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Wandering the West

by Larry Warren, Record columnist

The Vancouver Winter Olympics are just weeks away now. It astounds me that soon our Games will be three Olympics old.

I’m not alone in my Olympic geekiness. There’s something about the TV-hyped spectacle of sports on ice and snow that get otherwise normal people talking somewhat knowledgeably about the previous night’s luge and short-track skating events. Even in Hawaii they’ll be glued to the tube for women’s figure skating. And who knows, maybe curling will still catch on outside of the Upper Midwest.

When you consider how many kids, especially in a town like Park City, start out ski racing and how few have a real shot at the Olympic podium, it’s mind-boggling. From hundreds of thousands come only three, or four, who make the Olympic team in each discipline.

That doesn’t mean the experience can only be soaked up through watching overproduced, occasionally sappy television productions. As Olympic venue cities, Park City and Salt Lake are among few cities in the world where winter Olympic venues have survived and are accessible to everyone with a little curiosity, and a little sport in them.

In the U.S., only Lake Placid and Utah have functioning Olympic winter legacy facilities kept to Olympic standards. And Utah’s legacy facilities are open to anyone.

Close to home, the Utah Olympic Park north of The Canyons has the widest range of Olympic experiences. You can sample bobsledding, luge, ski jumping, and freestyle skiing and riding.

The two museums inside the Joseph Quinney Winter Sports Center are must-sees. The main level holds the Alf Engen Ski Museum, telling the history of Utah skiing, much of it created by Utah legend Alf Engen. Upstairs, the Eccles Olympic Museum brings those days of 2002 alive with displays of the equipment and uniforms used by medalists to win their sports, and some of the many costumes and props used in opening and closing ceremonies.

Move down to the Kearns Olympic Oval and you can skate around the speed-skating oval where a number of world records were set, and jog on a track around the oval out of the foul weather. If you’re not comfortable on ice, you can take skating, hockey, speed skating and even curling lessons.

Salt Lake has one other overlooked, yet iconic, Olympic venue. At the south end of Rice-Eccles Stadium you’ll find Olympic Cauldron Park, whose centerpiece is, of course, the Olympic Cauldron, where the Olympic flame burned for those 15 magical days in 2002. There are also sign and photo boards giving the Olympic highlight of each of those days, plus the Hoberman Arch, under which Olympic medals were awarded and headliner rock bands played for nightly parties. Inside the University of Utah ticket-office building on the west side of the park, duck in to the visitor center, where a theater plays an Olympic movie and has other displays.

In Heber Valley, the Soldier Hollow cross-country ski resort keeps the busy venue going, with expanded sports, like the big tubing park. You can rent snowshoes and walk along the Olympic trails, or jump on skis and take any number of loops used in 2002, along with new ones created in recent years. If you want to try biathlon, you can sign up and ski with a rifle on your back. Then, as your heart pounds from ski racing, see how well you can hit the targets on the shooting range.

In the course of reporting the run-up to the Games and the Games themselves, I’ve ski jumped, bobsledded, speed skated, run the gates at Eagle Race Arena at PCMR and even curled it’s a lot harder than it looks! At the Olympic Park website you can sign up to learn how to skeleton race. That’s where you hurl down the bobsled track leading with your head at 80-plus miles an hour. Don’t think I’ll sign up for that one but you can.

There aren’t many places where you or your kids can personally sample the entire range of Olympic winter sports. You can here, all within an hour of home.

Free-lance writer Larry Warren has been wandering the West covering news stories for television and magazines since he landed in Utah in the mid-1970s. In this column he writes about the favorite places he goes back to when he can.

THE VITALS:

Websites: http://www.olympicparks.com ; http://www.soldierhollow.com

Insider tip: Most sliding sessions at Olympic Park require advance reservations.

Try public skate sessions at the Oval. It’s the "World’s Fastest Ice" and you can feel the difference the second you push off.


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