Whiteface Road Work Could Impact Climb to Castle

Peter MindeMay 16, 2014
The road well traveled...
The Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway, where NYSEF’s Climb to the Castle has been held for the past seven years in Wilmington, N.Y., as seen in 2011. The toll road is undergoing construction this summer and fall.

There’s a race each year scheduled in line with the end of the U.S. Ski Team’s fall camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. You might have heard of it: the Climb to the Castle. Hosted by the New York Ski Education Foundation (NYSEF), the freestyle rollerski race starts at the entrance to a paved toll road, the Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway, and stretches five miles up with an average 8-percent grade. The finish is marked by the castle at the top of New York’s fifth-highest peak at 4,867 feet above sea level.

Try to rollerski up there now, however, and you’ll likely run into some heavy machinery.

Construction has already begun on the eight-mile highway as part of a larger project to completely resurface the road over the next several months. The Adirondack Daily News reported Thursday that the upper, toll portion of the road — where the Climb to the Castle (C2C) takes place — will be closed weekdays during May, June and September, but open on weekends. It will be open on weekends and two holiday Mondays during these months: Memorial Day, May 26, and Labor Day, Sept. 1. Throughout July and August, the road is scheduled to be open during daytime hours, with work taking place at night.

Tim Burke (USBA), Kris Freeman (USST) and Noah Hoffman (USST) leading the men's race.
US Biathlon’s Tim Burke (l), and U.S. Ski Team members Kris Freeman (c) and Noah Hoffman (r) lead the 2011 Climb to the Castle race in Wilmington, N.Y.

According to Chris Grover, the U.S. Ski Team will hold its Lake Placid training camp from Aug. 25-Sept. 8. So while there’s a chance construction could impact it, there’s a better chance the toll road will be open on Saturday, Sept. 6, when NYSEF scheduled the race.

Margaret Maher, NYSEF’s head nordic coach and C2C organizer, wrote in an email to FasterSkier last week that they were “trying to figure out how the road work will influence the race. Hoping we can still have C2C!”

In all, the highway is expected to be closed 54 days from this week until the end of the season, and open 88 days over the same period, according to the Enterprise.

While the toll road has been patched periodically since it was opened in the 1930s, it has never been completely resurfaced. Whether rollerskiing, cycling, or running to the summit, it’s riven with frost heaves and cracked pavement. Regardless of what state the road is in this year, its sure to be a superior surface for rollerskiing next summer.

Rifenburg Construction, based out of Albany, N.Y., will resurface the entire eight-mile length of the road, from the four-way intersection in the center of Wilmington to the summit. They’ll also rehabilitate rock walls and make repairs to the castle.

The men's start.
The men’s start of the 2009 Climb to the Castle.

Rifenburg earned the project with a $11.2-million bid, and the company expects to complete the work by the end of 2015.

Project manager Russell Huta said that the goal is to have a base layer of new pavement from the tollgate to the castle by the end of this fall.  In 2015, the toll section will be finished, and all work on the section from Wilmington town center to the tollgate will be completed.

“Each project has its own set of unique challenges,” Huta told FasterSkier, when asked about the difficulty of working in the narrow confines of the toll road. When road work is in motion, the toll road will be closed to traffic.

In September, Huta said, his company will have “full access” to the toll road Monday through Friday – except for Labor Day. “By the end of the day Friday, there will be a paved surface for [use by] cars, buses, pedestrian traffic” until Monday morning.  “On Monday morning, it’s ours again.”

If for some reason, the C2C isn’t possible this year, Grover wrote in an email that it won’t be the end-all of camp.

“We typically run a sprint or team sprint time trial along with the Climb to the Castle,” he explained. “If the Climb is not ready this season, we will employ other alternatives.”

Before the C2C, a time trial was previously held up Gillespie Drive, now a warmup for athletes. The event is entering its eighth year. USST veteran Liz Stephen won the women’s race the last three years, setting a new course record last year in 42 minutes and 4 seconds. US Biathlon’s Tim Burke won the 2013 men’s race in 37:13.

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Peter Minde

Peter Minde is a FasterSkier contributor and personal trainer specializing in functional strength and corrective exercise. Whether skiing, trail running, or cycling, he’s always looking to see what’s at the top of the next hill. From the wilds of north N.J., he skis for Peru Nordic. On Twitter @PeteMinde or at www.oxygenfedsport.com.

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