Wednesday, June 30, 2010

To The Top: Biking The Whiteface Memorial Highway

File this one under, “What took so long?”

The Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates Whiteface Mountain, will let bicyclists ride the Whiteface Memorial Highway, a 5-mile auto road, to the summit for a $5 fee during its summer operations.

Extreme cyclists have always plied their leg strength against Whiteface’s 3,500-foot climb from Wilmington (2,300 feet from the toll booth). But bicycles have never been allowed on the road when the toll booth was open during the summer — they had to sneak in before or after hours.

Why? Turns out the culprit was an old DEC memo that prohibited non-motorized transportation on the road, said ORDA spokesman Jon Lundin. “We just kind of abided by that,” he said. “There hasn’t been a demand until recently.”

These days, more and more people are taking bikes to the Adirondacks, as witnessed by Whiteface’s mountain-bike activities at the ski center, a nearby mountain biking area called the Flume Trail system and the debate about turning railroad tracks into rail-trails happening a few miles away.

Finally, someone at ORDA thought to ask the DEC to rethink the memo. Turns out, now it’s OK.

So, if you want to ride during the day — and get to visit the summit house — it’s $5 per cycle. Helmets are required (but you’d be a fool to go screaming down that hill without one anyway). Whiteface is the state’s fifth-highest peak at 4,867 feet.

Cheapskates who just want to ride to the top can still ride around the gate before or after hours for free.

For those who like thrill, challenge and lactic burn of hill-climbing, Whiteface is only one of a handful of mountains in the Northeast that allow cycling to the top. Mt. Washington in New Hampshire (6,288) and Mt. Mansfield (4,393) and Mt. Equinox (3,850) in Vermont do not let cyclists on their roads, except during a yearly race held on those peaks.

In Massachusetts, cyclists are allowed to ride up the road to Mt. Greylock, the state’s highest peak, but the elevation is not nearly as high as these more significant peaks. Further to the northeast, Ascutney, Okemo and Burke mountains in Vermont all allow bikes to the top (but with pitches significantly steeper than Whiteface’s 8-percent grade).

Photo courtesy of ORDA.

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