On a fair day with good snow conditions, a trip up and down Whiteface via the highway can seem like a deceptively easy way to bag a 4,000 foot winter ascent. Under less than ideal conditions, however, the skiing can be treacherous and the weather just as severe as any of the peaks above timberline. Furthermore, the wide road and open vistas that start about a mile up the highway mean that one is more exposed to the elements than on a narrow trail. It is the potential weather conditions that cause this trip to be rated “experienced” for snowshoers even though the grade is moderate throughout. Because of its high altitude and smooth surface, the highway has long been a popular early-season tour or a last resort in low snow years. After most storms a track should be quickly broken out either by other skiers or by vehicles used by researchers at the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center located just below the tollhouse. After a thaw and freeze cycle, however, this vehicular traffic can leave an icy, rutted, chattery mess to ski on. Remember also that the wind can blow all the snow off, exposing the pavement on corners especially. All these grim warnings aside, on more days than not the snow is just fine for this exceptionally scenic trip.
The start is at the tollhouse approximately 3 miles above the village of Wilmington on Route 431. From the tollhouse the first views are at 0.8 mile, followed by a small shed on the left at 1.7 miles. At 3.2 miles the highway crosses the base of a slide and then comes to the first hairpin turn, Lake Placid Turn, at 3.5 miles. With a view of Lake Placid (surprise!) and the steep ridge above leading to the castle and summit, this makes a good destination if the weather is too inclement to continue. The Wilmington Turn is reached at 4.5 miles, and from here conditions can range from deep drifts to glare ice to the castle at 5.3 miles. From the castle a summer walkway with railings leads to the summit at 5.5 miles.
Distance: 11 miles (17.7 km), round-trip
Difficulty: Ski—Intermediate; Snowshoe—Experienced
Photo courtesy adirondackexplorer.org