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A Return to Lake Placid

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A year ago, Rainer Jenss traveled around the world with his wife and two sons and blogged about his experience here on Intelligent Travel. Now he’s back stateside and sharing his tips on traveling with kids.

Back when the thermometer readings were in the 80s in the Northeast, our family spent a couple action-packed days in Lake Placid as part of a late summer driving tour of upstate New York and New England. Before we left town, my wife and I vowed to return to this Adirondack village in “prime time” when snow was on the ground, which we did over the holidays. We selected the weekend of December 17-19 because that’s when the Bobsled and Skeleton Luge (where they slide down the track headfirst) World Cup circuit was coming to town. Having experienced what it’s like to be in a bobsled racing down an Olympic track at 60 mph, we thought it would be cool to see the pros actually do it.

Together with another family, we left the northern suburbs of Manhattan with its dusting of snow and by the time we pulled into Lake Placid four hours later, it felt like we had driven through a snow globe. The 29 miles of Route 73 after exiting the New York Thruway was a winter wonderland, with beautiful snow-covered forests, ice climbers scaling frozen waterfalls at the base of some of the area’s 46 peaks, and small villages that could be out of Currier and Ives. But despite the dazzling scenery, I still had to scratch my head as to how this “quaint” mountain village managed to host the Winter Olympic Games–and not because it doesn’t have adequate sporting facilities or the proper conditions–far from it.  I had to wonder how all the athletes, media, and fans from all around the world managed to get there with only a single lane road leading into town and more importantly, where they stayed once they got there!

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Fortunately, we didn’t have to worry about any of that. We booked a spacious suite at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort overlooking Mirror Lake (Lake Placid is actually north of town), right in heart of the village’s shopping and Olympic attractions. The room comfortably slept the four of us and the hotel proved ideal for families, with the kid-friendly Generations restaurant on the premises, an indoor pool and even a supervised “movie night” for those parents who might want a little free time. We chose to keep the kids with us as we strolled along Main Street shopping for holiday presents. There were a number of fun stores that sold quintessential Adirondack fashions, home furnishings, and foodstuffs.  But the big hit was Imagination Station, a toy store that kept the kids endlessly entertained–and the parents grateful for some last-minute gift ideas.

The main event, however, was our return visit to Olympic Sports Complex at Mount Van Hoevenberg for the Four-Man Bobsled World Cup competition. It was a relatively warm day (by Lake Placid standards) and we got a premiere view of the action at the ‘Shady’ curve, where the sleds carve a 180-degree turn at speeds that exert more than five times the force of gravity. It’s the one sporting event were you can literally get within arms-length of the athletes, but not ever see their faces.

Over the weekend, we continued visiting famous Lake Placid landmarks. As part of our Olympic Sites Passport package that we bought in the summer (they are good for one year from date of purchase), we visited the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex and took an elevator to the top of the 120-meter tower for an incredible view of the surrounding area and a glimpse of what the jumpers looked out on before getting airborne. (Thank goodness they didn’t offer us the option of a ski jumping experience like they did with the bobsled–that would have been a bit extreme.)

We did have one final opportunity to follow in the footsteps, or in this case “ice skates,” of famous Olympians. Public skating sessions are offered on the Olympic Speed Skating Oval a few times each day, located adjacent to the arena where the U.S.A. men’s hockey team completed the Miracle On Ice against the Soviets. It was a thrill for me to glide over the same ice on which Eric Heiden set four Olympic and one world record in 1980 while the kids raced around the quarter-mile track with a stopwatch. But be warned, there are no walls to grab on to for beginners just learning to skate. Somehow this seems only apropos given how Lake Placid encourages you to abandon your inhibitions and go for it . . . which I would highly recommend to any family looking for a memorable winter retreat.

Lake Placid was named one of our Top Ten Winter Towns in the January/February issue of Traveler. See the complete list, and find more wintry activities online here. Photos by Rainer Jenss.

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