The rush of bobsledding, the thrill of lugeing, the, yes, grace of curling.
If you were swept away by the athleticism, the drama, the heart of the Winter Olympics, head to the closest mountain (or rink or icy skeleton track) and see if you’ve got what it takes. Across the country, you can take lessons from Olympic skiers, sleep in an Olympian’s home — actually, it’s a hotel, and his parents own it — and put yourself at the mercy of ice, snow and gravity at high rates of speed.
At Utah Olympic Park, you can bobsled like it’s 2002 — the year that this world-class recreational facility in Park City hosted combined events of bobsled, skeleton, luge and Nordic skiing during the Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games. Now, the facility is an official U.S. Olympic Training Site that also offers lessons to the public. In the winter, wannabe bobsledders can rocket through the track at speeds of more than 60 mph while a professional driver handles the steering (and braking). Throughout the season, you can spot Olympic athletes flying through the air as they practice their aerial and Nordic jumps. When they’re not using the jump, it opens up to adrenalin-junkie tubers. About 35 miles west of Park City is another venue built for the 2002 Winter Olympics. At Utah Olympic Oval, those who aspire to the heights of Mirai Nagasu can learn to figure skate, speed skate, play hockey and curl.
The staff at the National Ability Center in Park City thinks that everyone should be able to enjoy recreational activities, whether they’re a skier with a visual impairment training for the Paralympics or a child with a developmental disability trying snowboarding for the first time. The nonprofit organization offers adaptive programs in an array of winter sports, including snowshoeing, Nordic and Alpine skiing, snowboarding and sled hockey.
The Waldorf Astoria Park City — which has its own dedicated chairlift with heated seats to keep you warm on your way up the mountain — is offering Winter Games-inspired packages. Its “Winter Games concierge” can help visitors plan activities including dogsledding and curling, and can even connect guests with former Olympians such as freestyle skier Nate Roberts for skiing and bobsledding lessons, and city tours.
During the 2010 Winter Paralympics, which opened in Vancouver, B.C., the town of Whistler, about 75 miles north, hosted a mix of events, including Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and biathlon, Olympic Nordic combined, ski jumping, bobsled, luge and skeleton. Today, visitors can whip around the world’s fastest track on a bobsled or skeleton at the Whistler Sliding Center, and try their hand at lower-key endeavors — such as biathlon (cross-country skiing meets rifle shooting), tobogganing, snow shoeing and cross-country skiing — at Whistler Olympic Park. Plus, there are free ice skating and family après events at Whistler Olympic Plaza. Hilton Whistler Resort & Spa, in Whistler Village, offers stay-and-ski packages, and can coordinate private lessons with Whistler Blackcomb Snow School, where guests can take lessons from former Olympians, including Ashleigh McIvor (the first gold medal winner of women’s ski cross in 2010), Mike and Britt Janyk (sibling alpine skiers) and Rob Boyd, an award-winning skier.
Home to the Winter Olympics not once, but twice (in 1932 and 1980), Lake Placid, N.Y., continues to draw thrill seekers to the Adirondack Mountains. At the Olympics Sports Complex, speed demons relish the thrill of the bobsled as passengers behind a professional driver with the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience on Mount Van Hoevenberg. Feeling brave? Go solo on the Lake Placid Skeleton Experience and hurtle along slick ice on a tiny sled at up to 30 mph. Visitors also can try skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and biathlon. For more passive but still exhilarating entertainment, head over to the Olympic Jumping Complex, where you can watch skiers take flight. While there, you can stay in the “second home” of an Olympian: Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa is owned by Ed and Lisa Weibrecht, parents of Olympic skier and medalist Andrew Weibrecht, whose bronze and silver medals in super-G are out on display. (Selfies are encouraged.) Another fun fact: In 1932, the Norwegian ski team rented out the inn and stayed there during the Winter Games.
The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex, which is in a state park on the shore of Lake Michigan in the town of Muskegon, Mich., gives beginners a run for their money. The luge track, which was designed by three-time Olympian Frank Masley, was built to introduce the general public to the sport. While Olympic lugers may hit the 70- and 80-mph ranges on pro tracks, lugers on this track reach up to about 30 mph. The facility regularly hosts public luge clinics to train people 8 and up on techniques and safety. (Lest you think it’s all child’s play, proof of health insurance and a signed waiver are required.) For non-lugers, there are miles of lighted cross-country ski trails, snowshoe trails through snow-covered sand dunes, sledding and ice skating.
Bars and other places are cashing in on the quirky world of curling, which involves sliding a hefty stone across ice toward the house (a giant bull’s eye) while teammates use brooms to sweep in front of the stone.
Kaiser Tiger, a gastropub in Chicago, has three curling rinks open in its beer garden, alongside firepits where servers deliver bacon s’mores and hot whiskey drinks. For more serious lessons, curling clubs across the country welcome in newbies. Chicago Curling Club (where this writer has trained) offers Learn2Curl events throughout the winter, introducing adults 21 and up to the art of sweeping, delivery and broomstacking — the celebratory booze session shared at the end of a game.
Maybe you couldn’t travel to PyeongChang this year, but you can still get your own Olympics on by planning a trip to the nearest ski mountain or curling club.
Let your games begin.
Silver is a writer based in Chicago. Find her on Twitter: @K8Silver.
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