LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - When Lise Luckie and her husband Len need to flee the hustle and bustle of their advertising business in Montreal, they make a beeline for the Mirror Lake Inn.
"It's so welcoming," said Luckie. "The people here are so nice. Every time we walk in, it's like they haven't seen us in five years." That's saying a lot, because the Luckies have stayed at the inn more than 90 times since the early 1980s.
Welcome to the Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa, where hospitality is personal -- but it's not just about the guests.
"I used to preach to everybody, 'Treat the guests like they're the most important person in the world,'" said Ed Weibrecht, who owns the inn with his wife Lisa. "Then I changed it. I said, 'No, treat the employees like they're the most important person in the world, and they'll take care of the guests.'"
That philosophy is evident to all. "It seems like everybody who works here feels like they died and went to heaven -- and it's genuine," Luckie said.
Many of the inn's 165 employees stay for years. Maintenance supervisor Aaron Karpp has been on the job 17 years. Cathie Cusick, marketing director, was hooked the first time she visited a decade ago and ended up moving here from Connecticut. Housekeeping manager Steve Wyle has also worked here 10 years; in his other life, he's a musician, and a CD of music he curated plays in each room.
The inn's reputation has resulted in many awards. Readers of Conde Nast Traveler rank it the No. 1 ski hotel in the East, and it's on the magazine's gold list for 2013. The inn has received AAA's Four Diamond Award of Excellence for 28 consecutive years; its View Restaurant was honored with its fifth consecutive AAA Four Diamond Award, and Wine Spectator Magazine has given its Award of Excellence to the inn for 13 straight years. The Weibrechts have even been honored for recycling.
Being meticulous helps. The Weibrechts are everywhere -- Ed patrolling the grounds and conducting meetings, Lisa often in the dining room pouring coffee and greeting guests. It almost feels like a bed and breakfast instead of a 131-room hotel: You walk in and see the owners.
"It's part of who the inn is," said Lisa Weibrecht. "I've known so many of the families that have been coming to the inn for 30-plus years, and it's kind of neat to watch their families grow and the new families start coming."
Many guests tell friends about the place, giving the inn a referral rate of 70 percent, stunningly high in the industry. "That really is what makes us," Cusick said. "We're so different."
The inn opened in the mid-1920s. As the story goes, when the telephone company brought Alexander Graham Bell's invention to the rugged Adirondack Mountains, the linemen needed a place to stay. They knocked on the door of Climena Alford Wikoff, who took them in and eventually created the Mir-a-Lac Inn with her husband William.
Renamed the Mirror Lake Inn in 1933, it quickly became known for fine food as well as hospitality. The Wikoffs grew their own vegetables, raised their own pigs, cured their own bacon, and got other produce from local farmers.
Ed Weibrecht was a mechanical engineer who moved to the area to ski at nearby Whiteface Mountain, where he's still a part-time ski instructor. He purchased the inn from the Wikoff family in 1976 and built on their emphasis on fresh, local food, inviting farms to truck produce in so executive chef Jarrad Lang can hand-pick what he wants.
"To me, it's just common sense," said Weibrecht, whose son, Andrew, won a bronze medal in downhill skiing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. "I traveled a lot, stayed in a lot of hotels and ate at a lot of restaurants, and I knew what I liked and what I didn't like."
A decade of hard work literally went up in smoke on Jan. 10, 1988 when fire destroyed the inn. Staff stayed up for 48 hours, sneaking inside without firefighters knowing in an effort to salvage what they could. A grandfather clock and grand piano, in the lobby today, were among the items saved. The Weibrechts sent guests on a shopping spree in town to replace lost possessions while Ed Weibrecht "wondered how we were going to serve breakfast." But they did.
In the long run, the fire proved a blessing, allowing the Weibrechts to rebuild with state-of-the-art luxuries like a beauty salon; spa with exercise room, sauna, and whirlpool; and a 60-foot indoor lap pool bounded on one end by a waterfall that looks like an Adirondack Mountain stream.
The Weibrechts also expanded the once-tiny bar off the lobby into a larger bistro, renovated two lakeside buildings to offer luxury suites, and in winter the inn is festooned with over 100,000 holiday lights.
The inn's lakeside Cottage Cafe is the most popular local après ski spot, with its wood-burning fireplace and panoramic view.
"A lot of people who come here just come to relax," said Lisa Weibrecht, a former national luge champion. "They don't come necessarily to go downhill skiing or skating or hiking. They come here to get away from whatever their lifestyle is."
Those who do want to ski, skate or hike need not go far. Once Mirror Lake freezes, the inn creates a skating rink for guests with music and lights. The inn also offers free snowshoes and trail recommendations. (It's canoes and kayaks in the summer).
Brian Stacey of Connecticut-based Tauck Tours, who worked at the inn when the fire struck, said the inn's "personal touch" -- even following up on comment cards — is key. "In this day and age, if you're not part of a consortium, your chances of success are more limited," Stacey said. "The way to fight against those guys is to bring something really unique and with great quality."
Even on days when Main Street, a block away, is jammed with people and cars, the inn is an island of serenity. Guests are reminded to refrain from using cellphones in common areas like the mahogany-trimmed lobby, where tea and cookies are served free to guests each afternoon.
On a recent day, Lee McAvoy of Rochester, N.Y., cuddled with a book in the inn's library before a roaring fireplace and explained why she and her husband have come back for their anniversary each year since spending their honeymoon here four years ago.
"Of any place we've ever been," said McAvoy, "this is the most peaceful and rejuvenating."
MIRROR LAKE INN 77 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, N.Y.; mirrorlakeinn.com, 518-523-2544. Room rates vary by season and accommodations, starting at $350-$450.