In Saranac Lake, home of outdoor adventure year round, Olympic dreams are alive and well. At the heart of the village's Olympic history is scenic, stunning, and fun-filled Dewey Mountain. Located just a minute or two from downtown, Dewey is a family favorite. It’s where many local kids get their start, where happy adventurers sneak off to for a quick lunchtime ski, and where Olympic dreams flourish. Despite Saranac Lake's small size, Dewey Mountain has been the training ground for no less than three Winter Olympians, with more on the way.
The mountain’s role as a ski destination started in the 1920s, when members of the Saranac Lake Ski Club held meets there. This included ski jumping, which was held on adjacent Blood Hill. There was also a cross-country ski trail, known as the Kiwassa Lake Trail which included Dewey. The trail was 3.5 miles long and was accessible by car at both ends.
Today, Dewey is known for great opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. In the 1940s, however, there was a rope tow for downhill skiing. Prior to that, anyone wishing to ski the two downhill trails had to hike or skin their way to the top.
It wasn’t until the late 1970s that Dewey’s fantastic cross-country system was developed. It turned out that the town of Harrietstown owned part of the mountain and a number of locals began to advocate for the space to be utilized as a cross-country ski center. The Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce and the town combined resources to start the trail system and hired Craig Ward to design it. Ward was a US Olympian who had recently competed in the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in nearby Lake Placid as captain of the Nordic team.
With government grants, local funding, and a ton of volunteer hours, the trails took shape, creating what quickly became a beloved local landmark where both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular activities.
One of the locals who has enjoyed the trails at Dewey Mountain, trained and raced there, and went on to compete on the world stage is Paul Smiths native Tim Burke. Burke grew up in a family of skiers and Dewey played a big role in his development and desire to ski; Burke began racing at Dewey when he was in kindergarten and essentially never stopped.
As a biathlete, Burke represented the United States in four Olympic Winter Games from 2006 to 2018, and in 2013 won a World Cup silver medal in the 20km event. After retirement, he stayed involved in the sport and is now the Director of Athlete Development for U.S. Biathlon, sharing his passion for the sport with the next generation of skiers.
Burke's friend and fellow skier Bill Demong also grew up skiing at Dewey. He got his start at the age of six, taught by his dad. Like Tim Burke, Bill, or Billy as many locals know him, went on to compete at the highest levels of the sport. Demong competed at five Olympic Winter Games, ultimately winning gold and silver medals at the 2010 games in Vancouver. For those unfamiliar with Nordic Combined, it pairs ski jumping with cross-country skiing. Bill started jumping just a few years after he started skiing and the rest is golden history. Demong even proposed to his wife after his gold medal ceremony!
Joining the U.S. team in 2014 at Sochi, along with Burke and Demong, was Annelies Cook, a biathlete. Cook is originally from Saranac Lake and she too grew up skiing at Dewey with her family. Skiing and outdoor adventures were a big part of her youth; in an interview with Adirondack Life in 2014, Cook shared that she believed that the local skiing kids "were all very lucky. It’s not always fun and games once you get to a certain level — you have to remember that the reason you ski is because it came from a fun place." After college in Utah, she returned to the Adirondacks to train and make her Olympic dreams a reality. Since her retirement, Cook has continued to visit Dewey, including to meet with young, up and coming skiers with their own Olympic dreams!
Today's up-and-coming skiers who have grown up on Dewey still make the mountain part of their training and love for the outdoors. Lake Clear's Jackie Garso and Lucy Hochschnarter from Lake Placid are two young biathletes who have trained at Dewey and are now breaking into upper levels of the sport. The women were teammates on the St. Lawrence University Nordic ski team, competed in NCAA championships, and were recently named to the team representing the United States at the International Biathlon Union Cups, as well as the IBU Open European Championships. Big, exciting things are ahead for them, possibly even making an Olympic team.
Dewey Mountain is a beautiful destination for cross-country skiers and snowshoers of all ages. There is a dedicated loop for snowshoeing that measures 4km in distance. For cross-country skiing, trails covering a range of difficulty make up a total of 13km of trail. The lower mountain is groomed for skate and classic, while the upper part of the mountain is ungroomed to offer a backcountry experience. It is owned and operated by the Town of Harrietstown, with enthusiastic support from the Dewey Mountain Friends group and Saranac Lake Rotary Foundation, all of whom are dedicated to continuing to make Dewey a fun, family-friendly place to ski and snowshoe.
The Dewey Mountain Recreation Center offers season and day passes, plus equipment rentals. You may not make an Olympic team someday, but you can still have a fantastic outdoor experience on gorgeous trails. And if you happen to be skiing and pretend you're at the Olympics, don't worry; we all do it.
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