Remember when the Winter Olympics was going on and it was all anyone was talking about? You know, Lindsay Vonn, figure skating, USA vs. Canada hockey, the mystery of curling and all that. But once all of the medals have been collected and the closing ceremonies, everyone seems to forget all about the Winter Olympics and no one is debating the merits of the luge vs. the skeleton. Unless, of course, you go to a place like Utah
Olympic Park, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics and an important
training ground for current athletes. If you're heading to Park City or even Salt Lake City, this is a really a must-see for Olympics fans.
When I went to Park City at the end of December I was hoping to ski all five days I was there. But I fell at the end of my second day skiing at Park City Mountain Resort, so I ended up taking two days off in the middle to give my knee a rest. (It paid off, I was recovered enough to ski at Deer Valley on my last day.) While I was disappointed to miss some time on the slopes (and that I didn't end up skiing at The Canyons), I was happy that I had the opportunity to explore the area. And first on my list was the Utah Olympic Park, where I ended up having a fun and informative guided tour.
We actually started out exploring on own at the Park's Alf Engen Ski Museum, which focuses on the history of skiing in Utah with an emphasis on the extraordinary ski jumper Alf Engen. I always enjoy see old ski relics — it amazed me how basic skis used to be.
The museum also a portion dedicated to the 2002 Winter Olympic and owns some of the actual mascots. These stuffed animals are enormous, in case you can't tell from the photo on the right.
While I liked the little museum, the guided tour ($7 per person) was much more exciting because it takes you all over the facilities. (You get driven in a little van, which was very nice as it was extremely cold the day I was there.) You get to see where the athletes practice and where they competed in the 2002 Olympics.
I found just looking at the bobsled, luge and skeleton tracks a tad scary (pictured left and above), although I did enjoy the scenery. But apparently some people see those tracks and think, when's my turn? The Utah Olympic Park lets visitors ride a bobsled (driven by a pro) for about $60 per person per ride. The ride only takes a minute, but you go through 15 curves, reach speeds up to 70 mph and pull close to 5 G's of force. Not for me.
But I'd still do the bobsled over the ski jumps (pictured below) any day. If looking at the bobsled track gets your heart pumping, standing on top of the ski jumps gets your heart pounding. Interesting enough, ski jumping is one of the safest Winter Olympic events, next to curling. Luge is one of the most dangerous. We had a terrific guide who explained all about the winter sports, which made me appreciate the Olympics even more this year.
Often when you visit the Utah Olympic Park, you'll see the athletes practicing. But I managed to go on one of the few days these elite athletes take off: December 31st. Even if you go in summer, you're likely to see them. They practice freestyle aerials by jumping into a pool, which is "bubbled" to soften the impact of landing. The next time I'm in Park City, I'm going to check to make sure the athletes are practicing and if so, I'm heading back to the Utah Olympic Park.