Gold Medal Getaways
Celebrate the games, travel like an Olympian this year
By Carrie Dunlea
Celebrate the annual Winter Olympics this year by taking a trip to any one of three former host cities in the United States. No athleticism is required unless you want to strap on a pair of skis, skates or snowshoes. There are plenty of museums and opportunities for those of you who don’t want to tap into your inner Olympian.
Starting in 1924 in Chamonix, France, the Winter Olympics have been a tradition over the years, typically held just months apart in the same year as the Summer Games. In 1994, the countries changed the timing, separating the Winter and Summer Games two years apart.
Our travel adventure begins in Squaw Valley, California, the site of the 1960 Olympics. At the time, the games were considered the largest in history, with 34 nations competing in 15 alpine and ski jumping events, 8 speed skiing contests, 3 figure skating competitions and 28 hockey matches. Making its Olympic debut was women’s speed skiing and the men’s biathlon, a combination of Nordic skiing and rifle marksmanship. Some say the Winter Olympics spurred a growth in winters sports, specifically Alpine skiing. Squaw Valley was also where the U.S. Hockey team won their first gold medal.
The ski resort at Squaw Valley has 170 runs and 16 bowls to ski. The mountain is classified as 25 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate and 30 percent expert so whatever your skill level, they have you covered. Nearby Alpine Meadows has similar classifications making it a tremendous opportunity for great skiing along with two terrain parks for snowboarders and skiers.
See the Tower of Nations, located at the entrance of the valley. It stands 79 feet tall and 29 feet wide. Crowned with the five Olympic rings, each eight feet in diameter, it displays the crests of all the competing nations. The five rings represent the five continents and are linked to signify friendship and sportsmanship.
Take the scenic Aerial Tram to High Camp, 8,200 feet up, and enjoy 360-degree views of Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley’s granite peaks on the way. Visit the newly renovated Olympic Museum located at High Camp featuring memorabilia, news articles and video presentations. Bring your bathing suit along and check out the pool and hot tub (opening Spring 2018).
For those interested in snow adventures, there are many to choose from. Kids can go snow tubing and ride a mini snowmobile at SnoVentures Activity Zone in the base area of Squaw Valley. Try cross-country skiing at the Nordic Center at the Resort at Squaw Creek on 400 acres of meticulously groomed trails through Squaw Valley meadow and surrounding hillside. Want to go snowshoeing? They have a designated trail system just for that sport. Don’t want to exert yourself? Try the 2.5-mile dog sled tour through the meadow with a guide leading a team of 8-10 Huskies.
If you’re a person who likes speed, race against friends, family and other skiers on the Squaw Valley NASTAR course located at the top of Shirley Lake Express on Ramp Run. Participants will compete within their age and gender to win platinum, gold, silver and bronze medals.
If you’re more the spa type, check out The Trilogy Spa in the Village at Squaw Valley. This 4,000 square foot spa is complete with a fireplace lounge and a full menu of services offered. Like yoga? Visit the Wanderlust Yoga Studio and stretch out after skiing or anytime. With 24 classes each week, you’re bound to be able to squeeze one in while you’re there.
For travel convenient to DFW, check out Salt Lake City, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics. This beautiful city is rich in Olympic history. Spend a day in downtown Salt Lake and visit Abravanel Hall, home of the 27-foot-tall Olympic Tower statue by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The hall features gold leaf décor in a 12,000 plus-square foot building with breathtaking views of the city. It is most often used for music events because of the amazing acoustics.
No matter what your religious affiliation is, don’t forget to visit historic Temple Square, headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Located on 35 acres in the heart of the city, tours are available, and the Temple is open daily from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Travel 20 minutes from Salt Lake City to Park City and you will find the Utah Olympic Park where the ski jumping, luge and bobsled events were held in 2002. It also features training facilities for moguls and freestyle aerials, as well as a terrain park and boarder-cross course where visitors can watch everyone from young kids to next-generation Olympic athletes honing their skills.
At the park, visitors can take a guided tour or try any one of several activities. The Comet bobsled ride allows visitors to experience G-forces while riding in a professionally piloted bobsled reaching speeds up to 60 mph on ice. In the summer, the bobsleds are modified with wheels and travel down a concrete track. It’s an intense one-minute adrenaline rush and not for the faint of heart. The Extreme Zipline is one of the steepest in the world, giving you a taste of what Olympic Nordic ski jumpers feel as they soar through the air, while the Freestyle Zipline is a little more mellow. For the less extreme, the Alpine Slide still delivers thrills, but lets you control the speed. Three alpine “Adventure Courses” designed for various ages and ability levels will test your agility and stamina, and a 65-foot tall Drop Tower will test your fear of heights. Travel during the spring/summer months and you’ll find affordable options such as the Salt Lake Connect pass.
The Utah Olympic Oval is where eight world records and 10 Olympic records were set during the 2002 speed skating competitions. Today, there is public ice time available and if you visit in March you can try Cosmic Curling. Visit any other time and they have a “Learn to Curl” program, teaching the fundamentals of this Olympic sport.
Alpine skiers love Deer Valley, the site of the Olympic Slalom and Freestyle events. It offers 21 chair lifts, luxurious amenities such as ski valets, groomed-to-perfection slopes, on-site childcare and gourmet dining in three elegant day lodges. In the summer mountain biking opportunities are plentiful.
The Snowbasin Ski Resort, located in Huntsville, was the site of the Downhill and the Super-G competitions. The resort is one of the oldest continuously operating ski areas in the nation, officially opening in 1940. In 2002, Snowbasin Resort hosted the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Winter Games Downhill, Super G, Combined, and Paralympic events.
Snowbasin is best known for wide-open bowls, gladed runs, manicured groomers, powder stashes days after a storm, excellent service, and on-mountain dining, and its four terrain parks.
At Soldier Hollow located in Midway, you’ll find the site of the Olympic cross country and biathlon events for the Olympics and Paralympics. If you love tubing, this is the place. With 1,200-ft sliding lanes and a new lift, you won’t get tired trekking back up the hill!
Our last medal-winning stop takes us to the beautiful Adirondack Region as you visit Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics. Before you begin, be sure to purchase the Olympic Sites Passport and visit all the Olympic venues for one low price plus you’ll receive one-time admission to the Olympic sites and 20 percent off all activities.
Start with the Olympic Center which houses three ice surfaces; the Herb Brooks Arena, home of the US hockey team’s gold medal win at the 1980 games, the 1932 Jack Shea Arena and the USA Rink. The Center is also home to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum and a new conference center.
If you’re not afraid of heights, visit the Olympic Jumping Complex and ride a 26-story elevator to the top of a 120-foot tower and see the view from the perspective of a ski jumper — all the while enjoying scenic mountain views. The complex also offers snow tubing down a 700-foot chute. It’s open day and night so maybe you can try both while you’re there. If you’re even more daring, and have extra funds for fun, ride down a bobsled track with a real bobsledder. It’s a 1/2-mile ride and you will receive a photo, a pin, t-shirt and more for your fee. If skeleton is more your style you can try that too. Want to learn more about biathlon? You can try that as well — you will receive a trail pass, rental, class lesson and biathlon lesson.
At the Olympic Sports Complex Cross-Country Center at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, visitors can ski on 50 km of groomed trails through the forests of the sports complex. Skaters can check out the Olympic Oval located on Main Street in Lake Placid. Bring your own or rent skates and try skating or speed-skating.
Skiers and snow boarders can head to Whiteface in Wilmington, New York to check out the slopes. The mountain is classified at 43 percent expert, 20 percent intermediate and 38 percent novice and has 98 percent snowmaking capability. If you’re traveling in the summer, there are multiple opportunities for 4 X 4 expeditions, disc golf, nature treks, yoga and an airbag free fall where you free-fall onto a 50-by-50-foot pillow of air.
If you’re wondering where to stay, the region offers over 11,000 rental rooms in hotels, motels, inns, and cottages, along with almost 12,000 campsites. Travel in the winter and you probably won’t be in with the throngs of tourists as approximately 70 percent of visitation to the region occurs May-October.
Like many ski resort cities, the fun doesn’t stop when you leave the trails. There are multiple cultural events and great food to keep you entertained full and full.
This year, why don’t you create your own Olympic gold moments? Pick a city and plan a trip to explore the sites where medals were won and memories were made.