By Phil Brown
I’ve skied the Whiteface toll road many times, often early or late in the season when snow is scarce in the backcountry. I always enjoy the ever-changing views and the fun descent, but it is not the only skiable highway leading to an Adirondack summit.
For years, I contemplated skiing the Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway near Lake George, and in February I finally did it. You may wonder how they compare.
Both highways are unplowed in winter and end at or near summits, but there is one crucial difference: Prospect Mountain’s road is open to snowmobiles. The Whiteface highway is not, though workers sometimes ride sleds to access the buildings high on the mountain.
I arrived at the Prospect Mountain gatehouse on a Monday afternoon and did not expect to see many snowmobilers. As it turned out, I saw about a dozen during my 2 1/2-hour round trip—more than expected but not so many as to ruin the experience. In fact, snowmobiles probably improved the skiing conditions by breaking up what otherwise would have been crusty snow.
Over 4.5 miles, the highway gains about 1,650 feet in elevation, much less than the Whiteface road, so the climb is easier. That sounds good, but the flip side is that the descent is less exciting. In a few sections, I had to kick and glide to make progress while returning to my car.
Prospect Mountain has three designated lookouts en route to the summit, all with views of 32-mile-long Lake George and neighboring peaks. In order, they are dubbed “The Narrows,” “The Panorama,” and “The Eagle’s Eye.” The lookouts are fairly low on the mountain. After Eagle’s Eye, you won’t enjoy another vista until you reach the large parking lot just below the summit.
Although any view of Lake George is something to behold, you get more and equally impressive views when skiing the 5.3-mile Whiteface highway.
An advantage of the Prospect Mountain highway is that you can ski to the tippy-top, whereas the Whiteface highway stops a quarter-mile below the summit (you can reach the summit via a steep walkway).
Both summits boast views in all directions, but neither offers a wilderness experience. Whiteface is home to a weather station. On Prospect’s summit, you’ll find picnic tables, barbecue grills, a pavilion, historical signs and an old “bull wheel” that once pulled cable-railway cars up the mountain.
The ski back to the car took about 35 minutes. I was able to build up speed here and there, but much of the time I was poling to keep up momentum. And, as mentioned, I had to kick and glide in a few flat sections. I was on Madshus Annums, which are pretty wide underfoot (78mm). You’d get more speed and more glide on a skinnier ski.
Overall, Prospect Mountain is not as breathtaking (literally or metaphorically) as Whiteface, but perhaps it’s not fair to compare the two. At 4,867 feet, Whiteface is more than twice the height of Prospect (2,041 feet).
I don’t mean to suggest it’s not worthwhile to ski Prospect. If you’re traveling past Lake George on the Northway, it’s a great way to break up the drive. Bear in mind that there probably will be more snowmobiles on weekends.
DIRECTIONS: From the Northway (I-87), take Exit 21. Drive east a short distance to US 9. Turn left and go about a quarter-mile to Prospect Mountain Highway. Turn left and drive to the gatehouse. Beyond there, the road is unplowed.