Over 2,500 Feet of Vertical Regret: Mountain Biking Lake Placid's Little Whiteface

A riveting, two-wheeled descent of the East Coast's most revered—and feared—mountain
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The placid side of the Adirondacks: The view from the peak of Little Whiteface  (Nathan Borchelt)
Placid by Mountain Bike
Lake Placid's Mountain Bike Clinic at Mount Van Hovenberg
Dispelling the myth that we're all just accidents waiting to happen

Bunny-hopping Along the Adirondacks' Jackrabbit Trail
Pedal through Lake Placid's extensive cross-country singletrack

For the BETA mountain biking at Whiteface Resort and the 411 on cycling in Lake Placid CLICK HERE.

"You're not really going to ride down from here on your bike, are you?"

The tone of incredulity was put into perspective when I turned and realized the question came from a pigtailed seven-year-old.

"That's the plan," I replied.

She stood with her family in a small cluster on the observation deck on the peak of Little Whiteface, eyeing me and my outfit—bike helmet, gloves, CamelBac, and all the other über-gear cycling accessories—as if I were completely insane. We'd all reached the summit the same way: via the six-person Cloudsplitter Gondola—the fastest in North America—which raced to the top of the 3,676-foot mountain in a flash. For the family, the peak and its observation deck were the sole objectives of the journey: an ideal vantage point to take in the pine-covered mountains of the surrounding Adirondacks high-alpine region and look down on the shimmering network of lakes far below. But for me and Mike Scheur, a guide from High Peaks Mountain Bike Center, reaching the top was just the beginning.

"You're not really going to ride down from here, are you?" This time the question came from the girl's father, a portly man sporting a nasty sunburn and oversized aviator sunglasses. His tone was less disbelieving, more paternal, with the requisite hint of disapproval.

Somehow, hearing that question for the second time did loosen my resolve, and all the stories Mike told me during the short gondola ride came flooding back in gory, hyper-real detail. Tales of broken wrists and arms and legs; gung-ho mountain bikers who spent too much time aspiring to Mountain Dew-esque stunts and not enough time on their skills getting airlifted off the mountain after helmet-crunching endos; groups of overly ambitious cyclists who ignored repeated warnings—only to get to the top of the mountain and spend the better part of their day inching back to flat ground, cursing the fact that they paid to pull their bike down a mountain. Keep in mind, we're talking about a 2,576-foot vertical drop—the largest drop in the United States east of the Mississippi—down what many of the world's best alpine skiers describe as the most punishing course on the East Coast.

Staring down from the vantage point of Little Whiteface, with those bald statistics dancing in my head, it was easy to feel like I was the first person ever to attempt this descent with only two wheels, brake pads, and serious nerve to guide you to the bottom.

Published: 29 Aug 2003 | Last Updated: 5 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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