.m., there already were a half-dozen cars parked on the road’s shoulder.
Locals often run into old friends and acquaintances on early-season ski trips up the highway, as usually there’s nowhere else to ski. On Sunday, Ron and I stopped to chat with several people we knew, and as a result it took us a few hours to reach the Lake Placid Turn, about 3.5 miles from the tollhouse.
The sun had been out when we started up the road, but by the time we got to the hairpin turn, we were in the clouds. On a clear day, the turn has a wonderful view of Lake Placid, Whiteface’s summit, and many of the High Peaks.
A mile beyond is the Wilmington Turn, another hairpin. At 5.3 miles, the road ends at the castle, which houses a restaurant in summer. To reach the 4,867-foot summit, you have to take off your skis and hike the remaining two-tenths of a mile. The ascent from tollbooth to summit is 2,535 feet.
The wind on the upper part of the road and near the summit can be brutal, creating arctic conditions even when it’s mild in the valleys. So be sue to bring warm clothing, including a balaclava.
Despite the long climb, the ski down the road is fairly easy if the conditions are right. In Ski and Snowshoe Trails of the Adirondacks, Tony Goodwin rates the descent as intermediate-novice. But novices, especially, should be aware that the road is often bare or icy in spots.
Many people choose to head down after reaching the Lake Placid Turn as the skiing above is not that great. With the summit socked in, Ron and I had little incentive to go all the way to top, so we went only as far as the turn and then glided back to our car. I stopped just once (to chat with friends) during the 3.5-mile descent. What a way to start the winter.
Directions: From Lake Placid drive east on NY 86 to Wilmington. At the four-way stop, turn left onto NY 431 and drive three miles to the tollhouse (bearng left at the fork just before the tollhouse).
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