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Get into the Olympic spirit without leaving New York

The countdown to the 2018 Winter Olympics has begun, with less than 100 days to the opening ceremonies in February. While it would be exciting to head to Pyeongchang in South Korea to experience the Olympic Games, most of us have to settle to watch it on TV, as we don’t have the time or money to actually travel there. However, you can experience some of that Olympic spirit in Lake Placid, site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics and a six-hour drive from Buffalo.

You can visit many of the actual Olympic sites, including the Olympic torch tower, the ice rink where the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game took place, and the speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals.

The best place to learn about Lake Placid’s Olympic history is at the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, at the Olympic Center along Main Street. The Olympic Center, today a sports complex, served as the Olympic Park for both the 1932 and 1980 games.

The Olympic Museum (www.lpom.org), which opened in 1994, is the only Olympic Museum in North America. Here you will find memorabilia from both Lake Placid Olympics. The museum is open daily, year-round; it closes for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the annual Ironman Sunday in July.

On display are ice skating costumes and skates from well-known Olympic figure skaters, like Dorothy Hamill, as well as an exhibit focusing on Sonja Henie, who is considered one of the greatest figure skaters of all times. Henie was 11 when she first competed in the Olympics in 1924.

The Olympic Torch Tower. (Photo by Christine A. Smyczynski)

You can also see a display of the Olympic torches used over the years, as a new model of the torch is used for each edition of the Olympic Games. The torch has to be designed so that the flame doesn’t go out during the Olympic Torch Relay, which takes place during the 100 days prior to the games in all sorts of weather conditions.

One of the most popular exhibits at the museum is the one pertaining to the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game, which took place between the United States and the Soviet Union. The more experienced Soviets were expected to dominate, but the U.S. team won and went on to win the gold medal two days later.

You can see with your own eyes the rink where the game took place. The Herb Brooks Arena, named after the man who coached the U.S. team in that legendary game, is still in use today at the Olympic Center.

Adjacent to the Olympic Center is Lake Placid High School. The Sheffield Speed Skating Oval, located in front of the school, was used for Olympic Speed Skating. Eric Heiden won his five gold medals on the rink. The oval was named after James C. Sheffield, a member of the speed skating team from Lake Placid that won the International Speed Skating Championship in 1923.During the winter months you can ice skate here, with skate rentals available.

One of Lake Placid’s hidden gems is the Olympic Torch Tower used for the 1980 games. It’s not publicized much; I didn’t even know about it until we overheard someone talking about it in the hallway by the Olympic Museum. We did a Google search and saw that it was just a short drive south of the village, so we took a ride to Cascade Road, between the Lake Placid Horseshow Grounds and the football field for Lake Placid High School.

A short distance from the torch tower is the Olympic Jumping complex, used for ski jumping in the 1980 games. Today it is a year-round training facility for ski jumpers. Visitors can get a bird’s eye view of the complex by riding an elevator to the top of the tower.

Those seeking athletic thrills might want to check out the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience at the Olympic Sports Complex. This attraction is open year-round; the bobsleds are outfitted with blades in the winter and wheels the rest of the year. Participants, who have to be at least 48 inches tall, are accompanied by a professional driver and brakeman in the bobsled.

Anyone who visits Lake Placid can’t help but notice Whiteface Mountain, which towers over the skyline. Known for its world-class skiing, Whiteface, about seven miles from Lake Placid, was the site of the Olympic skiing competitions. Non-skiers can experience the mountain by riding the Cloudsplitter Gondola for a great view of the area. During the summer and fall you can drive up the mountain on the Whiteface Mountain Veteran’s Memorial Highway; during the winter the road is closed to vehicular traffic, but hiking along it is allowed.

Those who enjoy shopping and eating will love the many shops and restaurants along Lake Placid’s Main Street. You can find Adirondack themed items for your home and buy locally crated items.

If you go

Lake Placid information www.lakeplacid.com

Whiteface Mountain region www.whitefaceregion.com

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