LAKE PLACID - The people of the Tri-Lakes were digging out from under more than 3 feet of snow Wednesday morning, March 15 as a major winter storm forced Essex and Franklin counties to declare states of emergency, schools to close and officials to mandate drivers to stay off the roads.
The Lake Placid Police Department said on social media at 9 a.m. Wednesday that Essex County roads were open for limited travel, per county officials.
The storm pummeled the region with more snow than expected. Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington reported 40-plus inches of snow Wednesday morning, and in Lake Placid, the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism reported 41 inches. Saranac Lakers reported snow anywhere from 32 to 38 inches deep, and Tupper Lakers reported more than 2 feet of snow.
Brian Delaney shovels the driveway of High Peaks Cyclery, which he owns, on Main Street, Lake Placid Tuesday afternoon, March 14.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)
As of press time, it was still coming down. Wednesday's local forecast included 3 to 5 more inches of snow, plus another 1 to 3 Wednesday night - which suggests totals could reach 4 feet.
It was even too much for Whiteface. The state-run ski center said eager skiers and snowboarders should expect delays and described conditions as windy at the top of the mountain. Its crews couldn't reach the summit due to "too much snow," Whiteface wrote on social media.
"Right now we do have a hold on some of our lifts just because of wind and getting to them," state Olympic Regional Development Authority Director of Communications Jon Lundin said. "But we are in operation today with 40-plus inches of snow. Forty four trails are open. The average base depth is 48 inches, and it pushed our snow total to date to 251 natural inches. And trail conditions are powder and more powder."
Still, Lundin said the snowfall is perfect for March.
"I was raised in Lake Placid, then ran away and came back, and this kind of snowstorm reminds me of times when I was a kid," Lundin said. "I don't think we've seen a snowstorm like this in March in several years. In my eight years at ORDA, we haven't had this kind of snow - and most of all, this kind of snow at a time when we needed it. To keep skiing going after the inclement weather of last week, it comes at a good time for ski resorts.
"There are opportunities when you get too much snow, and it bogs down the operation where we have to work through it to get to the stations and the equipment to open the ski resort," Lundin added. "But once it's open, if you are a skier or rider, you want to be on the trails. This is what a powder day is all about."
Mount Pisgah Ski Center in Saranac Lake, which was closed since a late February warm-up, planned to reopen Wednesday from noon to 8 p.m.
Over on Sentinel Road, Lake Placid, Alex Hudson cross-country skied on the street where numerous vehicles became stuck in the snow during the height of the storm early Tuesday evening. He was heading to work at The Cottage Cafe.
About 100 yards away, Lake Placid newbie Mike Martineau dug his car out from the snow. He said he'd been at it for 25 minutes and estimated it would take him another hour to get all of the snow cleared. He added that it wasn't the first time he removed snow from his car, as 7 inches of fresh snow had cocooned his vehicle since 7 p.m. Tuesday night.
Though he moved here just two weeks ago from New Jersey, Martineau said he intended to enjoy snowboarding today at Whiteface.
"I love the snow, so I'm OK with all of this," Martineau said. "I'm fine with shoveling, but this must be some kind of record. Whiteface got 40 inches, so we must be pretty close in town here. But this is Lake Placid. This is the Adirondacks.
"My company has the 6-inch rule; if it snows 6 inches overnight, we get to ski in the morning," he added with a smile. "I'm digging out to try to get to the mountain as quick as possible and reap the benefits."
Over in Tupper Lake Wednesday morning, the roads were mostly occupied by pickup trucks and plows. Bobby Helms was one of the few people out. He said even though he's spent summers in Alaska, he was still impressed by this snowfall.
Another Tupper Lake local, Bob Paige, shoveled out his driveway for the fifth time since the storm hit, playing the music of Ozzy Osbourne as he cleared his truck.
"I've got the day off from work at Jreck subs in town," Paige said. "And we already got our tickets to Titus (ski center in Malone) tomorrow."
Lake Placid Central schools, St. Agnes School and Keene Central School sent students home early on Tuesday and closed completely on Wednesday.
"Today's weather is a little unusual in that the morning is proving to be fairly typical for this time of year -- and manageable for our buses -- but it is the front end of a storm that forecasters are predicting will become heavy this afternoon and evening, which has us concerned," LPCSD Superintendent Roger Catania wrote Tuesday morning in an email to the News. "So we are closing school early to be sure our students arrive home safely before the more severe part of the storm arrives. I'm sorry for any inconvenience this may cause any of our families, but we think it's important that school remain open when it is safe to do so, even if that is only for a partial day."
AuSable Valley Central schools were closed both days.
All campuses of North Country Community College were closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Paul Smith's College is on mid-semester recess this week.
During the height of the storm, the streets of the Tri-Lakes villages were quiet for a Tuesday evening, except for snowplows. Local and state police reported no major car crashes or collisions. Many businesses, banks, post offices and libraries closed early. Many events were canceled.
"When the governor issues a state of emergency with no unnecessary travel, we take it seriously!" read a post on the Goff-Nelson Memorial Library's Facebook page. The library closed at noon Tuesday and was closed all day Wednesday.
On Lake Placid's Main Street Tuesday afternoon, village police traffic control officer Marty Perkins described a "very quiet" downtown that was empty aside from a few tourists taking in the aesthetic of the snowfall. Perkins said he spent most of the day helping delivery trucks and stuck cars to traverse hills.
"The trucks have been struggling all day," Perkins said. "They probably won't even be here tomorrow. The delivery trucks that came, they should have known better."
As Perkins walked by the Mirror Lake Beach late in Tuesday afternoon, a family of tourists from Tampa watched their daughter sled down a hill. Jonathan Gorab said it was the first time his young daughter Frankie had ever seen snow and Perkins told Gorab it was "the finest" snow he'd seen in years.
"I'm going home and putting my boards on and am going to go ski on the streets," Perkins said. "I'm going to go hit all the side streets. I live on Wesvalley Road. I'm going to ski over the hill and come down some of the streets - there won't be anyone out tonight."
Most businesses in the village let employees leave early, as did the village and town offices, which sent staffers home at around 3 p.m., if not earlier.
The village of Lake Placid announced on social media Wednesday morning that the North Elba Town Hall would be closed all day to facilitate snow cleanup.
"Essential travel only today please," the village wrote, "as crews are working around the clock to get and keep roadways open."
The Adirondack Health-Lake Placid emergency room remained open throughout Tuesday night, according to emergency room staff. The Lake Placid emergency room is normally open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
The regularly scheduled North Elba Town Council meeting slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday was canceled; a make-up time and date were yet to be announced by press time.
Essex County's state of emergency, signed by Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Preston, took effect at noon Tuesday. It allowed all county departments and agencies to take whatever steps necessary to "protect life, property and public infrastructure, or to provide emergency assistance."
Franklin County Manager Donna Kissane also declared a countywide state of emergency around 3 p.m. Tuesday. She asked people to limit all non-essential travel "to allow emergency vehicles easy access and highway departments the ability to keep roads clear."
"The most important thing is public safety," said county Board of Legislators Chairwoman Barbara Rice of Saranac Lake. "We're trying to clear the roads of traffic so our crews can get out there and plow the roads. The less people driving around, the better."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a tractor-trailer ban on the Adirondack Northway, Interstate 87, between Albany and the Canadian border on Tuesday, and a full travel ban on I-84 from the Pennsylvania border to the Connecticut border. Both went into effect at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Cuomo declared a statewide state of emergency Monday evening, starting at midnight, and directed non-essential state employees to stay home from work Tuesday - except in the state's six northern-most counties: Franklin, Essex, Clinton, St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson.
Across the country, nearly 6,000 flights scheduled for Tuesday were canceled. That included Cape Air's three daily flights out of the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear.
"Since we didn't have any flights we just closed down so we could focus on plowing and keeping up with it," said airport Manager Corey Hurwitch. "Right now we've got two guys out there just going back and forth on the runways, taxiways and apron so when it does slow down we can reopen quickly."
46er hikes on, pursuing record
Despite the storm, Long Island endurance athlete Stefanie Bishop continued her pursuit of becoming the first woman to through-hike the Adirondack 46 High Peaks in the winter. She hiked Giant Mountain and Rocky Peak Ridge Tuesday morning before ending her day around 3:50 p.m., just as the heaviest of the snowfall began.
Brittany Friedrich of Keeseville, who hiked Nye and Street mountains with Bishop on Saturday, posted on Facebook this morning that Bishop will have 50-plus inches of snow to break trail through on 26 remaining peaks. Friedrich said Bishop intends to hike Big Slide at some point today and plans to hike the Great Range - Haystack, Basin, Saddleback, Sawteeth, Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolf Jaw, Lower Wolf Jaw - Dial, Nippletop, Colvin, Blake, and the Dix Range before her finish on Whiteface and Esther.
"At this point, we are trying to push Stef through to get her finished so we are trying to round up some troops," Bishop wrote. "If anyone is interested in being a part of her journey and helping out by either breaking trail on any of her remaining peaks ahead of us or meeting up on trail with Stef, let us know!"
State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman David Winchell said Wednesday morning the DEC was drafting advisories regarding avalanche risk and difficult backcountry conditions due to the excessive snowfall. Winchell said that as of 10 a.m., DEC was not actively discouraging people from recreating in the backcountry.
"The two biggest concerns with all this deep snow will be breaking trail - it will take more energy and time to travel throughout - and making people aware of avalanche risk on the slides and other avalanche prone terrain," Winchell said.
(News Editor Andy Flynn contributed to this story.)