Published on: June 21, 2022

Lake Placid’s Olympic legacy and you

Lake Placid – This small community in Upstate New York brings its Olympic story to each visitor, each and every day.

Lake Placid has less than 3,000 full time residents, but its role in the history of the Olympic Games is mighty. The village hosted its first of two Winter Games in 1932, the first time the event was held outside Europe. A Lake Placid native, Jack Shea, Dartmouth College educated, who later would become the town supervisor, captured two Olympic gold medals in speed skating.

The 13th Winter Olympics also occurred in Lake Placid. Those 1980 Games marked the second time the Adirondack Mountain resort would welcome the world.

American athletes and teams benefited greatly from competing on home soil as Eric Heiden collected an unprecedented five Olympic titles in speed skating, doing so on the same updated venue as Shea 48 years earlier. And, of course, there was the unlikely Olympic gold medal by the
U.S. hockey team, defeating the vaunted Soviet Red Machine en route to the championship in the iconic Miracle on Ice.

It has been said that the success stories of 1980 launched the Winter Olympics into another level of popularity. After the Lake Placid Games, the number of events started to rise as did the number of nations, events, sponsors, spectators and media. Along with this explosion came broadcast rights fees that were heretofore considered unfathomable.

Whereas the Lake Placid events were procured by ABC Television for $15 million, just four years later, ABC paid in excess of $80 million to air the competitions from Sarajevo.

Fast forward to 2014: NBC secured the rights for the summer and winter Olympics through 2032 for the tidy sum of $7.75 billion.

The across-the-board increases, ironically, have precluded Lake Placid from hosting another Games on its own. A pair of two-lane roads in and out of the village and four traffic lights could not allow for the size of the current Winter Olympics.

Every four years, when the winter version makes headlines, Lake Placid is always asked about its ability to host once again. Over the years, it’s been mentioned that a Montreal-Lake Placid bid could be viable as well as a New York City-Lake Placid bid.

At this point, it’s unsure if we’ll ever find out those answers. But what we do know for sure, whether or not the Games ever return here, is that Lake Placid remains a mecca for athletes in training and for youngsters looking to cut their teeth in these sport disciplines as soon as they can walk. Lake Placid also hosts numerous World Cup events each year, and if the truth be known, the World Cup is a mini-Olympics in each respective sport.

The World Cup, be it bobsled, luge, skeleton, Nordic and alpine skiing, freestyle skiing, biathlon,  and the rest, produce the athletes that advance to the Olympic Winter Games. You can see those racers here (at a fraction of the price) and then watch them on television or live-streamed at Games time.

Certainly, the entire world is not here at the same time, but the trade-off in terms of access, prices, lack of crowds, hotel space, etc. makes it very attractive nevertheless.

Such will be the case when the upstate region, including Lake Placid, hosts the World University Games in January 2023. Some 2,000 athletes, coaches and officials will compete between Gore Mountain, Lake Placid, Canton and Potsdam.

In addition to a prime training ground for elite level competitors, Lake Placid connects with the recreational athlete, too. Every venue here is used jointly by those aspiring to the Olympics as well as those who enjoy sport purely for the physical and mental benefits. The sites welcome both constituents.

Locally, these legacy sites are the Olympic Center, Mount Van Hoevenberg, Whiteface Mountain, and the Olympic Jumping Complex.

Olympic Center

The greatest hockey achievement in American history occurred in this building. About 8,000-10,000 fans were in the house that night, although 80,000 to 100,000 will tell you they were there. USA-USA-USA 4, USSR 3. Since that night, thousands of recreational skaters and hockey players have skated laps and on that very same ice surface.

Summertime: look for rinks to open for public skating. This a great way to cool off after a hot summer day.

Mount Van Hoevenberg

The closest cross country ski race in Olympic history occurred here where the 15-kilometer men’s event was won by Sweden’s Thomas Wassberg by merely 0.01 of a second over Juha Mieto of Finland. Since 1980, countless thousands of skiers have taken strides on the same courses.

Summertime: Mountain biking in the nordic trails, and the new Mountain Coaster ride that parallels the bobsled track.

Whiteface Mountain

In 1980, Hanni Wenzel of Liechtenstein and Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden each captured Olympic gold medals in slalom and giant slalom. Hundreds of thousands of public skiers have arced turns on those same trails over the past 42 winters. One of them was a local youngster, Andrew Weibrecht of Lake Placid. Weibrecht was an ordinary Whiteface Mountain kid who became so extraordinary that he went on to win Olympic silver and bronze medals in Super G.

Summertime: Gondola ride to the top of Little Whiteface Mountain. Take the 8-mile drive from Wilmington to the summit of Whiteface Mountain, the state’s 5th highest peak.

Empty sky run in winter
View of Mountain Run, the 1980 Olympic slalom trail

Olympic Jumping Complex

This has been an Olympic training ground for jumpers and aerial skiers. One of those, Ashley Caldwell, prepared here for many years before winning a gold medal last winter in Beijing. Next to Caldwell’s summer training site, scores of little jumping tykes, just starting out, dream of the same.

Summertime: Zipline, watch summer ski jumping and aerial skiing for top U.S. athletes, gondola ride to the 120 meter ski jump tower, then ride the elevator to the top for the best views of the Adirondacks.

Lake Placid ski jumping towers
Towering ski jump structures welcome athletes and visitors to Lake Placid

The Lake Placid venues are managed by the New York Olympic Regional Development Authority, which was created after the 1980 Winter Games to insure the region’s legacy. ORDA has done so quite handsomely, creating an after-use that 40 years later continues to produce results for teams and athletes, and great impact for the tourism economy of the Adirondacks.

The State of New York has recently invested approximately $240 million into these competition venues to make sure they stay current with international standards so that World Cups, World University Games, Empire State Winter Games and other high-level events continue to find their way here.

And who knows. Maybe one day, the stars will align for this village once again, and the Games will return to a place where miracles occur for some and dreams come true for others.