I've been in a lot of meetings where I am being sold advertising space in my long career as a marketing director, but never one like this!
It all started so simply with an idea to use the carved bears, next to the 1980 Women's Start House, under the Summit Quad, as an advertising medium for our Dancing Bears Restaurant. What a perfect fit! But not being a skier, I had never seen these bears and wanted a visual sense of what might be possible. That's where it started to get interesting! Hadley Driscoll, from the Olympic Authority's corporate development team, who'd presented the idea, suggested that we take a 4x4 ride to see the bears, then perhaps hike a ways up to get closer to them. Based on some scheduling challenges, that plan changed to 4x4 to the Summit Quad and then a chairlift ride to the top, with a stop to see the bears along the way.
Being scared of heights, my first question was, "How high is this chairlift? Higher than the Gondola?"
"Oh, no worries," she said. "It's just 10-15 feet off the ground."
My question, really, was how high up and how steep is the ride? At this point, no one was talking about the ride back down. Some things are better left unsaid.
After some careful consideration, I emailed Hadley back and told her that I would suck it up and ride the lift. My stomach was already doing flip-flops!
So at 2PM on a beautiful, warm, sunny Lake Placid summer day, Hadley and I headed to Whiteface. My nerves were building, but I was playing it cool. It'd be beautiful, my fears wouldn't be that bad, blah, blah, blah, YIKES!!!
Once at the base lodge, we met Mike and Brandee who would join us for the ride up; Pete would be our fearless driver and tour director. We all jumped into the 4x4 Ranger and buckled up. As the guest of honor, I rode shotgun. Not wanting to be rude, I did not express my fears that perhaps this was not the best seat for this adventure.
It started out innocently up Porcupine Pass, to Boreen, then Easy Way to Easy Street. The Summit Quad was up ahead! The ride was quite pleasant, the scenery beautiful. I'd never seen the mountain up close like this so it was a good introduction. Of course, the whole time I'm thinking, "what will it feel like to ride that chairlift to the top?!?!"
When we arrived at the Summit Quad, I looked up. Gasp!!! Only 10-15 feet off the ground, yes, but it must go on for a mile and that's really high and steep! "Look on the bright side," said Hadley, "we were going to hike all the way up, now we will be riding."
"Oh," thought I, "that would've been a really long hike, so maybe the ride won't be so bad!"
Pete fired up the chair which lurched to life after a long, idle spring. It whirled around a few times and then we were ready to hop on and continue up the mountain. Pete graciously stopped the chair for the four of us to get on. Then it happened! The chair did not re-start, apparently warm weather is not its thing; it wasn't budging. All Pete needed was a sledge hammer and a crowbar, neither of which we'd brought with us of course. So, now what we really needed was a Plan B.
Note: The good news here is that he stopped the chair before we got on and that the first stop wasn't at the start house overlooking the bears. That might have necessitated an airlift rescue. Not good on so many levels. Always a bright side, isn't there?!
"No worries," said our fearless tour director. "We'll just take the 4x4 up as far as we can go and then walk the rest of the way."
"Are you sure?" we all asked.
Pete replied, "I won't get you into anything I can't get you out of".
We piled back into the ranger for phase two of our adventure. Today is a day to learn to trust and trust we will!
For those of you who have skied Lower Northway, Glen, the Crossover Loop and Upper Skyward, you have some sense of what a steep climb/drive this is. I was buckled in and holding onto the truck frame trying not to fall out! Instinctively, I kept putting my right foot out to catch myself. Mike had to remind me that this wasn't the Flintstones and my foot would not make a good brake. Oh, right!
We lurched and leaned and bounced our way up and up until we got just above Weber's Way and then determined that we had driven far enough... what we weren't fully aware of was that the 4x4 had started to overheat.
Trust, yes, trust, the word of the day. There was the start house just up to our right. We would bushwhack the rest of the way on foot.
Now, unlike my colleague Anne, I did leave my cute wedges at the office in favor of sneakers, but probably would have been better served with hiking boots. My white shorts and cute summer top were also not quite appropriate, but did not inhibit my climb. Off we went with Mike in the lead winding our way up perhaps 1500-2000 feet. Then we saw them.
The bears! There are six of them all enjoying their view of the world from a different perspective, all of which had some degree of WOW! involved. The view was amazing, you could see for miles!
"Why are there bears all the way up there?" you ask.
Well, back in 1980 the chairlift ended at the Women's Start House; the start of the Women's Downhill. The men's downhill started further up and those athletes would get onto the Poma Lift. What brave souls they must have been! Once the Summit Quad was built to go to the top, the footings from the original chair house remained. The bears were brought up from the lower part of the mountain and put onto the pilings, perhaps to make it prettier - although they are usually covered with snow, so maybe just because they could.
Now that we had seen what we set out to, it was time to go back down, so we bushwhacked back to where we had left Pete with the 4x4. He had it turned around so that seemed like good news, however, when we arrived, he informed us that the clutch was stuck (in reverse) because it was still overheated. We reminded him of his promise to not get us into anything he couldn't get us out of and a hike to the base camp was not in the plan! So we pushed and rocked it until the gears moved and we were able to move it forward. Fingers crossed, we all got in for the ride down.
Oh boy! I lost count of how many times I thought we'd just roll the thing. Hadley, fearless about the chairlift, was freaking out about this ride. I, on the other hand, was rather enjoying it. I kept trying to take pictures without dropping my phone while I clung for dear life to the frame of the truck. Ok. Maybe enjoying is a strong word. But when you could stop to take in your surroundings you were quickly reminded of what a beautiful place this is, how magnificent the nature that surrounds us can be and that nowhere else on earth does a sales pitch for advertising take you on a 2 hour+ 4x4 adventure up a ski mountain. Sold!
Now, all of you just have to wait to see what Hadley and I have cooking for that "beary" special place high up on Whiteface this winter.
Until then, you can take your own 4x4 adventure at Whiteface Mountain this summer. You won't go up Upper Skyward and you wont be rocking your way out of an overheated engine, but you will see all of the key landmarks and trails from the 1980 Olympics as well as the spectacular beauty of the Ausable River.