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Olympic dreams, realizedOlympic dreams, realized

Lake Placid, New YorkLake Placid, New York

Every four years, many of the world’s top athletes convene at the Winter Olympic Games. Tens of thousands of spectators cheer the competitors in person, while millions around the world are glued to their televisions. All Olympians are remarkable, but what sets the Winter Olympics apart is the death-defying nature of many of the events, such as downhill skiing, ski jumping, bobsled, or skeleton, where athletes send their bodies hurtling at breakneck speed, seemingly on the edge of complete mayhem—we can barely watch, yet we can’t look away. At Lake Placid, site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games, you can experience some of these events for yourself, while visiting one of America’s most beautiful and charming towns.

  • At the Lake Placid Olympic Jumping Complex, you'll stand right above the K-120 meter ramp that ski jumpers launch from before flying into space. Take in panoramic views of the Adirondacks and visit the ski jumper’s preparation room. Nearby, aerialists spring off steep kickers on the Lake Placid Freestyle hill in a flurry of twists, turns and tumbles. Photo by Dave Schmidt courtesy ORDA.
  • Lake Placid hosted the third modern Winter Olympics in 1932, but because of the Great Depression, only 17 countries participated. More than half of the 252 athletes who competed were from the U.S. and Canada. Lake Placid native Jack Shea won two gold medals in speed skating. His son and grandson also won gold medals at subsequent Games, making the Sheas the first three-generation gold medal family in Olympic history. Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie won her second gold at Lake Placid. Considered among the all-time greatest female figure skaters, she went on to acting and great wealth. Photo courtesy Lake Placid Olympic Museum.
  • Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark is considered the greatest slalom specialist ever. Stenmark grew up in the mountain resort of Tärnaby, 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, and was on skis by the age of five. At 10, he informed schoolteachers he wanted to be a ski racer, only to be told it was a foolish dream. Stenmark’s father coached him anyway. Perhaps the highpoint of his career was his double gold win at the Lake Placid Games in 1980. ‘The Silent Swede’ became one of only four men to win both slalom events at a single Games. By the time he retired in 1989 he had won a record 86 World Cup races, making him the most successful slalom skier of all time. Years later Stenmark said, “An Olympic gold medal is the finest reward you can win as an athlete.” Photo courtesy IOC.
  • 22-year-old U.S. skier Mikaela Shiffrin may one day overtake Ingemar Stenmark’s record. As she prepares for the 2018 Winter Olympics, she has won 41 individual World Cup races and is on track to win more races and championships than any skier ever. Lindsey Vonn owns a women’s record 78 World Cup wins compared to Stenmark’s 86, but at age 22, Shiffrin already has 37 more World Cup wins than Vonn and 13 more than Stenmark did when they were that age. Photo courtesy IOC.
  • The Olympic Sports Complex is also home to Mt. Van Hoevenberg Cross Country & Biathlon Center. Head to the rifle range and sharpen your aim with the Discover Biathlon program, or click into a pair of cross-country skis and glide through the serene Adirondack woods at your own pace. The world-class Nordic ski trails here were opened for the 1980 Olympic Games. Photo by Dave Schmidt courtesy ORDA.
  • Find out what it feels like to ride a real Olympic bobsled. Led by a professional driver and brakeman, you'll begin at the half-mile point on the track and wind through Olympic turns known by sliders around the world. Feel the rumble of the sled thundering down the track, speed through one turn, bank high on the next one, and pick up more speed on the straightaway. Let's just say you'll go faster than you're allowed to drive a car through town! Photo by Dave Schmidt courtesy ORDA.
  • At the combined bobsled, skeleton, and luge track you can marvel at the silent speed of a luge athlete racing by at over 90 miles per hour. Photo courtesy ORDA.
  • In summer, you can see how freestyle aerialists hone their amazing skills by jumping into a 750,000-gallon pool. Athletes launch themselves up to 40 feet in the air before flipping three times and twisting up to five times. You'll learn how they fit all those spins and flips into a few seconds of untethered hang time—and how, after all that, they stick the landing and do it again. Photo by Wet n Wild courtesy ORDA.
  • Skate two of Lake Placid’s four rinks, one indoors, one out, both with direct links to Olympic glory. Bring your own skates or rent. Take a spin on the Olympic Speed skating oval, one of the few outdoor rinks of its kind left in the country, where Eric Heiden won five gold medals in 1980. Or just sit by the bonfire, sip a cup of hot chocolate, and watch the skaters twirl by. Photo courtesy ORDA.
  • When Mirror Lake freezes over, mushers set up shop along Main Street. Visitors can walk down and pay the driver directly to go dog sledding on the lake. The drivers always check the thickness of the ice on the lake to ensure the safety of their dogs as well as their passengers. Photo by Dave Schmidt courtesy Lake Placid Convention & Visitors Bureau.
  • Whiteface Mountain offers the greatest vertical drop of any ski area in the East, the longest runs, impeccably-groomed cruising trails, expert glade terrain, 98% snowmaking coverage, and a 5-star ski and snowboard school. Photo courtesy ORDA.
  • At Whiteface, public and private lessons are available for kids, teens, adults, seniors, competitive athletes, and the disabled. Photo courtesy ORDA.
  • Long after the Olympics, Lake Placid remains one of the most popular travel destinations in New York. Aside from the Olympic venues and ski mountains, the charming town and luxurious inns, like the Mirror Lake Inn, make Lake Placid the perfect winter escape. Photo courtesy Mirror Lake Inn.
  • In summer, the Mirror Lake Inn takes on a completely different appearance. Summer activities at Lake Placid and surrounding areas include hiking, gondola rides, 4x4 driving, disc golf, mountain biking, and yoga on the mountain, as well as the bobsled, skeleton, and ski jump experiences. Photo courtesy Mirror Lake Inn.
  • The Mirror Lake Inn is home to three restaurants that come with scenic lake views. Of all Lake Placid restaurants, only The View Restaurant offers a AAA Four-Diamond “Exceptional” dining experience. Both The Taste Bistro & Bar and The Cottage Restaurant are local hot-spots with warm friendly atmospheres and delightful pub treats. The Cottage Restaurant is rated one of the top Après Ski spots in North America by the readers of Ski Magazine. Photo courtesy Mirror Lake Inn.

Lake Placid is in the Adirondack Mountains of northeastern New York. If winds and traffic allow, land on Runway 14, as you’ll have to come in very close to the hills to land on Runway 32. Adirondack Car Rental (518.302.5097) is across the street from Adirondack Flying Service and can leave your vehicle at the fixed-base operation. The Olympic arenas from the 1932 and 1980 Games are on the south end of Main Street, 1.5 miles north of the airport, and the Olympic ski jump and training complex is just south of the airport. The Whiteface Mountain ski areas are eight miles northeast of town, while the Olympic Sports Complex is seven miles southeast of town.

Established in 1982, the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) was created by the State of New York to manage the facilities used during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid. An Olympic Sites Passport, available online and at the all Lake Placid Olympic site ticket offices, gives you free admission to many of the sites below and 20 percent off many of the experiences available.

You’ve watched in awe as Olympic skeleton racers rocket down the chute headfirst, their chins only inches above the ice. Now, do it yourself. Really. Photo by Dave Schmidt courtesy ORDA.

The Olympic Sports Complex, at the base of Mount Van Hoevenberg, is where you’ll find 50 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails, the combined bobsled, luge, and skeleton track, and the biathlon courses. Yes, you can head to the rifle range with the Discover Biathlon program, or actually try the bobsled or skeleton yourself. For the bobsled, you’ll fly down the track with a professional driver and brakeman. In skeleton, you rocket headfirst down the track with your chin only three inches above the ice. That’ll get your heart pumping! You’ll get a photo of yourself, lapel pin, and team T-shirt too. Or, watch a race: Luge competitors go down feet first, lying on their backs, right past you at 90 mph.

For more thrills, visit the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex. Take the elevator to the top of the K-120 meter (394 feet) tower for the same terrifying view Olympic ski jumpers see. Young Olympic hopefuls still train here, year-round. In winter, nearby, you can watch freestyle skiers do aerial acrobatics on the Lake Placid Freestyle Hill. In summer, they practice by jumping into a 750,000 gallon pool during the Summer Jumping Series.

Freestyling it at Whiteface Mountain. Photo courtesy ORDA.

You can ice skate indoors on the 1932 Jack Shea rink where Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie became a legend or, in winter, outside on the Olympic Speed Skating Oval where Eric Heiden earned five gold medals. Hockey and figure skating events take place year-round at the Lake Placid Olympic Center, site of the “Miracle on Ice.” At the Lake Placid Olympic Museum you can browse through displays of uniforms and equipment, watch videos, and find a wealth of historical information. The village of Lake Placid stretches along Main Street, which winds past the western shore of Mirror Lake. When the lake freezes over, mushers set up shop along Main Street and will take you dog sledding on the lake.

At Whiteface Mountain, downhill skiers and snowboarders from beginner to expert enjoy greatest vertical drop east of the Rockies and some of the longest runs in North America. Private and public lessons are available for kids, adults, seniors, athletes, and the disabled. You can even go wine tasting at the Swedish Hill or Goose Watch wineries.

Accommodations run the gamut from the luxurious AAA 4-Diamond-rated Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa and its fine-dining restaurants to the cozy, Victorian, Interlaken Inn and restaurant, to the family-friendly Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort and adjacent Generations Tap and Grill. Other popular dining choices are The Great Adirondack Steak and Seafood Company, Nicola’s on Main (actually two restaurants, Italian and Thai), and Jimmy’s 21. So get in the Olympic spirit and head to Lake Placid for an unforgettable getaway!

When the Olympic Games returned to Lake Placid in 1980, the Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan. Tensions were high and yet tiny Lake Placid was nearly overwhelmed by the enormous number of visitors. Poor snowfall forced officials to use artificial snow for the first time. Yet the Games remain unforgettable due to American speedskater Eric Heiden, who became the first person ever to win five individual gold medals at a single Olympic Games, and the legendary “Miracle on Ice,” when a ragtag U.S. hockey team crushed the elite Soviet skaters. Photo courtesy ORDA.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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