Blogs > Millennial Traveler

New and traditional ways of exploring the globe, and your own backyard.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stranded on Little Whiteface Mountain

Coincidentally, or not, the same chairlift that stranded me on top of Little Whiteface last March broke down on Wednesday and this time it stranded a lot more people – about 76 skiers.
In my case, I actually cannot even call myself a skier. Not yet anyway. I was with the Outing Club, a great organization in the Albany area for those who like cheap ski tickets and transportation to the venues. A friend of mine is a member of the club and told me they also offered free ski lessons.
I started my journey of learning to downhill ski a couple years ago. My first lesson was at West Mountain. The one at Whiteface was my second. (I obviously am very dedicated to the sport.)
It was a full day of lessons, though this time no pizza and French fry techniques were used since I had advanced to learning how to use the edges of the skies which was awesome even if I was still on the bunny hills. But skiing is very physically-draining. You use muscles you had no idea you had.
And after a few hours I was pooped and hanging out in the beautiful wooden ski lodge. Sipping hot chocolate, I watched skiers from a deck fireplace and then practically had the huge stone fireplace inside to myself.
Eventually, I decided to go sans skies to the top of Little Whiteface to check out the vista. I’d been up there dozens of times in my youth since my family summer vacationed in Lake Placid and Whiteface was also one of the ten Adirondack high peaks I had climbed. I wanted to see how the view changed with the season.
At the base, I told the operator I was going up just to check out the view. Being the procrastinator that I am, I waited until almost the last minute so he told me I would have to remain seated in the chairlift gondola even when I got to the top since they were close to shutting down for the day. It was about 3:30 p.m.
I was joined by a couple youths who were high school students from Plattsburgh. They said even though the mountain is called “Iceface” by skiers that the day had been fun.
As we climbed 4,100 feet up Little Whiteface, adjacent to the fourth largest mountain in the state, the enclosed lift suddenly stopped. We were there for about 20 minutes and we figured someone just got stuck getting on or off. But then, as we got closer to the top, we could tell there was a problem. Another nearby ski lift had stopped and I saw two skiers trying to jump to the platform about 3 feet away.
We got to the top and I told the operator there that I was instructed to stay in the lift. He said that had changed.
I got off and soon after the ski lifts stopped for the day.
As it turned out, I was not the only tourist without skies on the top of Little Whiteface. A family from Pennsylvania was there too. We all waited patiently, or as patiently as possible, in a warming shed used by the ski patrol. I was grateful it was there since it was frigid out. It was a blustery day and just looking at the ice-encased pine trees made me cold.
It was interesting seeing the ski patrol strategize on how to survey the mountain to make sure everyone was safe at the end of the day and to make sure no one else was stranded. They had also called down to the base to have a snow cat come and get us.
I felt dumb for not knowing how to ski down but all the patrol people were friendly and helpful.
It took at least 30 minutes for the snow cat, and I was worried that the Outing Club bus would leave without me so, with the little signal on my cell phone that I had, I called my friend to alert him of my situation. The OC was understanding.
The ride on the snow cat was worth the ski lift and bus ticket in itself. It was fun.
The vehicle, which looked like the one used in “The Shining” to rescue the family, is designed to climb up and down mountains in heavy snow. It was scary going down some of the steepest vertical drops in the Northeast in a glorified tin can. But, as I said, it was fun. And an adrenaline rush.
The view was not very good, since it’s not exactly built with picture windows for the passenger’s pleasure, but it was like a slower, snowier version of a rollercoaster, complete with seatbelts (thank God). And we made it to the bottom in about 15 minutes, which was the estimated time when we departed.
Even though I had a blast, and a fun story to tell, the Whiteface officials gave us all $25 vouchers to use to come back – which I actually don’t plan on using.
I wonder if the 76 stranded skiers got a similar deal, or if the eight people injured at Sugarloaf recently in Maine were given compensation.
According to the state Olympic Regional Development Authority, the failure at Whiteface is still under investigation but believe it was not caused by the wind. In Maine, they said the wind was a contributing factor to the incident that dropped some chairs 25 to 30 feet into the snow on Tuesday.
In Wilmington, where Whiteface is located, the lift stopped around 11 a.m. Wednesday and everyone was off by 12:45 p.m. A member of the ski patrol suffered a minor injury helping evacuate the skiers. The lift was built in 1978 and passed a safety inspection last month, the AP reported.
It is unclear if the lift has been reopened though, according to the Whiteface Web site, they are operating 10 of 11 lifts right now.
For anyone planning to take the 2 ½ hour trip up to Whiteface from the Capital District, they have 64 trails open on the packed powder. A one-day adult pass is $77, and $82 for a holiday.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Transport Europe's Weakest Link

The BBC is reporting that the European Union has heavily criticized several European airports for lacking plans and proper infrastructure to deal with recent winter weather and thus stranding thousands of travelers.
And, having done some winter traveling in Europe myself, I’m not surprised.
As Americans, I think we have always marveled at the old country(countries) in a fairy tale-like way; thinking of the history in London, the glamour of Paris, the beer of Munich (or maybe that last one is just me). And we hear all about the cheap, efficient mass transportation that America is obviously lacking.
Maybe so, but I don’t think you’d see half the flights cancelled and thousands of passengers stranded at JFK four days after a few inches of the white stuff hit the ground. And you certainly wouldn’t see that chaos at O’Hare in the Windy City.
One scene in my memory comes to mind as I’m writing about this: I was 21-years-old and doing a study abroad program in London. I was on my way back to my host family’s home in Muswell Hill, a northern suburb of London on the Piccadilly Line of the Underground. The commute from central London to my stop at either Wood Green or Bounds Green (depending on how I was feeling that day and what bus I wanted to take from the tube stop) took about 40 minutes and sometimes longer depending on a lot of train factors. That February day it was very cold and sometime in between the time I got on the subway train and got off it started snowing – a very rare occasion in this part of the world in 2004, when I was there.
I was walking up the escalator with friends to exit and there was a sign near the doorway that said: Caution. It’s a Blizzard Out There. It was written in blue marker on a dry erase board that was usually used for similar important announcements. Having grown up in the Capital District and spent my college years in the frozen tundra of New York’s North Country, I found that my idea of “blizzard” differed drastically from whoever wrote that message.
We walked outside and there was barely a dusting on the ground.
Overall, I really have no qualms with their mass transportation from my four-month stay but it’s been made clear now that Great Britain and the rest of crowned heads of Europe need to winterize their international transportation.
Changes in weather – dare I say, some kind of side effect of Global Warming – may have something to do with this since, from my understanding, snow is usually rare in the London metro area. But, I have not done enough research on that aspect of this topic to say anything definitive.
For anyone planning to go to Europe for the holidays, please take note: Heathrow has cancelled more than half of its flights until Wednesday, Frankfurt cancelled 300 flights today after overnight snow, there are reported disruptions at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports after weekend cancellations, some cancellations in the Netherlands’ Schiphol, and Brussels in Belgium has also been affected, according to the BBC.
(Maybe that is why I got a Travelzoo deal emailed me to today about nonstop flights from NYC to Paris starting at under $300 from January to early April. The promotion also said the price of nonstop flights to Milan and Brussels also dropped to below $300, including taxes. Best availability for this was with Tuesday and Wednesday departures. Click the link to search on : )
Looking domestically, our national capital could use a little transportation winterization too. In recent weeks, from a similar sprinkling of snow there was absolute chaos on the roadways and the mass transits in D.C., from what I’ve seen on news reports and from what friends and family have told me.
No country is perfect. With the holidays and people trying to get home and other places, it’s just an awful time to start re-evaluating your transportation program.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A "suite" deal in Lake Placid

From now through the end of January, the Whiteface Lodge in Lake Placid is doing a buy one, get one on their suites.
For each night booked Sunday through Thursday (except a few blackout dates and excluding previously booked reservations), the all-suite lodge will give guests another free night. This applies to any of the lodge’s junior, one, two, and three-bedroom suites.
I’ve never been to the lodge but I’ve heard from friends who have stayed here that it is beautiful. I love free stuff so a buy one, get one sounds like a decent deal. Other free items once there include: daily breakfast buffet, sauna, steam room, games like foosball, an indoor/outdoor heated pool, use of an ice skating rink, and, topping it all off, nightly s’mores. Yummy.
The prices, well, seem a bit pricey to me but it does include a lot and it’s reasonable with the deal. A junior suite is $388.32 per night, which with the deal comes down to the price of a normal room in downtown Albany – only this room is overlooking Lake Placid and the Adirondacks. Hmmm…
Other suites are per night: $521.35 for a one-bedroom, $1,087.01 for a two-bedroom, and $1,264.96 for a three-bedroom.
There are 94 suites at the lodge, which is managed by Gemstone Hotels & Resorts.
According to employees at the lodge, they established a new guest room all inclusive pricing policy this fall which meant the price listed was what you would pay at check-out. So, it includes taxes, surcharges, and other fees.
For information, please call 1-800-903-4045, or visit They are on Twitter @TheWFL and Facebook as well.