A Wild Experience: New York’s Adirondacks

This article, and distribution, was paid for by the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism in New York’s Adirondacks and produced in conjunction with POWDER.

Words by Caitlin Kelly.

We were all watching the forecast, but we felt it in our knees. A major storm was blowing through Upstate New York’s Adirondacks, and everyone was talking – the highwaymen, the bartender paying off her season pass, the school kids, and the ski bums. Overnight totals were spelled out in feet, not inches.

On the second morning of the storm, I woke to one alarm – no snooze option. I pulled the shades and squinted out to a white world. I threw together breakfast and jumped in the car with Char, a friend who had just started skiing that year.

Forever Wild at New York’s Whiteface Mountain. Photo: Jacob Sporn

She had the powder bug as bad as I did, eager to leave the house early to get in the front of the lift line, to spend the day practicing her turns and relishing the coveted Adirondack March snowstorm. We drove the partially plowed roads to Whiteface Mountain, giddy while stuffing egg sandwiches into our faces.

I quickly found myself alone after racing off the gondola, storm clouds and snowflakes darkening the morning sky. Topping off at Little Whiteface, the eight-person gondola gives just enough time to warm up from the mid-winter chill. I beelined for Upper Northway, a trail I knew would be sheltered from the storm’s winds, and dropped in. I let go of my hard-carving ways (early morning groomers at Whiteface are hard to beat), and settled into the soft flight of powder skiing. This was the storm of the winter.

Powder blinded me with every turn. I couldn’t see my skis below me. It didn’t matter. “New York? New York?! I’m in New York!” I hooted and hollered, scoring one of the best runs of the season.

Gore Mountain.

Adirondack skiing awaits in the northernmost part of the state anywhere from five to seven hours from the urban associations of New York City. Past the Catskills and toward the source of the Hudson River, the Adirondacks feature the tallest mountains in the state-46 peaks at over 4,000 feet and the highest, Mount Marcy, rises to 5,344 feet. Here at the heart of the state lies the Adirondack Park.

“Forever Wild” the constitution promises, and wild it truly is. Across six million acres of protected public and private land, including the constitutionally protected Forever Wild area of Adirondack Park, eight ski areas dot the landscape and an outdoor culture that keeps them alive.

To the south lies Gore Mountain in North Creek, where river rats retire for the winter after a season of rafting on the Hudson and families drive up from nearby Saratoga Springs and Albany to spend the day sliding on snow. Gore is a humble mountain, not giving away all its secrets at once. Its glade skiing is some of the best in New York, and boasts the most terrain in the state, with 42 miles and 439 acres across four mountains.

The North Creek Ski Bowl is one of them, which opened in 1934 when the “Snow Train” was rolling from downstate to the Southern Adirondacks. Having four peaks to choose from, Gore feels like a wide mountain, giving skiers ample options and a sense of adventure. However, Gore also boasts “The Rumor,” arguably the steepest trail in the East, of which I can attest to (having also skied Sunday River’s “White Heat,” another trail in contention).

Oak Mountain.

Farther west, surrounded by wilderness on all sides, lies 2,400-foot Oak Mountain, a small ski area in the town of Speculator. An easy drive from downstate, Oak offers affordable lift tickets and a family friendly atmosphere. The mountain has 22 trails that cover a variety of skill levels. The Acorn Pub and Eatery has live music and some of the best après ski food around-the head chef was a finalist in Gordon Ramsay’s TV show “Hell’s Kitchen.” Every March, the annual cardboard sled race takes place, a hilarious showing of well-decorated sleds and wipeouts galore.

New York’s northernmost ski resort is 2,025-foot Titus, a mountain that rises above the plains of northern New York. Less than 30 minutes from the Canadian border, it’s one of the only New York resorts that offers night skiing, and was voted number one family friendly resort in North America by Liftopia’s Best in Snow Awards. With several colleges in the area, Titus acts as the perfect post-class ski fix, with students taking advantage of the $20 Thursday lift tickets (day and night).

The view from the top is an unexpected bonus – the sea of southern Canada stretching to the north, and the foothills and mountains of the Adirondacks to the south. I’ve never waited in a lift line longer than a few people, with the mountain boasting 50 trails over three peaks.

Whiteface Mountain. Photo: Jacob Sporn

In the High Peaks Region of the park, an area defined by the concentration of mountains that rise above 4,000 feet, is Whiteface Mountain. It’s the “Olympic Mountain” isolated in the sky, standing out on the horizon far off from the rest of the High Peaks. It’s always visible from nearby Lake Placid and always seems to be covered in the glow of fresh snow.

With 3,430 feet of vertical, Whiteface has the most vertical drop east of the Rockies, and three peaks to choose from. A true top to bottom run will leave the legs screaming. From the summit on a sunny day, you can look off to the Great Range, which includes 5,344-foot Mount Marcy, the tallest mountain in New York, and the ski jumps that loom over the village of Lake Placid – remnants from another time.

Whiteface Mountain. Photo: Jacob Sporn

And if the storms don’t come, or a February thaw leaves the mountain reeling, Whiteface has top-notch snowmaking. With 99 percent coverage capability, snowmaking piles up snow in even the unluckiest of seasons. Come late season, ski patrol will open the Slides, a side-country big-mountain skiing experience that will have you wondering if you’re in the middle of a backcountry ski tour, or even on the East Coast at all.

New York state is huge, full of character surging throughout each region. From the summits of these ski areas – Gore and Whiteface run by the state, Oak and Titus privately owned – wilderness beckons. Additionally, Pisgah, West, and McCauley ski areas are regional options, as well. Lakes and rivers stretch on for hundreds of miles; condos, clear-cuts, and extravagant resorts are non-existent. The land that lies between is protected, and will be forever. These resorts encourage visitors to get out into the local towns, explore the richness and wild character so specific to the Adirondack region.

The relationship between these ski areas and the towns below is symbiotic. People come to the area to go skiing, but fall in love with the kindness given at the gear shop in town, the meal they had at a café offering local foods. And, of course, the mountains. There isn’t anything like the wildness found in this part of the state. The skiing that happens in the Adirondacks seems to transcend ego and expensive gear. It’s accessible and gets back to the roots of the sport: having fun while going fast downhill.

Titus Mountain.

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