The downhill skiing at Lake Placid also is world-class. Whiteface, home to the Olympic alpine runs, features "the longest vertical drop" in the East, according to Ski Magazine. But the challenging, icy mountain offers little for beginners. Last year, at Eric's encouragement, I stepped into the gondola without understanding how high the run extended into the clouds, called my mother whimpering from the top and took two horrifying spills on the descent.
No surprise that we didn't return to Whiteface this year. For 15 years in a row, the resort has been named No. 1 in North America for "off-hill activities" by the readers of Ski.
Friday night, we ice-skated for two hours on the Olympic speed-skating oval at the base of the front steps to Lake Placid High School, a Grecian-style structure that spans the length of the oval.
A wreath and garland wrapped in colorful Christmas lights hung above the school's entrance, electric candles glowed in every window and a fire burned in the center of the oval.
Saturday, we cross-country skied part of the women's Olympic five-kilometer course, one leg of more than 50 kilometers of groomed trails at the Verizon Sports Complex. The next day, we hit the snowshoe trails, which weave through the Olympic cross-country trails and were untouched except for tracks from snowshoe hares.
Had Mirror Lake, the town's centerpiece, been frozen enough, we would have zoomed down its 30-foot toboggan run, which flings sliders more than 1,000 feet onto the ice, according to the local park district. And had there not been a biathlon competition that weekend, we would have taken an hourlong lesson on the sport Friday afternoon.
I never understood how difficult the biathlon was until Rogers explained that the skiing portion of the event jacks up racers' heart rates to a jittery 180-beats-a- minute, making it difficult for them to shoot a 1.77-inch target a 16-story building away.
Biathletes have to be in good enough condition for their heart rates to immediately plummet when they stop, lie on their stomachs or stand, and aim their rifles. Each miss tacks a minute onto their time.
Rogers learned this after marveling at the resting heart rate of the biathlete staying at his house during the 1980 Games.
"If I had his heart rate, I'd be in the hospital hooked up to oxygen," he said.
On the night of the U.S.-Soviet game more than 25 years ago, Rogers estimated that there were 12,000 people in the roughly 8,000-seat arena, and at least another 15,000 people outside on Main Street, which was roped off to vehicle traffic during the Games.
A Methodist minister led the organizing committee. The town's dentist was in charge of all of the visuals - pictures, slide presentations and printed materials. The owner of the local lumber yard chaired the environmental committee, and Rogers, a radio station owner, was in charge of protocol.
The opening and closing ceremonies at the 2006 Turin Games cost more than the entire 1980 Winter Olympics, Rogers said. And Lake Placid was one of the last Games when all of the competitors stayed in one athletes' village.
After the Games, the residences were converted into a state prison.
Even so, Lake Placid still feels like an athletes' village to me.
IF YOU GO
It's an eight-hour drive from Baltimore to Lake Placid, N.Y. Southwest Airlines also offers flights from BWI Marshall Airport to Albany, N.Y., with one-way fares starting at $48 to $59. From there, it's a scenic two-hour drive to Lake Placid.
Mirror Lake Inn Resort & Spa:
77 Mirror Lake Drive, 518-523-2544; mirrorlakeinn.com. One of Travel + Leisure Top 500 Hotels in the world. Rates begin at $295 per night during peak season.
The Pines Inn:
2303 Saranac Ave., 518-523-9240; thepinesoflakeplacid.com. This European-style inn is just off the main drag and offers a hot tub and small sauna in the basement. Rooms are simple and clean. The price ($109 per night) puts the Pines in the "best bargain" category. Not for people with mobility issues, as guests must walk up stairs to their rooms.
Adult, $75; teen, $70; junior, $65. 48-inch height requirement. Winter season ends April 27. 518-523-4436.
On the Olympic oval. Adult, $7; student/senior, $5; family, $17 (2 adults, 2 students). Skate rental, $3. Season ends early March.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing:
One-day adult pass at the Olympic Sports Complex, $16. One-day ski/snowshoe rental, $16. Reduced rates for students and seniors. 518-523-2811.
The 30-foot toboggan chute is on Parkside Drive, adjacent to the post office, and is managed by the North Elba Park District. Park officials require a foot of solid ice on Mirror Lake before the chute opens. Sled rental, $5 for adults and $3 for teens. Call 518-523-2591 for conditions or go to northelba.org.
Whiteface Mountain, Route 86, Wilmington, 518-946-2223; whiteface.com. One-day adult lift ticket, $67. Rates decrease March 26.