A ski trip on the Whiteface Mountain Toll Road
The Whiteface Veterans' Memorial Highway. It’s the quintessential pseudo-backcountry ski in the Adirondacks. What do I mean by that? Well, for one, it’s a two-lane toll road that snakes up New York state’s fifth tallest mountain. The dichotomy is tangible, especially when you’ve ascended 2,000 vertical feet above Wilmington, yet are still on a 20-foot wide semi-groomed path. A trip on the toll road is a readily-available (and free) step for those with some skiing experience, looking to do something more challenging than flat, groomed trails. Come along for a ski up the Toll Road, and après-ski food and drink at the Twisted Raven.
Step 1: Preparation
While skiing a road doesn’t seem like it should require all that much preparation, keep in mind that a full ski (from Toll Booth to the Castle and back) will end up being 10.5 miles round-trip, with over 2,500 feet of elevation gain. As you ascend, weather conditions are more apt to change rapidly, requiring that you bring along gear you typically use for a winter hike up a High Peak. When I went up, my pack included essentials like food, water, layers, and first-aid supplies. Some winter specific supplies I also brought along with me were a pair of goggles (the Toll Road can get windy), microspikes in case we decided to go from the Castle to the summit, and some hand warmers. If you’re looking for more information about what you can bring on a winter adventure, check out LYADK’s Winter Preparedness page.
To get to the road, simply go to the Toll Booth at the start of the Whiteface Veterans' Memorial Highway. The road is plowed to this point, and ample space is available for several cars to park. No pass is needed, no fee needs to be paid, just make sure someone knows where you’re heading and give an estimated time for when you’ll get down.
Step 2: The ski
On an overcast evening, Cody and I parked at the Toll Booth, packed up our gear, and started our ski up the road. Immediately, we were met by a few other smiling faces coming down the first gentle descent of the road. While it wasn’t my first time doing a long ski tour, I was a first time toll-roader, and the sense of community right from the start was an experience not often had when starting a tour.
The views come fast, and winter creates these unique, ice- and snow-encrusted greens and grays, colors you only see during this season. We stopped and remarked at how pretty it was, even if there were clouds hovering over the hills around us.
The first turn comes at around 1.3 miles in, and from there the road does wind a bit, but rather gently. As we went past some small icy areas, we took note, reminding ourselves to watch out for these spots on the way down. Depending on conditions, the ski down can take on different speeds. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, it’s best to turn around. Besides, that’s the beauty of the Toll Road! You don’t have to go all the way up, just do what feels right, enjoying a full or partial ski up.
Cody and I were nearing the point where mist met the mountain, which coincided with us coming up on overlooks with expansive views. While none today, we looked out across the evergreen sea, appreciating what we could see close to us, and knowing that coming back another day meant the possibility of a different experience. After some more skiing in the clouds, Cody and I decided to turn around just before the Lake Placid Turn. If it’s a beautiful day, I recommend continuing to the Castle, and bootpacking up to the summit.
From where we were, we had around 3.5 miles of glorious downhill. The conditions varied this day, but was mostly a moderate descent in hardpack skintracks, mixed with the occasional icy section that added a challenge to a first-time Toll Road skier like myself. Enjoying the same landscape, but a different way, is definitely a theme of the Toll Road. Not only in the weather on different days, but the speed at which you move through the area. On the way in, you notice the icy waterfalls and the dog prints in the snow, but on the way down you focus on your skiing, balance, and conditions of the road itself.
I glided down, and met Cody at the Toll Booth, where he had handily beat me to, and it was off for some après food and drinks!
Step 3: Après
The Adirondacks have no Haute Route, no Swiss hut to hut traverse where you take off your skis and are served expensive cheeses immediately upon leaving your bindings. What we do have at the base of the Toll Road is a more authentic, quaint ski town that has perfect après options for all. The Twisted Raven, whose address is quite literally on the Whiteface Veterans' Memorial Highway, is only a couple minutes from where we ended our ski of the Toll Road. It’s a no-brainer!
We happened to show up on Taco Tuesday night, and the atmosphere was a great mix of locals and visitors. In addition to themed food nights, the Twisted Raven is always hosting live music events, open mic nights, magic shows, and creative food and drink specials. They convinced us to try their hot wing roulette, where one of the ten wings served is spicy beyond belief. Think you have what it takes? You should give it a try, and while you’re at it, try some other food from their menu! Everyone that comes loves the french fries, and Cody and I agreed that their burgers were incredible. Take it from us, combining your Toll Road ski with the Twisted Raven is a trip you’ll want to plan!
The Toll Road is perfect for a stay in Wilmington, with lodging and dining options right at the base of the mountain. And if you're looking for more skiing options, the Whiteface Region has plenty of cross-country skiing for every ability level, and of course, downhill skiing at Whiteface Mountain.