Most of us, no matter how athletic, will never experience the thrill of standing on the podium at the Olympics. But just because you can’t qualify with top scores in the sports you’ll see at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing doesn’t mean you can’t experience the thrill of them on a cold-weather vacation.
“Trying a new sport takes you out of your comfort zone. On vacation with friends, family or a romantic partner, (a new sport) puts everyone on a level playing field,” says Paige Feigenbaum, a television producer in Port St. Lucie, Fla., who has attempted speedskating and curling just for fun. “You can laugh with, not at, one another as you struggle. It is excellent for bonding and makes great stories for years to come.”
Beyond the standard snowy weather fare of Alpine skiing and ice skating, some resorts and training centers offer fewer mainstream sports. “It’s an instant memory,” says Will Smith, general manager of activities at The Resort at Paws Up in Montana, where guests can attempt a biathlon course, among other activities. “Forever when they watch the Olympics, they think to themselves, ‘I did that!’” says Smith.
There are even some spots around the country where you can rub elbows with real Olympians and coaches. A fun activity for families, these experiences sometimes inspire the next generation.
“I love asking athletes how they got involved in their sport,” says Kevin Penn, chief of business operations for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee. “Often it’s an experience they had as a kid. Something just clicked, and they have a dream of becoming an Olympian.”
As we get ready to cheer on Team USA at the Beijing Winter Olympics, here are some places to try your hand at fun winter sports. Whether you find a new passion or simply score some top-notch vacation photos, these destinations are sure to get you in the Olympic spirit. What’s even better? Everyone’s a winner.
Snowy Jackson Hole, Wyo., is a haven for skiers of all stripes, whether you’re looking for beginner or expert slopes. The 1,000-acre Snake River Sporting Club, a fully functioning ranch, has a private helipad to send guests off on heli-ski adventures high on the nearby Snake River and Palisades mountain ranges.
Though it’s not an official Olympic sport yet — there’s a contingent of enthusiasts advocating for its inclusion — it’s a sure-fire way to experience the thrill of the downhill. For those who favor flatter terrain, the club transforms its championship golf course into 10 miles of private, groomed trails for cross-country skiing.
Nearby Amangani is a top choice for guests who want their winter getaway with a serious side of luxury. The resort offers a specialized ski concierge to tailor every aspect of the trip, from all the necessary lessons and ski and snowboard rentals to access to the private ski lounge in Teton Village with ski-in-ski-out access to Après Vous and Rendezvous mountains. It’s a winter playground to awaken your inner Olympian.
The Resort at Paws Up is known for its wide range of activities and for pioneering the now ubiquitous travel category of “glamping.”
In the winter, the 37,000-acre property in western Montana’s Blackfoot Valley lets adventurous visitors try their hand at biathlon, the sport that combines cross-country skiing and marksmanship.
The staff sets up a track and shooting targets, complete with a mat, so you shoot the provided Ruger .22 rifle lining up your target just like real Olympians. “It’s a challenge to hone in your breathing because your heart rate is up after you ski for a bit. Then (we help) you practice your accuracy” on targets, says Smith. Those who prefer less structure can check out cross-country skis to explore the pristine trails on their own. The resort also partners with the local Missoula Curling Club to offer curling. Guests often congregate after meals to try to slide the weighty curling stones closest to the target. (Spoiler alert: It’s more difficult than it looks).
Though the state has never hosted the games, Colorado Springs earns its “Olympic City USA” nickname as the home of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee since 1978. In fact, more than 500 Olympic hopefuls live and train here at Team USA’s flagship training center, so you might spot a few on your trip. Plan to explore the new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum for a deep dive into the games’ storied history. Opened in 2020, the 60,000-square-foot structure showcases cool facts about Team USA with interactive exhibits and engaging displays (like the collection of Olympic torches). There’s even a “train like an athlete” gallery where you can experience what it’s like to give your all for a sport.
If you’re curious about speedskating, said to be the fastest you’ll ever go without a machine, nonprofit Colorado Gold Speedskating operates skate sessions in Colorado Springs. Don’t know how? The club offers lessons and equipment rentals.
While you’re in the Centennial State, head to Steamboat Springs, a city that boasts sending 96 Olympians to the games over the years, more than any other U.S. town. Though it’s not exactly the same as the luge or bobsled, the Outlaw Mountain Coaster
at Steamboat Ski Resort is a fun alternative. Stretching a staggering 6,280 linear feet, the alpine slide is the longest in North America and lets riders reach up to 27 miles per hour. Aspiring Paralympians will find plenty to love at Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports. There, guests with all levels of ability can learn nordic skiing, snowboarding and more.
History buffs might remember Lake Placid as the host of the 1980 Olympics when the United States hockey team bested the Soviet Union, a game dubbed the “Miracle on Ice” as one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history. Visitors to the Lake Placid Olympic Center can see this rink and the one that hosted the 1932 Games (the city is one of three in Olympic history to host multiple Winter Games).
Not an ice hockey enthusiast? “There’s not just one sport” at the facilities, says Penn, who notes that there’s something for everyone. While you’re there, try speedskating or
figure skating at the Olympic Center, or head to nearby Whiteface Mountain for skiing and snowboarding. Don’t miss a ride on the Cloudsplitter Gondola for spectacular views of the Adirondacks. Thrill-seekers will want to try the bobsled experience at Mount Van Hoevenberg, where you can zoom down an icy track in a bobsled controlled by an expert driver.
The Olympic spirit is alive and well in Salt Lake City, the site of the 2002 Winter Games and a focal point for the U.S. Olympic Team’s winter sports training.
The was established to carry on the tradition of the games through sports development programs and recreational camps for various skill levels, so there’s plenty
for all visitors, no matter their level of athleticism. The Utah Olympic Oval skating rink offers programs for aspiring speedskaters, hockey players and figure skaters to learn
skills on the same ice where more than 100 speedskating records have been set. For an adrenaline rush, fuel your need for speed (in this case, up to 60 mph) on a bobsled or
luge at Utah Olympic Park in nearby Park City. After a day of activities, The St. Regis Deer Valley resort offers a welcome — and super-luxe — respite. There, guests can indulge in less strenuous activities in the snow including horse-drawn sleigh rides, snowmobiling on picture-perfect Rocky Mountain trails and family-friendly snow tubing.