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Lake Placid Is Chock Full of Things To Do in Winter With Kids

Lake Placid Is Chock Full of Things To Do in Winter With Kids

Lake Placid, NY is one of my family’s favorite winter wonderlands. We’ve traveled there for several winter breaks since Teen Traveler was about 5YO. It’s closer than Canada and is of less expensive and less crowded that the Vermont ski resorts on the other side of Lake Champlain.

There is so much to do beyond skiing. As long as the weather remains cold and snowy, and you pack clothes that will keep you warm, there is a lot of fun packed into this Adirondack town, even if some of your family don’t ski (or even if none of them do, for that matter).

We usually aim for a five or six-day stay because there is a enough to do and it’s a good six-to-seven hour drive from New York City. But plenty of people do weekend getaways, especially if they’re in town for the races, hockey tournaments and ice-skating competitions that happen all winter long.

What’s New: In January 2023, Lake Placid hosted the World University Games, the largest amateur multi-sport competition after the Olympics. They spent a lot of money get the town.

Among other things, they repaved Main Street, added long-overdue refrigeration to the outdoor skating oval, upgraded the Whiteface’s snow-making and spruced up lodges at the Olympic sports centers. Visitors should reap the benefits of all this work for a few years to come.

Here are a dozen things to do in Lake Placid during a winter vacation with kids.

Read more:
My review of 2 great family-friendly hotels right in town
• Read about our favorite Kid-Friendly Lake Placid Restaurants
• My top picks for warm winter clothes for kids at great prices
Planning a Trip?
• Find the best prices for rooms at the Golden Arrow and the Crowne Plaza.
• Check Rates for other Lake Placid hotels.
• Rent a cozy Adirondack cabin steps from the lake and town

11+ Essential Things To Do on a Lake Placid Winter Vacation With Kids

Try A Winter Sport

Lake Placid hosted two winter Olympic Games, in 1932 and 1980, and has remained an important training and competition center for snow and ice sports.

Regular folks like you and me have access to some of these facilities, which makes for great skiing and skating. And when you aren’t participating you can often watch real athletes do their stuff, which is mighty impressive.

Go Skiing at Whiteface Mountain:

Skiing at Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort is a not for sissies. Lake Placid has been able to host the Olympics and other winter games because the Adirondacks’ famous high peaks. You’ll find longer, more challenging runs here than at other Northeast resorts and it’s never overly crowded.

It’s always ten-degrees colder on the mountain than in town. And it’s known for stiff winds that can make the slopes very icy toward the end of most ski days. It pays to get on the slopes early and to be ready for an aprés ski around 3:00.

There is a “junior” side with long easy slopes. And the recent mountain upgrades included adding two additional ski runs on this side, one of them cheerfully named the flying squirrel.

a view of the ski runs at whiteface mountain resort from the top of the mountain the gondola take you to.

Even if you don’t ski you can take the scenic gondola ride to the top yearround. It’s worth it for the scenery and for the bird’s-eye view of the skiers and snowboarders heading down the slope. Once the cold wind hits, they might be jealous of you stepping back into the warm gondola for the ride down.

My Best Tips: Whiteface is about a 20-minute drive from Lake Placid. Give yourself a good 45 minutes to get there, park and get your gear. If it’s a weekend or school break or you’re taking lessons first thing in the mornnng, give yourself an hour.

• Ski lessons for all ages happen at the Bear Den, which is some distance from the main lodge and has its own entrance, just passed the main entrance when you’re coming from town. If anyone in your family is taking lessons, using the den as your base can save you time and stress.

• Parking is often easier there, for one thing. And Rich reserves his rental boots and skis there because it’s faster and easier than picking them up in the busy main lodge. If the kids are hungry after their lesson is over, the bear den has dining, too. It offers fewer and more kid-centric options than the main lodge but it also has smaller crowds at the peak lunch hour.

• As with most ski hills these days, booking lift tickets and rentals ahead will save you a little money and get you on the slopes more quickly. An RFID card that you can keep tucked away in your pocket has replaced the old lift ticket stickers. They’re reusable and we saved $5 per person by holding on to ours from one year to the next. Skiing is an expensive sport and we’re happy anytime we manage to save a few dollars.

Ski Lessons at White Face:

The ski school is expensive and in the past we’d had mixed experience with it. They recently began offering only beginner-level group lessons. Once you’re an intermediate you need to book private lessons if you want more help. This is more expensive, of course, but there can be a wide range of skills at the intermediate level, which might be why the group lessons were so varied.

With private lessons you can choose a one-hour refresher or a deeper two or three-hour lesson, and you can have up to five people in your private group. In 2022 we booked a three-hour private lesson for Teen Traveler and a friend. Neither had skied in a few years and had not yet gotten past snowplowing. The instructor had both girls confidently doing more advanced turns by lunchtime.

This year we booked a two-hour lesson for the two girls and the instructor did a good job of nudging our cautious teen out of her comfort zone.

ski lesson at whiteface mountain ski resort

When she was 5, Tiny Traveler did two morning half-day (90-minute) group beginner classes and they pushed her enough that her skills and confidence noticeably improved.  

But even on a day when it was 9º they didn’t take any breaks to warm up. Tiny Traveler was a frowning popsicle when we picked her up at lunchtime. I’m not kidding about the cold. Dress your kids in lots of layers and consider bringing a stash of hand and foot-warmers, which help a lot on those really cold days.

Go Cross-Country Skiing:

If there is snow on the ground — and these days this isn’t a certainty, even here — Lake Placid has great cross-country skiing.

dad and daughter cross-country ski on a wooded trail at cascade cross country center outside of lake placid.

1. We really like Cascade Ski Center and have returned a half dozen times now. It’s close to town, the trails are scenic and well maintained and we can find enough paths that suit our level for a good couple of hours of skiing.

The owner’s sold the property to the Adirondack Mountain Club in 2022 and the not-for-profit club has managed to make skiing there both cheaper and better than it was before; quite an accomplishment.

Full-day trail passes for Rich and me, plus a trail pass and equipment for Teen Traveler cost us only $45, which is the price of an entree in some Lake Placid restaurants this winter.

The staff told me they are focusing their resources on making the trails as nice as possible. They groom all of the trails daily and routinely trim branches to keep them out of skiers’ faces. And they added new trails, too, which is great for people who ski there regularly.

Cascade has a lodge with basic pub food and a few beers on tap before the pandemic. AMC hopes to have a counter with sandwiches, soups and chili eventually but a license for beer and wine is unlikely. In the mean time they have a comfortable room where you can warm up while you watch the skiers come and go. And they sell local soda, hot drinks and snacks.

The old Cascade had a great ski instructor who had been there for ten years or more. At age 7 he had tiny traveler happily sliding along the trails in about an hour. At age 9 he taught her to deftly use poles in about as long. At 14 he gave her and our friends a refresher that had to two kids racing ahead of us on the trails.

the author cross-country skiing along marshmallow run at cascade nordic ski center.

Weather & Clothes: The trees block the wind so it’s often warmer on Cascade’s trails than it is in town. On days when it’s been too cold to downhill ski we’ve skied here quite comfortably. This is a very aerobic activity and your core will heat up quickly, but your fingers and toes can still get cold. Where several light layers, your warmest gloves and warm socks that are not too bulky.

On a day when the temperatures were in the 20s I was comfortable in thermals, a knit turtleneck and a fall-weight puffer coat.

In the cold weather it’s easy to forget water but Nordic skiing will dehydrate you quickly. Stick a water bottle in your coat if you can, or at least keep one in the lodge with your shoes.

2. There is also cross-country skiing at Mt. Hoevenberg, which hosted the Nordic ski races during the Olympics and still hosts competitions and training. We’ve never skied there because it’s further from town and costs a bit more than Cascade.

Also, I’m kind of intimidated by the idea of skiing trails made for Olympic athletes, though I’m told they have plenty of trails for all levels.

It also has new snow-making equipment, which means there could be skiing there when other trails have no snow on the ground. And it has a new lodge with a café and nice places to sit and warm up. If you are a real cross-country enthusiast I would say you have to give a go at least once.

3. If you have your own skies there are plenty of other trails in the area. The 30-mile-long Jack Rabbit Trail runs from Keene through Lake Placid and Saranac Lake with several trail heads along the way. It connects Mt. Van Hoevenberg with Cascade, but you need trail passes for both if you plan to actually ski on both properties.

Ice Skate:

There’s no winter activity that I like better in Lake Placid than gliding down the long stretches on the 400-meter speed-skating oval. You have mountain views ahead of you and the Olympic Center behind you. It’s fantastic.

It’s so big it took Tiny Traveler almost an hour to scoot around twice when she was 5. Now she zips around and laps me.

They’ve completed upgrades on the rink that include a new building, lean-tos and a modern freezing system. The building is for staff and skaters who are competing or training there. The are benches where visitors can change into skates and tuck their shoes.

As long as the temperature is above 20°F it’s manageable, but when it’s super cold they really could use indoor public space. They had warming lamps and piles of wood for bonfires but the fires weren’t lit up when we were there.

Get Ready To Go!
Bundle up with these excellent cold-weather clothes for the whole family.
Download and print my winter packing list!

See The Olympic Sights

Tourism in Lake Placid centers on the Olympic Games it hosted in 1932 and 1980. You can enjoy these sites even if you aren’t all that sporty yourself.

At age 6, Tiny Traveler was bored when we plied her with Olympic facts and history. Tweens and teens who know some of the big Olympic names and have seen a Winter Games will be more impressed by it all. The first time you visit you should see everything.

1. Start at the new Museum at the Olympic Center next to the Oval. It’s small but well done and very much worth the cost of admission to spend an hour or so here. The highlight for me was getting to see the torches from about 15 Olympics, starting with the 1936 Berlin games. It was interesting to see how each country put its unique stamp on them, from Germany’s sleek art-deco design, to Norway’s, which resembles a Viking long bow. Japan’s looks like a Japanese lantern and China’s most recent is unapologetically sleek and high-tech.

There’s a short documentary about the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” which happened steps away in the Herb Brooks Hockey Arena (named for the Miracle team’s coach). To sum it up: The U.S. hockey team, comprised of college kids who weren’t expected to place, took the gold medal from a dominating USSR team that had won it in the previous four Olympics. It’s one of the best underdog stories in sports.

The documentary manages to not be too over the top and you can see the team’s uniforms and equipment. They also have a silver medal, apparently left behind by a disappointed USSR team member.

There’s an interactive areas that kids were excited about when we visited (fine, adults were excited, too). You can experience a simulated bobsled run, get a skier’s view of the ski jump, and try to move your feet fast enough to keep up with a medal-winning speedskater.

The bobsled is especially well done, and you realize how hard it is to maintain your focus and keep control for the length of a 1.5-mile-long track.

2. Next, head to the ski-jumping center. You can take a gondola to the base of the tower, then an elevator to the top of the jump. From here you can see just how high the ski jump is and appreciate how much fortitude the sport requires. There’s also a nice view of the countryside.

a girl tries out the medal podium at mt. hoevenberg in the adirondacks.

3. Mount Hoevenberg is also the center for all the sliding sports: bobsled, skeleton and luge. Hope to catch some of the athletes are doing practice runs while you’re there. It’s amazing how loud and rumbling the sleds are on the ice and how fast they whiz past you.

Watching a skeleton rider shoot by high up on the track wall like Spiderman on a sled gave me new and profound appreciation for how crazy brave and skilled those Olympic athletes are.

a couple tries out an olympic bobsled at mt. hoevenberg sliding sports center in upstate new york.

4. You can a an awful lot of fun at Mt. Van Hoevenberg—and spend an awful lot of money.

The Bobsled Experience lets two people ride down the bottom half of the bobsled track with and experienced driver and a breakman. You can reach up to 55 mph during the 50-second run. The ticket price comes out to about $5 per second for two people.

Mount Hoevenberg also has a Cliffside Coaster, a mountain coaster that brings you to the top of the run and then you can control the speed of your descent along the track with a hand break.

It’s the longest such coaster in the U.S. and parallels the complete bobsled track, so it’s a less intense and considerably less expensive way to get a real sense of what the bobsledders do. It’s $55 for an adult and child or a single person old enough to ride alone. In theory it operates year-round, but it has to close when the temperatures drop too low and we have yet to try it.

Visit High Falls Gorge

High Falls Gorge is a mile from Whiteface going toward Lake Placid. They entry fee is higher in winter than summer but it includes entry to the Gorge, micro-spikes to attach to your boots if its icy, marshmallows to roast over their outdoor fire and a warm drink after your walk.

It’s all ice if you visit during a cold snap, but the micro-spikes work really well. The half-hour walk across trails, steps and bridges was impressive with tumbling falls, ice formations and icicle curtains creating an exotic landscape. 

After the walk we make a beeline for the campfire with marshmallows in our pockets for toasting. Then we head inside for cocoa, tea and lattes. It’s usually quiet and easy to snag a café seat neat both the iron woodstove and the windows.

a girl avoids the smoke while toasting marshmallows over the fire at high falls gorge while her dad looks on.

When it’s not Covid-19 the café sells sandwiches and soup and has wine and a few local beers on tap. We’ve stopped by aprés ski just to warm up in the cafe without even visiting the gorge.

The admission fee seems a little steep for the amount of time we spend there but it’s a nice way to spend a morning when you need a break from skiing and skating. And it’s especially worth doing in the winter when most other gorges and chasms aren’t accessible.

Take Some Mom Time: Spa Treatments & Wine

Since I don’t ski I sometimes drop the family at the mountain and come back to town for some spa time.

1. Last winter a girlfriend and I checked into the ADK Foot Sanctuary conveniently located right next to our hotel on Main Street. Sanctuary is the right word.

Our “simplicity” treatment started with us settling into a comfortable love seat with heated neck wraps and cozy blankets over us, which was enough to make us feel like taking a nap. Then the massage therapist did some aromatherapy and put our feet in an aromatic soaking bath with hot stones on the bottom. After our feet were loosened up a bit by the soak there was a very thorough and soothing foot massage, followed by a little more aromatherapy.

a copper foot-soaking tub and cozy love seat set the stage for a foot massage at adk foot sanctuary on main street in lake placid.

You can add on different kinds of aromatherapy, foot soaks and scrubs, moisturizing treatments and scalp massages. But “simplicity” was enough to make me feel like a whole new person after subjecting my feet into ice skates, cross-country ski boots, snow boots and freezing weather all weekend.

They were surprisingly busy and we go the last appointment available for a few days, so call ahead if you want to experience your own foot-massage Zen.

2. This year we booked facials at the amazing spa at the Whiteface Lodge. Treatments include use of the spa’s sauna and steam room. After our facials we spent a good 45 minutes lounging in fluffy robes, drinking cucumber-infused water and using the facilities. That kind of extra really makes a spa day feel relaxing and worth the money.

We booked Great Outdoors facials, their basic facial, which is supposed to repair damage from the elements and undo signs of aging.

Once inside the treatment room I nestled into a heated treatment bed under a warm blanket while the girl did a short head massage and applied some aroma therapy. I was so blissed out, when she suggested I add an additional hydration treatment I just thought, I’m here; why not? My friend said the same thing happened to her.

On a previous solo visit I booked included a 50-minute massage. I often find 50 minutes is just enough to leave you wanting more. But this was thorough and she worked out the kinks from my cross-country adventures the day before. I made the most of steam room and sauna that time, too, for a truly relaxing day.

3. In a town built around athletes it’s not hard to find a good massage. If you want a treat that isn’t too much of a splurge, I’ve had a couple of very good experiences at Balanced Body Work on Main Street. It doesn’t look like much from the outside. But the staff gives excellent mixed-style massages in a cozy space. If you call to make an appointment they respond quickly.

Hit The Lake

If you’re lucky Mirror Lake, which is the lake the town actually sits along, will freeze while you’re there, becoming a public backyard for snow forts, ice skating, hockey and dog-sled rides.

a couple sits on a bench on next to a cleared skating rink on from mirror lake in lake placid

Skating on the lake is nothing like a zambonied rink. At ages 7 and 9 Tiny Traveler didn’t like having to navigate all the bumps and cracks in the ice. At 14 she thought it was great to have the whole lake to skate on in any direction she wanted.

two teens sk along a cleared trail on frozen mirror lake in lake placid.

There is a toboggan run that shoots screaming kids onto the ice. We’ve never worked up the nerve to try it but our friends think it’s tremendous fun. There’s often a line on weekends but it moves quickly. You’ll find the hours posted in hotels and around town.

If the lake isn’t frozen:

Or even if it is, take a walk entirely around Mirror Lake. It’s about a mile and easy to do with kids, but not definitely not with a stroller.

a view of the town of lake placid at dusk from across mirror lake.

At dusk you get nice views of the lit-up town from the far side. And it’s an easy way to get exercise without having to strap on skis or skates.

Planning a Trip?
• Find the best prices for rooms at the Golden Arrow and the Crowne Plaza.
• Check Rates for other Lake Placid hotels.
• Rent a cozy Adirondack cabin steps from the lake and town

 Walk Around Town

Main Street in Lake Placid is good for a stroll. At 14 and 15 Teen Traveler really liked exploring the town on her own browsing the book store and souvenir shops, sampling fudge in the candy stores and selecting filled chocolates in the chocolate shop.

And our most reason visit we finally stopped into a store called Just Bead It! at the far end of Main Street. They sell all kinds of funky hand-made jewelry and offer “jewelry making with a lake view,” which I did on our last visit with Teen Traveler and my spa buddy.

They have a separate room for younger kids, with colorful, cheaper (and less fragile) beads. The main bead bar definitely draws adult shoppers, who make surprisingly sophisticated earrings, bracelets, necklaces and keyring charms. Crafty tweens and teens will get into it; Teen Traveler spent the most time of the three of us choosing and arranging beads for earrings.

It’s $5 for the basic materials and then we paid for the individual beads, stones and charms we chose. Some semi-precious stones cost upwards of $25 apiece. But Teen Traveler and I stuck with glass, ceramic and metal and our two pairs of earrings came to less than $25 total. And we were quite thrilled with them.

If the weather turns against you, or you need a break from snow sports (or sun in the summertime). This is a fun and inexpensive way to spend an hour.

Stop into the hockey store to get your skates sharpened. There & Back Again, Adirondack Decorative Arts & Crafts and Critters are great for Christmas ornaments, flannel moose-patterned pajamas, artisanal jewelry, maple products and other items you don’t need but can’t resist buying. There & Back Again, by the skating oval, is the most eclectic and most fun for browsing.

There are also the requisite sporting goods shops if you need any gear. This is handy when you have kids who often discover their ski clothes no longer fit after you’ve arrived in town.

I’ve found good sales at EMS and have stocked up on Smart Wool socks and thermals for myself. The Bass factory outlet is always worth stopping into. On our last visit Rich got hiking boots and and a crazy-warm puffy coat for $55 total.

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All photos by FamiliesGo! except ADK Foot Sanctuary, courtesy of the spa.