Park City is one of only four places in North America where Olympic fans can watch medal-winning bobsled, luge and skeleton athletes on primetime television and then drive 10 minutes down the road to try it themselves. And according to officials at the Utah Olympic Park on State Road 224 near Kimball Junction, ever since the Olympic Winter Games opened in Sochi 11 days ago, people have been flocking to the park to do just that.
The first shovelful of dirt for Utah's ambitious ski jumping and ice sliding facility was turned in June of 1994. It was a bold move meant to help convince the International Olympic Committee to accept Salt Lake's bid to become an Olympic host city. In all, it took two and half years and cost $25 million to turn the mountainside into a world class Olympic venue, but the gambit worked and Salt Lake was selected to host the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
The project had its skeptics, though. At the time, bobsled, luge and skeleton sports were unfamiliar to most Utahns and many worried the facilities would become a white elephant after the Games were over. But by 1998 the park was attracting elite athletes from all over world and, thanks to aggressive efforts to spur local programs, some familiar faces began popping up among them too.
In fact, 12 years after hosting the Olympics, the UOP's 1,335 meter long ice track is far from a white elephant. It plays host to a busy year-round schedule of international competitions and public programs and, even though some of its most well-known athletes are kind of busy in Russia this month, the park has been especially busy accommodating new sliding sport fans.
If coverage of the daredevil ice athletes in Sochi has whetted your appetite and you haven't visited the UOP, take time to do so. Admission to the park is free and guided tours are available for just $10. When athletes are training or there is a competition you can stand alongside the track and feel the rush of cold air as they whiz by at unimaginable speeds. You can even book a ride on the Comet bobsled with a professional driver and feel the G-forces firsthand.
The UOP is also busy scouting for the next generation of Olympians. March 1 the park will offer bobsled and skeleton tryouts for youth ages 14-25 (no experience necessary) and on March 11 there will be bobsled and skeleton 'Fantasy Camps' led by experienced coaches.
Some of this week's biggest stars at the Sochi ice track took their first runs at the UOP. Nicole Pikus Pace and Steve Holcomb will be coming home with newly minted silver and bronze medals but they might never have achieved Olympic glory if a few visionary leaders hadn't made that leap of faith in 1994.
For more information about visiting the Utah Olympic Park go to: utaholympiclegacy.com/