Happy New Year everyone! I’m just back from a nice vacation up north to Lake Placid. It’s a great place for a winter vacation, especially if you like to do snowy type of sports (I’m a new cross-country fan). The town is definitely on the map because of the Olympics, and with the former sports venues dominating the area, along with linked rings sprinkled liberally throughout, Lake Placid never lets you forget for one moment that it was host to two winter games, in 1980 and 1932.
Driving into town, after several hours of driving through storybook winter scenes of snow-dusted pines, mountains and frozen streams, we were struck by the sight of the ski jumping complex –at 26 stories tall, they’re apparently the tallest structures between Albany and Montreal. They look like extras from the War of the Worlds, and I half expected them to spring to life and blast us with death rays.
I tried not to think about that as Phil and I rode the chairlift up to the base of the jump, so we could take the elevator up to the top and take a look around. We actually got out onto the observation deck, and gripping the railing tight, looked straight down the ski jump. Now, I’m generally not afraid of heights, but the sheer drop down pushed my stomach up somewhere around my nose and I got the hell away from the edge as quickly as I could. They tell me people willingly attach themselves to two planks and pitch themselves down that thing. And then they do it again! I know it’s true, but I have hard time believing it.
While we waited for the elevator down to the chair lift that would take us back to the altitude where we left the car, I calmed myself by reading yellowing press clippings about summer ski jumping, an activity I knew nothing about before. Apparently, this was going on in Lake Placid long before the Olympics, and is a Fourth of July tradition: locals would store ice from the lakes and shave it to make snow, and people would then do their thing. (Alas, I can’t share the rest of the charming details from the pre-high-tech days because I’d left my notebook in the car. Also my camera, so no vertigo-inspiring pics from the top.)
Summer ski-jumping still goes on today, only they use an artificial surface. According to a press release from the local tourism authority, the jump is covered with a "porcelain tile in-run [which] mimics winter speeds down the ramp, while a synthetic surface that resembles a thatched roof is placed on the landing hill." I found these pictures of the 2004 competition online.
After we were back on solid ground, we visited an excellent used book store, With Pipe & Book, where I acquired several new volumes for my collection. (See list at right.) Notably, I scooped up Adirondack Tragedy, a book about the Gillette Murder Case of 1906. The case inspired Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, and the movie A Place in the Sun, but I’ve never read anything about it, which is surprising, considering that a great deal of the murderous plot took place in Cortland, where I went to college, and at Big Moose Lake, which I visited soon after graduating. It sort of bugs me that I missed learning about this while I was actually living upstate –it’s fun to read about a place when you’re actually there. But I guess I was too busy thinking big thoughts about political theory back then!