The Olympics start today. Is anyone else out there a huge Olympic nut? I’m typically not much of a sports nut, yet I find myself absolutely glued to the television during Olympic coverage. I don’t know if it’s the fact that the sports being shown are not your normal televised-sporting event faire or if it’s the fact that we compete as a country means that everyone at the bar is unified for the same side, but I love rooting for team USA on even the weirdest of sports (I’m looking at you curling). And I have to admit that for whatever reason I tend to favor the winter Olympics just a bit more than their summer counterpart.
Going to The Olympics is on my life-bucketlist, but since I have neither the money or vacation days (or want, really) to travel to Russia, I’ll have to wait till sometime in the future. I’m sort of kicking myself in the ass for not going to London in 2012; I was in the UK while they were going on (albeit that part of the UK was Northern Ireland). In the meantime, I’ll have to catch Olympic fever by simply wandering into any bar in patriotic gear and cheering like a drunken asshole, as I’ve celebrated all prior Olympics since turning 21. But there’s another way to get a piece of the Olympic action-get outside (or to an indoor ice rink) and immerse yourself in one of the Olympic Winter events.
I was going to initially title this “Where to Participate in Olympic Activities in Pennsylvania”, however we don’t have any ski jumps or bobsled tracks, so I’m sticking with “Where to Participate in Olympic Activities at Home.” Below you’ll find all the winter Olympic events and where to get a piece of the action in real time.
Biathlon- Lake Placid would be best place to have a winter Olympic experience as the small upstate NY ski town has hosted the event twice. It’s also one of my favorite go-to weekend getaways and could help you check off more than one Olympic experience in a weekend.
The Biathlon, originally started as training for Norwegian soldiers, is a combination of cross country skiing and shooting and Mt. Van Hoevenberg, the former Olympic Cross Country Ski venue, has a “Be a Biathlete” experience where you can shoot and ski.
Bobsled – Lake Placid is also the closest place to us where you can ride in a bobsled. I did this two years ago, and have to sadly report that it was a lot less thrilling than I anticipated. Still, it’s something to say you did.
If you don’t feel like making the drive up to Lake Placid (it’s 5 hours from NEPA) and hate the cold, Pennsylvania is also home to the only “bobsled-style” wooden roller coaster in the US at Knoebels.
K-fun, K-food, K-bobsled. Yea, that didn’t work.
Skeleton & Luge-
I’ve lumped the luge and skeleton together as essentially they are the same thing, but on the luge you’re laying on your back and going down the track feet first while the skeleton has you on your stomach rocking down headfirst. Guess where the closest place to have an authentic skeleton experience is? You’ve guessed it, Lake Placid. The skeleton is actually the newest winter sport, added at Salt Lake City in 2002, and is widely regarded as one of the more dangerous.
Blue Mountain has the only natural east coast luge track open to the public. It’s an official training and recruitment site of the US Luge team. You can go down on a luge, snowtube or mini-bobsled.
Unfortunately, the only other place to go luging in the US is Michigan.
Fortunately for you there is plenty of hockey opportunities right here in PA. If you want to play hockey and have your own equipment then you can play at any frozen pond or lake (making sure you check that it’s safe first, naturally) or call a local ice rink, of which there are many. I’ve also found locales in York and Lancaster where you could take lessons if it’s something you’ve never done before. These are a bit pricey, which is to be expected, but look pretty cool. I might consider giving these a go if I decide that I don’t hate skating anymore.
We also have plenty of opportunity to watch ice hockey. The NHL has the Penguins out in Pittsburgh and The Flyers in Philly and if minor leagues is more your speed (aka your price range) than check out the Wilkes-Barres/Scranton Penguins or the Hershey Bears.
Curling certainly has a WTF factor to it that I find can be alleviated when you think of it as shuffleboard, on ice, with brooms. The Philadelphia Curling Club, located in Paoli, has open houses and classes to help acquaint you with this very strange sport.
So I’m not going to help you find figure skating lessons. The same goes for ice dancing. If you want to pursue this, that’s on you.
The Pittsburgh Speed Skating Club holds speed skating events as well as open rink times and lessons.
Alpine skiing covers all forms of downhill skiing (slalom, moguls, etc) and is probably the most accessible of all these winter sports. Pennsylvania has a ton of downhill ski resorts and a full list can be found here. I’m going to give a special plug to NEPA’s Elk Mountain, just because I basically grew up in its shadow (extreme exaggeration: I grew up 10-15 minutes away) and because it’s Vermont skiing without the drive (or so the radio ads tell me, I don’t downhill ski).
Cross Country Skiing:
I’ll shut-up about cross-country skiing. It’s one of my favorite things to do and I think everybody needs to give it a chance. I outlined why it’s so beneficial here and where to go in Pennsylvania here. Check here for where to cross-country ski ANYWHERE in the country.
I was unfortunately not able to find any freestyle skiing lessonsanywhere remotely close to Pennsylvania. I’ll also admit that I really didn’t look that hard. Sorry.
The Nordic Combination is a combination of cross country skiing and ski jumping. Lake Placid is the locale where you could do (or see, rather) both in one day.
Lake Placid is the only ski-jump facilities on the east coast. You can ride a chairlift/elevator to the top, which is both breath-taking and a major validation that the people who compete in this sport are indeed clinically insane.
You can snowboard at any of the downhill ski resorts in Pennsylvania.
Click here for a comprehensive list of all Olympic and non-Olympic sanctioned winter recreation offered in Pennsylvania if you are looking for something I did not provide you with.