LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – With the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics at hand, Lake Placid is rolling out the welcome mat for travelers who won’t make that trip but might want to celebrate in a village that embraces the Olympic spirit like nowhere else.
Lake Placid is one of only three places to host two Winter Olympics. (St. Moritz, Switzerland and Innsbruck, Austria, are the others.) The heroics of the U.S. hockey team and speed skater Eric Heiden helped make the 1980 Lake Placid games one for the ages, one with an enduring legacy. The town also hosted the 1932 Olympics.
Today, it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere in the village without encountering somebody in training for something – whether it’s skiing, bobsledding, mountain biking or the region’s Ironman triathlon.
“Everything about it, it’s the whole vibe,” said Lisa Weibrecht, a former luge athlete for the United States whose son Andrew has won silver and bronze medals in downhill skiing at the past two Winter Olympics and will be gunning for gold in South Korea. “It’s a beautiful place, but the number of athletes going to the Olympics who live and train here speaks to the kind of lifestyle and activities people engage in every day. I don’t think there’s another place in the world like it, maybe St. Moritz.”
The Olympic tradition will be front and center in a monthlong celebration in Lake Placid that starts Feb. 1 with the opening ceremony of the Empire State Winter Games .
Main Street will be decorated in red, white and blue and adorned with welcome flags, and organizers have upped their game for the 38th version of the four-day Olympic-style event, creating a mini-village adjacent to the Olympic Center downtown, replete with a Jumbotron that will be in place through the Winter Olympics for visitors to watch the action overseas. The Olympic cauldron will be lit on Feb. 9 .
The venue includes a zip line, snow tubing, local foods, live music, and also is the site of winter bike races. On Feb. 2, the U.S. Olympic aerials team will get a sendoff with a fireworks display.
Part of what made the 1980 games special was the close proximity of the Olympic venues, all within 8 miles of Main Street. Nothing’s changed, save improvements made by the state-run Olympic Regional Development Authority, which maintains venues.
Visitors can make the short drive down Route 73 to Mount Van Hoevenberg to ride in a bobsled or on a skeleton (sled), ski the cross-country network of groomed trails used during the 1980 Winter Games, or ski and shoot at the biathlon center. (Reservations are highly recommended for sliding sports, which are dependent on track and weather conditions.)
On the edge of town sits the Olympic Jumping Complex. Today, the complex comprises 120-meter and 90-meter ski jump towers. Visitors can zoom up the 26 stories in an elevator to get a bird’s-eye view from the top. You can also ride a chairlift to the base of the jumps.
Seven miles down Route 86 sits Whiteface Mountain , which hosted Olympic Alpine events in 1980 and boasts the greatest vertical drop (3,166 feet) in the East. Whiteface features 11 lifts and 87 trails with varying terrain for skiers and snowboarders.
In town next to Herb Brooks Arena, where the U.S. hockey team pulled off its “Miracle on Ice” upset of the powerful Soviet Union, sits the same outdoor speed skating oval where local hero Jack Shea won two gold medals in 1932 and Heiden accomplished his stunning achievement of five golds. Plunk down $8 to skate, or walk to the 30-foot-high converted ski jump trestle that sends toboggans down two ice-covered chutes onto frozen Mirror Lake, or go for a dogsled ride at the other end of the lake. The Olympic Museum next to the hockey rinks inside the Olympic Center has exhibits spanning the history of the 1932 and 1980 games.
For most of the last three decades, Ski Magazine has ranked Whiteface-Lake Placid No. 1 for off-hill activities. Its readers selected it the No. 2 resort overall in the eastern United States. That’s partly because overnight options are more varied than ever, from bed-and-breakfasts like Cobble Mountain Lodge and the Interlaken Inn , to chain mainstays Marriott , Hampton Inn , and Crowne Plaza , to the stately Mirror Lake Inn Resort and Spa operated by Ed and Lisa Weibrecht since the late 1970s.
Food options are varied, too, from Caffe Rustica and its Mediterranean fare, to excellent barbecue at Smoke Signals , to Lisa G’s and Lake Placid Pub and Brewery . The Cottage at the edge of Mirror Lake is one of the area’s most popular apres ski sites and will stage an Opening Ceremony party (Feb. 9) on its outside deck with a big screen TV. It’s also created Olympic-themed drinks like the War Horse, named after Andrew Weibrecht.
A highlight of the month is Winterfest (Feb. 24), which will include meet-and-greets with former Olympians.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Ed Weibrecht said.