Lake Placid: Top Winter Activities With Kids
Read more on dining in Lake Placid.
Lake Placid is one of our favorite winter wonderlands. We’ve traveled there for a few winter breaks and even Christmas. As long as you pack clothes that will keep you warm outside and the weather remains cold and snowy, there is a lot of fun packed into this Adirondack town.
Here are five activities we recommend, most are fun for all ages, and even those who are not super outdoorsy or athletic.
Try A Winter Sport
Ski: Skiing at Whiteface is a not for sissies. There are longer, more challenging runs than you often find in the Northeast and it isn’t crowded. But it’s colder and windier on the mountain than it is in town, so layer up before you head out to ski.
Ski Lessons: The ski school is expensive and I’m sorry to save we’ve had a somewhat mixed experience with it. When she was 5, Tiny Traveler did two half-day (90-minute) classes and they pushed her enough that we saw her skills improve. But even on a day when it was 9º they didn’t take any warm-up breaks and TT was a frowning popsicle when I picked her up at lunchtime.
At age 7, despite it being Winter Break week she was with an instructor and one other child for the whole day. A long, gentle junior slope is a nice segue from the bunny hill to bigger runs and a good place to get used to riding a lift. She spent the whole day on this run and improved a lot in her skills and confidence.
But we went back at age 9, I told them when I registered by phone and when we checked in that she was an experienced, intermediate skier and we wanted her to learn to ski with parallel skis. Somehow she wound up on the bunny slope all morning “learning” to snowplow. And while they did take her on the lift in the afternoon she learned not one new skill. My husband saw groups of kids at her level kids on the slope and when I called customer service afterward they confirmed that they do offer intermediate group classes. So clearly there was a miscommunication. But we felt we’d somewhat wasted $180 and she would have been better off skiing with her dad for a $58 lift ticket.
My advice: When you drop off your child, especially during a busy brake week, ask to speak directly to his instructor or stick around until the classes start to make sure your child is in the right group.
Go Cross Country: If there is snow on the ground—and these days this isn’t a certainty—Lake Placid has great cross-country skiing. Your Olympic Passport will get you a discount beginners package at Mount Van Hoevenberg, site of the Olympic Nordic sports. But we like Cascade Ski Center. It’s closer to town, the trails are scenic and well maintained and we can find paths that suit our level. They have a comfortable lodge where can have take a lunch break or have a beer after your done skiing. Rentals and trail passes for our family of 3 was $78, and an hour-long private lesson for Tiny Traveler was $25. She had the same instructor at ages 7 and 9 and he had her happily skiing harder trails than we do by the end of the hour.
Tubing: There is a tubing hill at the ski jump complex. It’s long and fast and not too steep. I’m not a huge fan of tubing (read about my Greak Peak experience), but we all like this hill a lot. You have to walk back up to the top after each ride down, but a truck carries the tubes. On our most recent visit warmish temperatures closed the hill so we will have to hope for a better freeze on our next visit.
Skate: There’s almost no winter activity that I like better in Lake Placid than gliding down the long stretches on the 400-meter speed-skating oval. It’s fantastic. It’s so big it took Tiny Traveler almost an hour to scoot around twice when she was 5. Sshe could get around 4 or 5 times in at an hour at age 7. At night they often build a bonfire on the green in the middle to warm skaters’ toes. You have to hope for very cold weather if you want to skate here though. We visited during the warm, wet winter break this year and even a few degrees above freezing they had to close the rink because of too many puddles. Maybe older freezing technology than newer outdoor rinks?
Hockey Fans and children of the Reagan era might want to skate on the indoor rink where the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” happened, but otherwise it’s a standard indoor ice rink.
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. A $35 Olympic Passport gets you a ride on the Whiteface Gondola (even if you don’t ski), a skating session on the outdoor skating oval, visits to the ski jumping center and sliding sports center, and discounts around town. The first time you visit you should try everything. If you do the passports are good deal for grown-ups. Kids receive reduced admission to these places and those under 6 are sometimes free, so it probably comes out about even with the passport.
The gondola ride is quite scenic and I recommend it. And let me tell you, standing at the top of the ski jump or watching a skeleton rider shoot by you like Spiderman on a sled gives you new and profound appreciation how
crazy brave and skilled those you Olympic athletes are.
Note: If the temperature drops below 30 visit the ski jump another day. The chairlift ride was brutally cold the day we went up and I don’t recommend it with kids.
The best discounts to take advantage of are on the tubing hill (a must!) and the bobsled experience is a unique, if pricey 90-second thrill. It surprised me how rumbling and noisy it is.
At age 6 Tiny Traveler was bored when we plied her with Olympic facts and history. She did start making up her own Olympic sports and asked about watching the games that were coming up following our 2014 visit. So the setting made something of an impression on her. But I think tweens and teens who know some of the big Olympic names and have seen the Olympic Games will be a little more wowed by it all.
Visit the Gorge
High Falls Gorge is one mile back toward Lake Placid from Whiteface. In 2014, $13 bought me entry to the Gorge, micro spikes to attach to my boots (the paths were solid ice), and a warm drink. The half-hour walk across trails, steps and bridges was impressive with tumbling falls, ice formations and icicle curtains creating an exotic landscape. After my walk I warmed up by an outdoor campfire (with marshmallows on hand for toasting). Then I headed inside for cocoa.This year, prices have gone up. It was $41 for the three of us to walk around and toast marshmallows (Tiny Traveler probably ate several). No hot beverage this time, but TT got a quiz that she could answer as she walked around and picked up a prize (magnetic marbles) for getting them all right. $41 seemed a little steep for the amount of time we spent there but you have to do it once, especially in the winter when most other gorges and chasms aren’t accessible.
Note: The lounge has a couch that has a view of the river and an iron stove nearby. It’s cozy and of course popular. It’s a great spot for an Aprés-ski beer if you can grab it.
Take Some Mom Time
Since I don’t ski I sometimes drop the family at the mountain and come back to town for some spa time. On my last visit I found a Groupon for the amazing spa at the Whiteface Lodge. The package I booked included a very good 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 also got as much time as I wanted in the spa’s steam room and sauna and access to the hotel’s lovely indoor/outdoor heated pool and hot tubs. While there were a couple of families using the pool, it was nothing like very, very busy and splashy scene that plays out at most hotel pools in the afternoon when kids return from skiing and all their various tournaments. It was a truly relaxing day.
In a town built around athletes it’s not hard to find a good massage. If you aren’t up for that much of a splurge, I’ve had good experiences at the smaller places around town, too. Balanced Body Work on Main Street gives excellent mixed-style massages in a cozy space. It can be hard to catch them in the office, but if you call to make an appointment they respond quickly.
Either way I usually cap off my day by perching on a stool at the J. Lohr Wine Bar in the Whiteface Lodge while I wait for my family to finish up. It’s nice spot to watch the skiiers over a glass of red or white (the menu looks good, too, though I haven’t eaten there). The only thing that could make it better would be a focus on New York State wines instead of California ones.
Hit The Lake
If you’re lucky Mirror Lake, next to larger Lake Placid, will freeze while you’re there, becoming a public backyard for snow forts, skating, hockey and dog-sled rides. There is a toboggan run that shoots screaming kids onto the ice, but hours are not regular and you have to catch it. Weekends afternoons and early evenings are prime. TT likes walking on the lake but the ice is nothing like a zambonied rink. At 7 and again at 9 TT did not like having to navigate all the bumps and dings in the ice. she slid around in her boots while Rich and I skated. The week we were there in 2017 there was even supposed to be an evening event with food and alcohol vendors on the lake, which seemed awfully fun, Alas, a warm spell ruined that plan.
If the lake isn’t frozen: Or even if it is, take a walk entirely around Mirror Lake (the actual lake that lake Placid overlooks). At dusk you get nice views of the lit up town and it’s an easy way to get exercise without having to strap on skis or skates.
Walk Around Town
Main Street in Lake Placid is good for a stroll. TT liked the store windows at Christmastime, decked out for the holidays with an Adirondack touch (think Santa Clauses, skis and moose). There are the requisite fudge shops and sporting goods stores. The Golden Arrow Hotel lobby has a close-up lake view and gingerbread houses that TT went back to visit three times. The Crown Plaza, where we stayed, has a spacious lobby with a big fireplace, panoramic lake view and good bar. They’re both good places to warm up.