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Ski Lines: Lake Placid anniversary provides trip down memory lane

Ski Lines: Lake Placid anniversary provides trip down memory lane

Plenty of celebrations took place on a busy weekend in Lake Placid
Ski Lines: Lake Placid anniversary provides trip down memory lane
97-year-old Harold McAfee on the slopes at West Mountain.
Photographer: Phil Johnson

It was a week of anniversaries.

Good weather and excellent snow conditions combined to make skiing throughout our area top-notch, and Lake Placid basked in the spotlight of the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Winter Olympics and the U.S. hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet Union.

There was another anniversary last week that received less attention, but one that Queensbury’s Harold McAfee remembers well. It was 75 years ago this month when the now-celebrated 10th Mountain Division stormed Mt. Belvedere in Italy’s Northern Apennines and laid the groundwork for the allied armies to continue north as part of the final push that ended World War II in Europe. 

The 10th Mountain Division were America’s ski troops and McAfee, an infantry rifle squad leader, took part in the nighttime assault that is an enduring memory of the wartime effort. He is one of approximately 200 survivors of the 15,000 U.S. troops who took part in that campaign. Now 97 years old, McAfee lives just 4 miles from West Mountain, where he still has a season pass. You can say hi to him on the hill most sunny, weekday mornings. He is a little fussy about weather these days, but he hopes to log in at least 25 days on skis this season. 

With March almost at hand, the ski season will soon start its long, slow descent into spring. For some, especially people who live in the metro New York City area, outdoor attention is beginning to turn elsewhere. That’s too bad, because early-season snowmaking this winter built up a sold base at hills in our area and typically some of the best skiing of the winter comes between now and Easter, which this year is April 12. 

No matter what happens in the coming weeks, it has already been a great time In Lake Placid, a trip down memory lane for many in our area.
Before the anniversary celebration began, there was some spirit dampening, especially in a regional magazine where an article about the legacy of the Winter Olympics suggested that organizational mishaps associated with the Games were as significant as the competitions themselves.

But soon that narrative turned upright when the shortcomings of 40 years ago were overwhelmed by stories about the Games, especially the hockey upset. The Winter Olympics were a smaller event then, and many of those assigned to cover Lake Placid were reporters early in their careers. They were mostly young, like the athletes they covered. Today, they are some of the biggest names in sports journalism, and they still have vivid memories of the games which Lake Placid the past two weeks gave them a chance to recall in print and online. The stories about the “Miracle” were everywhere, even on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. 

Lake Placid basked in the glow. The snafu with the buses and other administrative mishaps hardly rated a mention. 
The actual anniversary celebration was relatively low key, especially compared to 15 years ago when the full U.S. hockey team came back to Lake Placid, and alpine ski stars Phil and Steve Mahre spent a day a Whiteface.

The hockey team celebrated the anniversary again this year, but this time it took place in Las Vegas. The Mahres were busy with ski clinics in the Rockies, and five-time gold medalist in all five speed skating events Eric Heiden did not repeat the visit he made to Lake Placid two winters ago. Most of the athletes who participated in 1980 are now in at least their 60s. It seems they have their own lives to live. 

While the star power was absent, there were some notable activities during the two-week celebration. The opening-night reception at the Olympic Museum in the arena was a first-rate event showcasing Lake Placid’s Olympic heritage and the competitions that have long made the village a popular visitor attraction. There need not be an anniversary to visit this place, which is open daily all year from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

There were events every day over the 11 days of the celebration. Other highlights included a roundtable discussion of The Athlete’s Perspective of the Winter Olympics, featuring Buzz Schneider from the 1980 hockey team, and the Sk8 to Elimin8 Cancer fundraiser on the Olympic Oval organized by Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton and featuring seven members of the 1980 U.S. Figure Skating Team.

While most of the celebrated members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team were not there, a number of more recent Olympians were, including luge medal winners Gordy Sheer, Erin Hamlin and Mark Grimette; biathletes Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey; alpine ski racers Andrew Weibrecht, Thomas Vonn and Tommy Biesemeyer; and figure skater Paul Wylie, all of whom live in the Lake Placid area now. 

Overall, it was a fun celebration with Lake Placid adding another chapter to the recurring attention it has received over the past 40 years. Add to all that a great ski week and the Presidents’ Day holiday, this year will be tough to beat in 10 years at the 50th anniversary. 


Congratulations to Section II seniors Hunter Montgomery from Queensbury and Hannah Klingebiel from Schuylerville, who won individual state titles in the slalom and were named overall state Alpine champions.

Mayfield’s Madison Relyea, a junior, finished second in the girl’s 7.5K individual race, and with teammates Fianna Halloran and Tatjana Bjelica, finished second in the 3x3k relay. Queensbury’s 3x3k relay team of Lucas Jenkin, Nick Logan and Teddy Borgos won the boys’ championship. Montgomery and Shen’s Micaela Leonard had third-place finishes in the giant slalom event.  


Along with the Olympic anniversary, two current U.S. national team athletes were in Lake Placid last week rehabbing from injuries suffered earlier this season while competing in Europe.

Alpine skier Tommy Biesemeyer broke his wrist and injured a knee in downhill training two months ago and was back on skis last week at Whiteface for the first time since December. He expects to be back training this spring and ready to go when the World Cup season starts again next winter.

Luge racer Emily Sweeney is recovering from a lingering neck injury dating back to a crash at the 2018 Winter Olympics. She was competing early this winter and won a silver medal at the World Cup event in December at the Mt. Vanhoevenberg track. Both athletes are pointing to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.


Margo Plattner, who with her late husband Karl ran the ski school at Hunter Mountain for more than 30 years, has died. The ski school became known for its celebrity clients, and with Karl out front and Margo organizing behind the scenes, played a major role in building Hunter’s prominence in the region. The Plattners lived on the mountain at Hunter for 50 years. Margo was 86. 
Reach Phil Johnson at [email protected]

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