10 Best Olympic Venues To Visit
When the world’s top winter athletes descend on Sochi, Russia, next month, you can have an Olympic moment elsewhere. Many sites from past games welcome visitors to ski, skate and wander venues that made sports history, says Bill Mallon, co-founder of the International Society of Olympic Historians. He shares some sacred sites for Olympics fans with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
This famed toboggan run got its start in 1884 when winter visitors, primarily from England, raced sleds down an icy mountain track. Later the track hosted bobsleigh and skeleton races during the 1928 and 1948 Games. Guests can now sign up to race down the track, where top racers reach speeds of up to 88 mph. cresta-run.com
Utah Olympic Oval
The indoor speed-skating venue from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics has been called the fastest ice in the world. The high altitude means there’s less wind resistance, Mallon says: “Almost all the records are set there or in Calgary.” Visitors are welcome on the ice for public sessions, curling classes and even night-time skating under a giant disco ball. 801-968-6825; utaholympiclegacy.com
What some have called the greatest race in Winter Olympics history ended in a spectacular finish at Birkebeineren Ski Stadium in 1994. All of Norway, it seemed, came out to see the men’s 4×10-kilometer relay, where the host country lost by a ski length to Italy. The story was told in a dramatic NBC television film, The Great Race. Visitors can try out the tracks themselves. “The course starts at the stadium and loops around,” Mallon says. olympiaparken.no/en
Patscherkofel downhill course
The fastest downhill slope of its day was home to a famous kamikaze-style slide to victory by Austrian Franz Klammer in 1976. “He basically put no brakes on at all,” Mallon says. “He skied like a wild man. He was out of control several times, but he still won the gold medal. No one is ever going to ski like that again.” patscherkofelbahnen.at/en/winter
Lake Placid, N.Y.
You can almost hear roaring crowds from the storied 1980 hockey final game when the Soviet Union was upstaged by the young Team USA at this arena. The site found new fame in 2004 with release of the Kurt Russell film Miracle. The final game score is often left up on the board: USA 4, USSR 3. The center hosts skating events throughout the year and welcomes the public on four ice surfaces. 800-462-6236; whiteface.com
Squaw Valley Resort
Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Only two families lived in this area near Lake Tahoe when local residents put in a bid for the 1960 Games. “They built the ski resort for the Winter Olympics,” Mallon says. Today,visitors can still ski areas like KT-22 that once challenged the world’s top athletes. 800-403-0206; squaw.com
Japan made ski-jump history in the 1972 Olympics. The country, which had never won a medal in the event, took gold, silver and bronze. “They swept it,” Mallon says. Skiers still get plenty of air time on the Miyanomori and Okurayama jumps: “They have been modified, but they’re still there.” jnto.go.jp
Chamrousse ski resort
French skier Jean-Claude Killy won all three gold medals in the major downhill events in 1968, propelling himself to international fame through endorsement deals. “He was the greatest skier in the world then.” The stunning Alpine resort still welcomes skiers in winters, while in summers the Tour de France bicycle race often tackles the region’s high mountain passes. chamrousse.com
This mega-resort area north of Vancouver hosted the alpine skiing events during the 2010 Games. Long a popular area in the Pacific Northwest, the international exposure moved the mountain into the big leagues of winter sports. “Skiing there has been described by some as a religious experience,” Mallon says. 800-944-7853; whistler.com
This mountain lake resort in the Italian alps hosted the 1956 speed-skating events when the Games were in nearby Cortina d’Ampezzo. It was the last time skating events were held on natural ice, in this case the frozen lake surface. “The lake is down in a valley between mountains. It’s a beautiful location,” Mallon says. 212-245-5618; italiantourism.com