Some places are fondly remembered by the heart and engaged to the soul long after the bags are unpacked and the photos are stowed away. Lake Placid, with the gentle snow-topped summits of the Adirondack chain at its doorstep and nearly 2,500 cool clean lakes at its porch, is one of those special locales. Appropriately dubbed the Winter Sports Capital of the World (for it has hosted more World Cup sports than any other spot on the continent), the Lake Placid/High Peaks Region is an unforgettable mecca for the perfect winter retreat with the family. Set in the heart of the six million-acre Adirondack Park with its wild mountain peaks, this resort and recreation center played home to two Olympic Winter Games, in 1932 and 1980, and its village is still bustling with year-round activity — hosting such events as the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, the Ironman USA Lake Placid Triathlon and world-class competitions in bobsled, luge, skeleton and ski jumping. Lake Placid is also the site of one of the country’s three Olympic Training Centers, which trains athletes in all winter sports, plus judo and boxing, and summer events like water polo. Family fun and adventures run wild in this winter haven for downhill and cross-country skiing, ice skating, sledding, snowshoeing and snow tubing. With an average winter snowfall of 133 inches and the greatest vertical drop in the East (3,440 feet) at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, in nearby Wilmington, N.Y., Lake Placid has been voted the number one town in North America for off-hill activities 12 years running by Ski magazine. The abundant snowfall that turns this North Woods country into a winter wonderland, coupled with the charm of its quaint village shops and fine restaurants, gives this town an annual overnight boost of nearly 2 million visitors. The choice of accommodations, with nearly 2,400 guest rooms in or about the town, runs the gamut from resorts, hotels and motels, to bed-and-breakfasts, Victorian inns and Adirondack-style cabins. This is the kind of place where you spontaneously drop to the ground to make snow angels with the kids. Or lace up a pair of skates, take their hand and lead them out onto a frozen lake or pond and do some figure eights. This is a land of horse-drawn carriage and sleigh rides. For the more adventurous, hang on and tear down the toboggan chute onto frozen Mirror Lake. Or for that matter, take a dog-sled ride over the frozen ice. Put the skis on and take a downhill or snowboard lesson at nearby Whiteface or Gore mountains (Note: The 70 ski trails and terrain park at Whiteface demand at least a full day with the kids). Head over to nearby Keene Valley for some ice-climbing or winter hiking adventures. Take a guided cross-country ski or snowshoe tour through the backcountry. Or ride a high-speed gondola up Whiteface and take in a spectacular view of the surrounding High Peaks. Of course, the Olympic venues are a must-see-and-do. Check out the Olympic Speedskating Oval where Eric Heiden cruised to five gold medals fame, and take in the rush that comes with stepping inside the 1980 Ice Rink where the U.S. Men’s Hockey Team led America to the “Miracle on Ice!” over the Russians. Ride to the top of the ski jumps at the Olympic Jumping Complex, or shoot down the bobsled track at the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Sports Complex. Don’t miss the self-guided tour of the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum, the keeper of this one small town’s Olympic dreams. After an action-packed day, stroll down the town’s picturesque Main Street and check out the wares at some of the myriad alpine boutiques and Adirondack crafts stores, their windows aglow with a mystic winter charm. Set up shop with the family at one of the many cozy pubs or restaurants overlooking the lake and watch the snow in the air while you take in the distinctive culinary fare of the region. Then go back to the inn and rest your feet by the fire because this is truly a place right out of a winter fairy tale.
How to get there: By car: Take N.Y. State Thruway (I-87) north to Albany, Exit 24. Take I-87 north (Adirondack Northway) to Exit 30. Pick up Rt. 9 north, and follow it for two miles to Rt. 73. Continue on Rt. 73 for 28 miles to Lake Placid. Drive time: 5 hours. By air: The Lake Placid area is within 2 hours driving time of major airports in Albany, Burlington, Vt., and Montreal, Quebec. All are serviced by major airline carriers and have car rentals available. By train: Amtrak operates between NYC and Montreal with a local stop in Westport, N.Y. (40 minutes from Lake Placid). For more information, call (800) USA-RAIL or visit www.amtrak.com. Where to stay: Lodging options with special-rate winter getaway packages and last-minute deals are available by calling (800) 447-5224 or (800) 523-2445, or by visiting www.LakePlacid.com.