When Olympic glory beckons

Lake Placid: Site of 1932 and 1980 games wins over visitors with tranquil lake, sporting adventures and stunning views.

Destination: New York

April 30, 2000|By Deborah Williams | Deborah Williams,Special to the Sun

After swimming about 100 yards on my way across Mirror Lake, I had to stop and revel in my surroundings. It was a hot summer day in the heart of New York's Adirondack High Peaks area, but the brisk water temperature was invigorating.

Mountains were in the distance. A lone canoeist hugged the craggy shore, and behind me was a Lake Placid classic, the white clapboard Mirror Lake Inn.

Tucked in the northeastern section of New York state's Adirondack wilderness, the village of Lake Placid is a year-round resort area, with skiing in the winter, a pleasant summer climate and the sparkle of Olympic gold to add to its image.

Mirror Lake is a rarity -- a pristine body of water in a popular tourist spot. One can swim across the lake without fear of being run over by motorboat or Jet Ski. No motorized craft are allowed on the lake.

There are canoes, rowboats, paddle boats and a couple of small sailboats, but no noisy engines to mar the tranquillity, pollute the water or force swimmers to stay close to shore.

The village of Lake Placid overlooks Mirror Lake. Lake Placid itself, a much larger body of water, is nearby (and does allow motorized craft). Both bodies of water are part of the Adirondack State Park system.

Lake Placid has been host to two winter Olympics, in 1932 (when the Norwegian ski team took over the Mirror Lake Inn) and in 1980 (when the U.S. hockey team stunned the world by winning a gold medal).

Today, the village is an Olympic training center, although in many ways it is also a typical tourist town with a main street lined with shops and boutiques offering antiques, handmade crafts, outdoor gear and designer clothing.

The Olympic Regional Development Authority operates many of the major facilities in the village, and makes it easy for even the nonathletic to experience Olympic sports.

In on the action

A most heart-stopping adventure is the summer bobsled ride on a small portion of the track used in the 1932 and 1980 games.

My plan was to watch Heather, my 12-year-old niece, rocket down the run, but a touch of insanity took over. I agreed to accompany her and the professional driver and brakeman on the sled. Armed with helmets, knee and elbow pads, we got in and hurtled down the run at speeds of more than 45 mph, although it felt like 100 mph. A minute never seemed so long.

The Olympic Authority also operates an innovative summer sports experience for adults and children age 7 and older. The summer camp offers five hours of daily sports activity and interactive education.

We joined a group of girls attending a nearby soccer camp for a Gold Medal Adventure. It began with a Bobsled Push clinic at the U.S. Bobsled Federation Push Training Facility. We all practiced pushing the bobsled and hopping in, and learned that the job lasted only seconds but could mean the difference between first place and last place.

Next was a luge clinic where the girls learned what it was like to lie on a tiny sled and race down a paved practice hill. They also learned the art of stopping and steering. I thought better of joining them.

We also tried our hand at biathlon target shooting on a makeshift range next to the luge run. The girls were first given a lesson in gun safety, learning to treat every firearm as loaded until proven otherwise. They ran across the field before shooting air rifles, and in that way got a taste of conditions Olympic biathletes face when they race on cross-country skis and target shoot.

We stopped at the official Biathlon Target Shooting range the next morning. Here, you can sign on for marksmanship training and public target-shooting with .22-caliber rifles.

Summer biathlon competitions combining running and shooting are gaining popularity. Heather hit four out of five targets and then had a perfect score on her second set of five shots.

At the nearby Olympic Jumping Complex we rode the elevator to the SkyDeck at the top of the 26-story, 120-meter ski jump tower to enjoy the view and rejoice that we didn't have to take the plunge.

Nordic ski jumping takes place all summer, thanks to a plastic-covered landing hill. On the day we visited, we saw freestyle skiers twist, turn and flip in the air before landing in a giant pool. The jumpers wear wet suits and life jackets in addition to their skis.

Not far away is the Olympic Center, site of 1932 and 1980 Olympic skating and hockey events. The Winter Olympic Museum is in the center, and if you like heights, you can ride the chairlift up Whiteface Mountain for glorious views.

If you want a summit view but would rather have your car do the work, you can drive most of the way up Whiteface. It's the fifth highest of the Adirondack's high peaks (4,867 feet), and the only one accessible by car. The highway stops 500 feet short of the summit. To get the rest of the way, most visitors take the elevator -- built into the mountain in the 1930s -- although hardier individuals climb the 3/4 -mile nature trail.

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