Catching the Olympic spirit closer to home

New York TimesFebruary 1, 2014 

The Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia open Friday with peerless sports pageantry and a cavalcade of athletic accomplishment that will captivate the world. Sitting at home, it will be easy to get caught up in the Olympic spirit while gazing from afar at what seems like a picture-perfect snowglobe setting where various acts of derring-do and stylish grace are celebrated with medals and everlasting tribute.

Attending a Winter Olympics might be on many bucket lists, but unless you made plans for Sochi months ago, traveling to the Olympic venues might be as difficult as winning an Olympic medal.

There is an alternative. In upstate New York, there is an Olympic substitute with just about everything you can get at the Sochi Games except maddening transportation delays.

In and around the Adirondack village of Lake Placid, which hosted the 1932 and the 1980 Winter Games, there is downhill skiing and snowboarding, 31 miles of cross-country skiing trails and skating on the 400-meter oval where the American Eric Heiden won five Olympic gold medals. The ski jumps are still there, rising to the sky. The rinks have remained, including the inspirational Miracle on Ice rink, where the Soviet hockey juggernaut was upset by the American college kids in 1980. During the Sochi games, Lake Placid is even going to relight the Olympic Caldron at the site of the 1980 opening ceremonies.

Each venue is open to the public, including the luge and bobsled runs, which are terrifying at 50 mph but an unforgettable experience.

Lake Placid is not only a surrogate Olympics; unlike Sochi, it is interactive. It is also as authentic as it gets.

Where else can you pay $8 to skate a few leisurely laps on the same surface Heiden once did? Or tap into your inner Sonja Henie, the figure skating queen of the 1932 Olympics? And when you are back in street shoes, you can stroll through the charm of a centuries-old upstate New York village.

Lake Placid is also a summer resort – it is actually busier in the summer than the winter – so the village and its environs have dozens of hotels, lodges and inns to host and entertain guests. There is a collection of restaurants, shops and a 1920s-era movie theater strung along a narrow, cozy main street. Little wonder Ski Magazine routinely names Lake Placid the best ski village in the Eastern U.S.

As much as Lake Placid has developed a culture suited for outdoor activists, a visit need not be all about pulse-raising undertakings. On a hill above the skating oval in the village there are multiple skating rinks that host elite-level figure skating competitions and exhibitions. Some of the world’s best skaters pass through regularly. In the same complex, the Miracle on Ice rink is a featured attraction, drawing more than a million visitors a year. Nearby, there is also an underrated Olympic museum with artifacts and historical footage from the 1932 and 1980 Winter Games.

And if you are weary from all the activities that the Olympic spirit has moved you to try, Lake Placid is home to several elite lodging choices with spas and fine dining.

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