5 North American Winter Olympics Host Cities That Are Worth a Visit
The 2018 Winter Olympics are in South Korea with athletes from a record 92 countries. Even if you weren’t among the 3,000 athletes vying for gold, you can make your own Olympic memories by visiting one of the five North American Winter Olympic host cities. Relive your favorite moments from past Olympics or try your skills on the race tracks and ice rinks where records were set, lifelong dreams came true and immortality was achieved.
Lake Placid, New York (1932 and 1980)
The site of not one, but two Winter Games, Lake Placid’s most famous contribution to Olympic history is serving as the stage for the “Miracle on Ice.” The Soviet “Red Army” hockey team was heavily favored to secure a fifth consecutive title in the 1980 Games but lost to the underdog U.S. team. All Olympic venues are within 8 miles of Main Street and are maintained by the State of New York, so travelers can glide across the “miracle” ice rink, ski and shoot at the biathlon center and follow the trails down Whiteface Mountain, the East Coast’s greatest vertical drop, on one trip.
Guests of Mirror Lake Inn are welcomed with free afternoon tea and cookies by the lobby fireplace, leaving no doubt why this AAA 4-Diamond hotel pulls in accolades from Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast. The inn is one block from Main Street and a 10-minute drive from Whiteface Mountain, near all the Olympic venues.
Squaw Valley, California (1960)
Only two families called Squaw Valley home when the town submitted a bid for the 1960 Games; thanks to the international exposure, today it is one of the largest ski resorts in the U.S. The first games to be televised live, the eighth Winter Olympics were also the first to feature instant replay, metal skis and women’s speed skating. Historic snowfall last winter damaged the Olympic Ice Pavilion beyond repair, leaving Squaw Valley Ski Resort as the only remaining venue from the games. Travelers can still ski the world-class-caliber slopes, tour the Olympic museum and warm up afterward with hot chocolate or toddies in The Village at Squaw Valley.
Keep the cozy, mountain theme going by staying in a fireplace room at the new Lodge at Edgewood, located 90 minutes away in Lake Tahoe. Rooms also feature private terraces and the heated lakefront pool is open year-round.
Calgary, Alberta (1998)
Canada’s inaugural games might be best-remembered for the Cinderella story Jamaican bobsled team that inspired the popular Disney movie “Cool Runnings.” Thirty years later, Jamaica’s women’s team is now taking its shot at Olympic glory, and Calgary has blossomed into the heart of Canada’s winter sports program. Developing elite athletes have flocked here for three decades, utilizing five Olympic venues for their original functions. World championships from skating to skeleton are still held at the stadiums, affording sports fans plenty of opportunities to snag front-row seats for the action. Don’t miss a chance to “feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme” at up to 4Gs on Winsport’s 10-turn bobsled track.
The Hotel Le Germain Calgary is two blocks from Olympic Plaza and within a 20-minute drive of the venues that hosted the opening and closing ceremonies, figure skating competitions and ice hockey.
Salt Lake City, Utah (2002)
Patriotism was at an all-time high for the first Olympics after the 9/11 terror attacks when President Bush opened the Winter Games, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to do so. Americans secured 34 medals, including a sweep of the podium in men’s snowboarding. As one of the most successful Olympics on record, the 2002 Games boasted over two billion viewers and a $40 million surplus, later used to maintain the Games’ venues. Today’s visitors can feel the growing excitement as the city campaigns to host its second Winter Games in 2026, ride professionally piloted bobsleds and join a public skating session at the Utah Olympic Oval, called the “fastest ice on Earth.”
Staying at Little America Hotel puts powder enthusiasts within an hour’s drive of 11 ski resorts. After a day on the slopes, relax in the hotel’s sauna and indoor pool, one of the largest in town.
Vancouver, British Columbia (2010)
Mountain sports for the 2010 Games were held about two hours up the Sea-to-Sky Highway in Whistler Olympic Park. Dramatic views of the ocean and waterfalls give way to the snow-peaked mountains, where First Nations welcomed the world to their territory and the gold medal for both men’s and women’s hockey went to the home team Canadians. Guests can take bobsled lessons, brave the notorious 2,500-foot drop on the Dave Murray Downhill course or snowboard on Cypress Mountain. The Whistler Olympic Plaza, adorned with memorabilia, offers free outdoor public ice skating and outdoor performances.
Guests of the AAA 4-Diamond Nita Lake Lodge can ride complimentary shuttles to Whistler Village and enjoy free ski locker access. Named a “World’s Best” resort by Travel + Leisure, the lodge’s spa offers hot stone massages and yoga classes to soothe muscles after a day on the mountains.
Elisabeth Barker is a Division 1 athlete turned globetrotter and travel writer. Based in New York City and Miami, she is the founder of @skirtandasuitcase an online community focusing on inspirational travel, fitness and healthy lifestyle habits.