Where do you take them?
For 25 years, living in Buffalo, NY, we took people to Niagara Falls.
Now, we take them to the top of Whiteface Mountain.
Whiteface Mountain, in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, is, to my way of thinking, the world’s most perfect mountain.
What would make a mountain perfect?, I hear you cry!
It’s simple. These things:
A great mountain needs to provide a great view from the top. Whiteface Mountain has a bald and rocky top with a 360-degree view. From its peak, you can see east to Lake Champlain (I can see my house from here!) and Vermont, north to Quebec and Montreal, south to the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, and west to wide open spaces.
While many mountains boast great views, Whiteface has the added attraction of providing a view of an Olympic village. Lake Placid was home to two Winter Olympics—you can see the town and the ski jumps from the top of Whiteface.
And, if you’re really in to winter sports, Whiteface is a mountain you can ski. The downhill ski events in the Olympics were held at the slopes here and 22 miles of ski terrain provide lots of options for skiers today.
Another element that makes Whiteface so fabulous as a mountain is that it is so accessible. Do you like to climb a mountain and be challenged? Whiteface is the 5th highest mountain in the Adirondacks and, while the Adirondacks are geologically old and mellow as mountains go, the climb will still make you feel all the muscles in your body (or so I’m told—I haven’t climbed it myself)!
But if you aren’t inclined or able to climb a mountain, you still have the opportunity to go up the mountain. One option is to ride the gondola at the ski resort but, if you want to go to the very top of Whiteface, your answer is the Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway.
This paved road snakes its way up the mountain, complete with hairpin turns, rising 2,300 feet in five miles. The road has been re-paved recently so the hair-raising frost heaves are gone but the views along the way provide their own thrills.
The road up Whiteface leads to a choice. When you come close to the summit, you arrive at the Castle, a stone structure with a restaurant and other amenities. You park there and decide to a) hike to the summit or b) take the elevator!
Those who choose to hike the remaining 267 feet (129 meters) need to be aware that these are not “sidewalk miles,” as folks say up here! Climbers are still climbing a mountain, just a short one. It means scrambling over large stones and being careful of footing, albeit with the help of some steps and handrails. I find the need to stop frequently to “admire the scenery” (and catch my breath!) when I choose this option.
But for the person who doesn’t want to or is unable to climb, the elevator is an amazing experience in its own right. The elevator shaft is cut into the middle of the granite mountain and to reach it takes a walk through a 425-foot (about 130 meters) tunnel. The tunnel is lit, but not brightly—no claustrophobes need apply!
To me, the perfect way to experience this perfect mountain is to hike up the trail—breathe hard, get a taste of climbing a mountain—and take the elevator down. Walk the long small space, smell the damp and rock, and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
All of these ways to experience the mountain lead to another aspect of what makes Whiteface such a great mountain—it has a great back story. Local entrepreneurs came up with idea of a road up the mountain over 100 hundred years ago. The road was actually built in the 1930s, an amazing construction feat in the era. The project was dedicated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he was governor of New York and he came back 6 years later, as President of the United States, to cut the ribbon on the road. You will recall that FDR was wheelchair bound himself and it was at his request that the elevator be added, to provide summit access to others.
Whiteface has it all. It’s high enough to make your ears pop but not so high as to affect your breathing, It has photo ops galore, for updating your Facebook page in style.
And it looks good in every season!
I know most of will never choose to use your hard-won time and money to visit this particular part of the world. But know, should you visit, that a perfect mountain awaits you!