The XXIII Olympic Winter Games are taking place in 2018 from February 9 through the 25th at Pyeonghang, South Korea. Wouldn’t going in person to see some of the world’s best athletes compete in bobsleighing, figure skating, ice hockey, ski jumping and a number of other winter sports during the Olympic Games be an amazing experience?! Attending the Olympics someday is definitely on my bucket list!
Unfortunately, a trip to Asia for the Pyeonghang Olympic Games is impractical for most of us; but there are a number of great destinations within the United States and Canada that provide a unique opportunity to put visitors in the Olympic spirit without breaking a family budget to vacation there. North America has hosted the Winter Olympics six times and the communities where the games were held still commemorate those special moments in time with activities, exhibits and other special opportunities. Get in the Olympic spirit with a trip to Calgary, Lake Placid, Salt Lake City, Squaw Valley or Vancouver. These destinations make for a great winter getaway!
Lake Placid, New York
This charming village located within the Adirondack Mountains holds a special place in Olympic history having hosted the Winter Games twice (1932 & 1980). It is also the site of the “Miracle on Ice” which may be one of the best hockey matches to ever be played in the history of the sport that pitted the United States versus Russia in the midst of the Cold War. Many of the Olympic venues from the 1980 games are actually still used for national and international sporting competitions. Plus, when not used for competitions, these facilities are open to the public providing activities that let people have their own Winter Olympic experience:
- Bobsleigh – Soar through an Olympic bobsleigh track at 55 mph along with a professional driver and brakeman to help guide your way. Now that is a thrill ride!
- Ice Skate – Lace up some skates and glide around the outdoor speed skating oval that was used for both of the Olympics held at Lake Placid and where Eric Heiden won an impressive five gold medals for the United States in 1980. There are also open skate times within the indoor Lake Placid Olympic Center rink which is where the US men’s hockey team took on the Soviet Union in the iconic Miracle on Ice match.
- Skiing – Challenge yourself on the same downhill and cross-country skiing trails used in past Olympic competitions.
- Biathlon – Try out this event for yourself that combines speedy cross-country skiing skills with rifle marksmanship. Engage in a biathlon experience that includes a freestyle ski lesson and professional shooting instruction on the Olympic Biathlon Range.
- Skeleton — 30 miles per hour may not seem that fast until you are laying on your stomach rocketing down an icy chute. Wow! This is one intense experience that is terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
- Lake Placid Olympic Museum – Check out some wonderful exhibits of memorabilia from the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games. Learn about Sonja Henie who won a gold medal in 1932 becoming one of figure skating’s first superstars, watch original footage of the Miracle on Ice game in a display that includes equipment used by the 1980 US hockey team, and view a collection of sleds used in bobsleigh, skeleton, and luge competitions while exploring this museum.
If heading to Lake Placid, look into purchasing an Olympic Sites Passport. For a price that is less than if you purchased admission to venues individually at each location, pass holders receive the following:
- A scenic ride on the Cloudsplitter Gondola to the top of Whiteface Mountain;
- Entry to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum;
- Skating on the outdoor Olympic Speed Skating Oval;
- Tour of the Olympic Sports bobsled/luge/skeleton tracks;
- Tour the Olympic Jumping Complex including an elevator ride to the skydeck on top of the 120-meter-tall ski jump tower;
- 20% off price of bobsleigh, luge or skeleton rides;
- 20% off cross-country skiing package
There are a variety of special events, festivals and sports competitions that take place throughout the winter months so head over to lakeplacid.com to see what may be going on when you are considering a visit.
The most recent Winter Olympics to be held in North America were the 2010 games that were hosted in Canada by the city of Vancouver and several other British Columbia communities. Vancouver hosted the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the majority of indoor events including figure skating and ice hockey. You can visit many of these venues still that have been repurposed for other uses.
BC Place Stadium, the site of the 2010 Winter Olympic Opening & Closing Ceremonies is home to Canadian Football League’s BC Lions and Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club. It is also home to the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame which includes a Vancouver 2010 gallery. This exhibit includes memorabilia from athletes who competed in the 2010 Olympics, a set of the medals awarded at the games, and one of the medal ceremony podiums that were used which you can stand on for a photo-op.
Visitors to Vancouver can also stop by Pacific Coliseum which hosted figure skating and short track speed skating events during the Olympics. The rink is now used by the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants. My favorite part of these Olympics was the competition between the US and Canada in hockey who battled for the gold medal in an overtime game. You can find the rink where that incredible game was played on the campus of the University of British Columbia where the school’s men’s and women’s ice hockey teams play.
The Vancouver suburb of Richmond is also home to an amazing adventure center that is the first member of the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Museums Network to be located in North America. The highlight of a visit to the Richmond Olympic Experience (ROX) are its state-of-the-art sport simulators of a bobsleigh, ski jump, para-Olympic sit ski, kayak and race car that provide incredible representations of having the experience of actually competing in these activities. The ROX also has interactive challenges where people can test their soccer or hockey skills, challenge a friend to see who has the best reaction time or can leap the highest and provides the opportunity to put yourself in the role of a television broadcaster covering an Olympic event. ROX also has on display a variety of uniforms, equipment, gear, signage, and other memorabilia from the Vancouver Winter Games as well as a collection of torches and medals from throughout the history of the Olympics.
Whistler, British Columbia
While Vancouver received most of the attention for hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, the winter resort community of Whistler which is about a two-hour drive away was the spot where most of the outdoor events took place including the bobsleigh, skiing and snow boarding competitions. You can still feel the excitement of the Winter Games during a visit to Whistler by exploring the Olympic Park and Sliding Centre as well as monuments like the Olympic Rings. Get some great photographs of Olympic landmarks, take interesting tours, and participate in activities that provide Olympic sport experiences during a trip to Whistler by visiting these spots:
Sliding Centre – experience the thrill of sliding down the sled competition tracks that the Olympians did in 2010. Jump on a skeleton or bobsleigh and feel the rush of adrenaline! If you happen to visit in the summer they put wheels on the bobsleighs to replicate the winter time activity. Not up to taking a sled ride? You can still learn about sliding sports by taking a tour of the facility.
Olympic Park — experience 130 kilometers of picturesque Nordic ski and snowshoe trails plus biathlon facilities and ski jumping. Take a biathlon lesson that provides tutelage on rifle marksmanship at the Whistler Olympic Park biathlon range and instruction on skate ski techniques. Fat biking, tobogganing and baseboarding as well as backcountry skiing are also activities available here as well.
Dave Murray Downhill — situated on Whistler Mountain this is where the men’s downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super combined and superG races of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games occurred. Dropping down more than one vertical kilometer as a skier progresses through its length of 3.1 kilometers, it is the second longest downhill course in the world, and it is open for the public to ski. The course was named after one of Canada’s most popular ski personalities.
Olympic Legacy Display – located in the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain this exhibit highlights the achievements of local athletes who participated in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Take a photo holding a replica of a medal on one of the award ceremony podiums used for a Whistler event or standing by an Inukshuk when stopping by. Take in some wonderful views of the whole layout of where the games took place from the observation deck.
Whistler Museum – enjoy a fun hands-on exhibit that lets people hold an Olympic torch, try on an Olympic ski bib and wear a volunteer “smurf” uniform. Also on display are the uniforms and gear of 13 Olympic and Para-Olympic athletes from the 2010 games including the snowboard cross uniform from Olympic gold medalist Maëlle Ricker and racing helmet of Paralympic gold medalist Lindsay Debou.
Squaw Valley Ski Resort in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe was home to the VIII Winter Olympic Games. It featured Opening and Closing Ceremonies personally organized by Walt Disney and was the first-time Olympic games were broadcast on television within the United States. Olympic officials asking CBS to review the video of a ski event to see if a participant had missed a gate while navigating a race course is considered the first use of “instant replay” in a sporting event. While the event was full of memorable moments, unfortunately the facilities and landmarks from the 1960 Olympic Games were not preserved.
Squaw Valley has since merged with neighboring Alpine Meadows to become one of the largest ski resorts in the country providing lots of winter recreational opportunities. These include taking an aerial tram ride up 2,000 feet to the resort’s High Camp which includes a pool, restaurant, observation deck and a museum dedicated to the 1960 Winter Olympics. The museum looks back at the Olympic Games held at Squaw Valley as well as highlights Olympians who have competed in other years that have trained at Squaw Alpine for their events.
The United States also hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002. Salt Lake City was the hub of the event hosting the opening and closing ceremonies along with many of the indoor events including figure skating and ice hockey but neighboring communities also hosted a number of events. The state of Utah constructed three facilities specifically for these Olympic games that are still maintained for training athletes and to promote tourism:
Utah Olympic Park is in Park City located 28 miles east of Salt Lake City. During the 2002 games this is where the bobsleigh, skeleton, luge, ski jumping events took place. For a fee you can go on a bobsleigh ride down the track used during the Olympics.
There are also two museums onsite that are free to visit:
- Alf Engen Ski Museum – the museum features a downhill ski simulator that even replicates the feeling of wind and snow into the experience as well as other exhibits meant to provide lessons about the science and skill involved with the sport of skiing. It also features trophies, medals, gear and uniforms from legendary skier Alf Engen as well as other notable Utah skiers.
- George Eccles Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum – athletic equipment used in the games, Olympic medals, puppets used during the opening and closing ceremonies, and a collection of officially licensed souvenirs produced for the games are among the items you can view here. There are also video clips of highlights from the games and an educational display describing how Olympic medals are made.
Soldier Hollow in Wasatch Mountain State Park is a cross-country ski resort located 53 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. The biathlon and cross-country skiing events were held here during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Now you can visit to enjoy the space cross-country skiing and snowshoeing yourself.
The Utah Olympic Oval is located in Kearns which is 14 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Ten Olympic and nine world records were set during the speed skating events that took place here during the 2002 Winter Games. Visitors can try out the oval for themselves during public skate times. You can also learn the sport of curling here with the same stones that were used in the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Canada also hosted the XV Winter Olympic Games in 1988 held in Calgary. Known for British ski jumper Eddie the Eagle and the debut of the Jamaican bobsledding team these games definitely left a mark on pop culture and have generated a few movies about the events that took place there. Now you can follow in their footsteps with a visit to the WinSport Canada Olympic Park that was the venue for ski jumping and bobsleigh competitions during the 1988 Winter Games.
The ski jumps at WinSport Canada Olympic Park are restricted to athletes training for world-class competition but visitors can take a ride in a bobsleigh on the same track the team from Jamaica slid down in 1988. An expert pilot will take you through 10 turns at 50+ miles per hour generating the force of up to 4 G’s against rider’s bodies. Who wants their own Cool Runnings experience? I’m up for it!
Visitors can also try out sliding down individually in the luge or skeleton formats. Luge is laying on your back on a sled going feet first down an icy track and skeleton flips things around having you go down on your belly face first. The public luge experience involves winding through 5 twists in 40 seconds! Skeleton rides have people race down a long straightaway of the Olympic luge courseand around the huge 270-degree Kreisel corner before winding through the lower labyrinth of the track to its finish. These are some really exhilarating experiences!
While at the WinSport Canada Olympic Park include snowboarding, skiing, and ice skating into your day’s agenda. There are also a variety of hockey activities available to engage in. For those looking for an enjoyable winter activity that doesn’t involve athletic ability or skill, the park also has a large area dedicated for snow tubing.
Located on the grounds of WinSport Olympic Park but operated independently is Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. The 40,000-square foot building is full of state-of-the-art, high-tech, interactive exhibits that help share the stories of Canada’s greatest athletes. The museum includes Canada’s largest display of items from Summer and Winter Olympic games. The collection includes an 1896 event program from the first ever modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece among numerous other historic artifacts.
If you are in the area also make an effort to visit the Olympic Oval at the University of Calgary where the 2018 Winter Games speed skating events took place. More world records have been set in this venue than any other place in the world earning Calgary’s Olympic Oval the title of “Fastest Ice in the World.” During public skate times anyone see how fast they can go on the 400 meter long ice track.
For those who enjoy casual ice skating swing over to downtown Calgary’s Olympic Plaza which was built as the site of the medal ceremonies for the Winter Games. The site holds the city’s only outdoor refrigerated ice rink which is free to use though you may need to rent skates if you don’t bring your own along with you. The Olympic Plaza also is home to the city’s renowned Famous Five sculpture that pays tribute to a group of Alberta women who fought a successful legal battle for female suffrage in Canada.
Cold Weather Fun!
Have yourself a fun vacation that provides some Olympic thrills by visiting one of the North American locations where the games took place. Whether it is just taking in the scenery or participating in one of the special Olympic-themed activities available a trip to one of these destinations is sure to provide a good time either for a family trip or a couple’s get away. Don’t fret cold weather rather enjoy it with a Winter Olympics inspired adventure to Calgary, Lake Placid, Salt Lake City, Squaw Valley, or Vancouver.