Lake Placid lodge revisits the glory of Great Camps

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During the era we now call the Gilded Age, the wealthy and very wealthy "camped out" in New York's Adirondack Mountains. But the likes of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Marjorie Merriweather Post didn't live in tents. They built the area's legendary Great Camps.

Set in the woods and on the lakes in the state's Adirondack Park, these compounds were constructed on a grand scale, made with local woods and stones for a fittingly rustic look, but their owners brought their lifestyle, and servants, with them, allowing for active daytime pursuits followed by black-tie dinners at night.

Great Camps redux

050808_whitefaceThe Whiteface Lodge Resort and Spa in Lake Placid, N.Y., which opened in spring 2005, was designed with those Great Camps as inspiration, both in terms of physical appearance and upscale services.

The lodge, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World and a Virtuoso preferred supplier, counts 94 suites, ranging in size from 500 to 1,920 square feet and from one to four bedrooms, and each has a balcony or private patio.

"It is never crowded here because the suites are so big, people stay in them and use them," said Olivier Bottois, the lodge's managing director and COO.

Besides, the public areas are large, even sprawling, and guests can practically get lost in the numerous spaces devoted to indoor activities -- game room, gym, movie theater, bowling alley, ice cream parlor -- or on-site outdoor options: the all-year ice skating rink; the year-round indoor/outdoor swimming pool; and summer's cigar and cognac bar. (Indoors, this is a no-smoking property.)

But the look of the second-floor restaurant, Steak and Stinger, is most illustrative of the Great Camp era. It is effectively a Great Hall. It rises three stories, right to the roof of the building. Its beams are logs, and some walls are sided with logs. Two massive, two-story, stone fireplaces flank the central dining area; the flames flicker on both sides of each fireplace, brightening the restaurant's side rooms, as well. Decor here and in other public areas includes traditional canoes, wooden skis, old snowshoes, moose heads and other hunters' trophies.

The suites feature rough-hewn wainscotting, hand-forged fixtures, overstuffed beds, Adirondack-style dining furniture and fireplaces. But then, this is the 21st century, which for this property dictates other comforts and conveniences: heated bathroom flooring, jetted bathtubs, high-speed Internet access and flat-screen TVs with integrated DVD players.

Suites also include washer/dryer units (although there is a laundry room on site) and full kitchens with stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops.

But guests don't have to cook, ever. In-room dining is available 24 hours a day, light fare is on offer in the lodge's lounge and there is, of course, Steak and Stinger, a fine-dining eatery.

Bottois said it took some time to settle on an appropriate restaurant for the upscale property, both to meet guest expectations and draw in townies. Two previous iterations didn't work, but after conversations with locals, Bottois arranged to resurrect a much-loved but defunct local restaurant called Steak and Stinger. Today, it offers foods made with local organic ingredients and fish and game indigenous to the area; an exhibition kitchen is visible in the dining room.

Other services include a 24-hour concierge; valet parking with underground heated garage; on-site ATM; the Canoe Club, a private beach club on Lake Placid for kayaking, sailing, waterskiing, picnics and more; and, now, for the real pampering: the Spa at the Whiteface Lodge, opened last August.

Bottois said the lodge "will market, in about 90 days, a wellness program as good as any in the country." He called the spa treatments all "very Adirondack": Maple butter is prominent in the mix.

About the market

The property, owned by Stamford, Conn.-based T-Rex Capital, is described as a luxury resort and private residence club. Its guests can own a piece of the real estate; all units have been sold once, Bottois said. Owners occupy their suites when vacationing or make them available to the hotel operator for rentals.

Units are sold on the basis of the Leading Hotels affiliation, which means "we have no choice but to keep to the Leading Hotels standards," Bottois said.

About 70% of Whiteface Lodge customers come from the New York tristate area, Bottois said, and the rest from Canada and beyond.

With a stronger Canadian dollar, he said, that business is up, and "we are busier than ever."

In addition, Europeans sometimes take a "town-and-country" approach, he said, flying first to Montreal to stay at a Leading Hotels property there, then making Adirondack Park the "country" part of the equation. The lodge and Lake Placid are inside the 6 million-acre park.

For transients, Bottois said, the average daily rate is about $500, the highest in the region, and travel agents are booking about 85% to 90% of the business. There are no groups here, no corporate business and "no weddings. They disturb the guests," he said.

When asked why visitors come to the area, and hence to the property, Bottois said, "I'll change that and ask, 'Why don't more people come here?' ... It has the lakes, mountains and forest all in one location."

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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