Let’s face it, the closest you’ll probably ever get to making the Olympics will be when the Winter Games come to Vancouver, B.C., in February.
But that shouldn’t stop you from being a gold-medal dreamer.
While you may never race down an icy, water-injected ski run in front of a worldwide television audience, who says you can’t play like an Olympian?
Many of the venues for the Olympics are available for use before and after the games. And Olympians have trained and played in the Northwest for decades.
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The Northwest is bursting with opportunities to follow in the footsteps of the Olympians who are only borrowing our playgrounds this winter.
1. SKI GUN TOWER
Two-time Olympian Scott Macartney, who hopes to make the 2010 U.S. team, grew up skiing at Crystal Mountain where his parents worked on the ski patrol. His favorite run is the double-diamond Gun Tower in the north backcountry.
“It’s a lot easier to get to with the new lift,” Macartney said, referring to the Northway lift. The lift opened Dec. 22, 2007, and has introduced the challenging run and many others in the area to a new set of skiers. All of the runs on the Northway lift are for expert skiers and snowboarders.
2. ATTACK CHAK CHAK
The U.S. men’s slalom team is scheduled to train Feb. 23-25 at Mission Ridge before returning to Whistler to compete in its Olympic race Feb. 27, resort spokeswoman Jerri Barkley said.
She said the skiers will train on Chak Chak, an intermediate run off Chair 4. Skiers and boarders will be able to watch the training sessions.
3. RIDE ARMSTRONG EXPRESS
Armstrong Express at Alpental services Debbie’s Gold, a popular intermediate ski run. The lift and the run are named after Debbie Armstrong, a Seattle native who won a gold medal in the giant slalom at the 1984 Olympics.
While it’s almost impossible to ski at Alpental without riding the Armstrong Express, she’ll tell you Debbie’s Gold is not her favorite run. That distinction goes to International. She once told The News Tribune, “You’ve made it as a skier when you can ski International.”
4. SKI AT PARADISE
Today Paradise, on the south side of Mount Rainier, seems a million miles away from the Olympics. It is a Mecca for backcountry skiers looking to blaze their own trail.
But in 1935, the best skiers in the country raced here in the U.S. National Championship, an event that determined the team for the 1936 Olympics.
“These tryouts were especially significant because 1936 was the first Olympics to include alpine skiing,” said skiing historian Lowell Skoog. “So this was the very first Olympic alpine skiing team that the U.S. ever selected.”
5. SKATE AT THE OVAL
The Richmond Olympic Oval, site of speedskating at the Vancouver games, is open for public skating. Aran Kay, facility spokesman, says the oval will close Dec. 1 to prepare for the Olympics but will reopen April 1 after the Paralympics (March 12-21).
The drop-in rate is $12.50 (Canadian) to use the track. Skate rentals are $3, and helmets, required for children 12 and younger, are $2.
6. SKI WITH NANCY GREENE
Nancy Greene has been an icon in Canada ever since she won gold and silver medals at the 1968 Olympics. She also holds the Canadian record with 13 World Cup wins.
Now a senator from British Columbia, Greene still skis at Sun Peaks Resort in British Columbia every weekend. She is available to ski with visitors at 1 p.m. most Saturdays and Sundays at the top of the Sunburst Express chair, resort spokeswoman Anne Haight said.
7. SKI CREEKSIDE
You can ski the runs where the gold medals will be won three weeks before the Olympics.
The Dave Murray Downhill (site of the men’s races), and Upper Franz’s (women’s course) are open until Jan. 24 and will reopen for public skiing March 28.
While the Creekside area will be closed during the Olympics, Tabetha Boot of Whistler Blackcomb says 90 percent of the resort will be open for skiing during the games.
8. SKI METHOW
North-Central Washington’s Methow Valley is a hub for cross-country skiing Olympians. Former Olympians Laura McCabe and Leslie Hall live in the area and can regularly be seen scooting along the 120 miles of trails. Phillip Boit of the Kenyan cross-country ski team trains here, as do several aspiring American athletes.
The Methow Valley Sport Trail Association is hosting an Olympic festival Feb. 12-28 for those looking for a quiet alternative to the games.
9. SKI LEAVENWORTH
Each winter when snow covers Leavenworth, the faux Bavarian town turns into a cross-country skier’s paradise. Torin Koos, who’s attempting to make his third Olympic team this summer, got his start in the sport on the Leavenworth golf course when he was 5.
An all-day pass for the 26-kilometer trail system is $12.
10. SKI WHISTLER OLYMPIC PARK
The competition portions of Whistler Olympic Park will be closed through the games, but 30 kilometers of trails will be open before and after February.
Whistler Olympic Park is the site for cross-country skiing, Nordic combined, ski jumping and biathlon during the games. During non-Olympic seasons the venue offers the opportunity to shoot a rifle on the biathlon course and tour the ski jump tower.
11. SKI AT CYPRESS
Cypress Mountain, north of Vancouver, might end up being the place to be during the Winter Olympics. Cypress hosts snowboarding and freestyle events. The ski area underwent a major overhaul – including a new lodge – to get ready.
Parking will be limited this season, and the Olympic runs under the Eagle Chair will be closed. But the trip to the top of Mount Strachan, away from the hubbub, is worth the trip. The ski resort will be closed Feb. 1-March 8.
12. SKI TRIPLE 60
At this moment Patrick Deneen of Cle Elum is the best mogul skier in the world. He is the reigning world champion and a favorite to win gold in Vancouver in 2010. He honed his skills on several hills in the Northwest, but one of his favorite runs is Triple 60 at Summit Central.
When the short expert face isn’t groomed, the moguls are at about the same pitch as a competition run.
Deneen says he loves to ski the run even if the moguls are not the perfect machine-groomed bumps he’ll see in the Olympics.
13. TRY TO QUALIFY FOR THE LBS
It might be a stretch to say that the Legendary Banked Slalom at Mount Baker Ski Area is more challenging than the Winter Olympics. Then again, it’s not uncommon for Olympians to enter the event and lose to local weekend warriors. In 2007 four Olympic snowboarders raced in the event. All four lost.
The LBS is Feb. 5-7 this season, and the U.S. Snowboard Cross team is considering competing in the event to tune up for the games. To qualify you need to enter the lottery before Nov. 11. If you have a Mount Baker season pass or live in Whatcom, Skagit or San Juan counties, you can enter a qualifying race Jan. 15.
14. RIDE GOLD HILLS
Gold Hills is an often bypassed run at Crystal Mountain, but the short run on the east side of the ski area is used for racing.
In 2006, the best slalom snowboarders from the United States and Canada gathered on the run to compete in the North American Alpine Snowboarding Finals. Among the competitors was Alaskan Rosey Fletcher, who’d won a bronze medal at the Olympics a month earlier.
15. SKI WHITE PASS
The Mahres are the first family of White Pass. Dave Mahre was the ski area’s general manager. His twin sons, Phil and Steve, won slalom gold and silver, respectively, at the 1984 Olympics. And Steve’s son, Andy, is currently one of the world’s top free skiers.
“White Pass might be small, but it has everything big areas have,” Phil Mahre, who also won silver in 1980, told The News Tribune in 2007. “It has steeps and good powder. It has it all.”
16. CATCH SOME AIR AT BOGUS
If skiing aerialist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson lands the Hurricane at the Olympics, he’ll probably win the gold medal. The Hurricane, his trademark maneuver, consists of five spins and three flips.
Don’t even think about trying this. If you want to ski like Speedy, head to his hometown of Boise and his favorite run, Bogus Basin’s Majestic.
“There are some good jumps if the conditions are right,” Peterson said of the expert run on Bogus Basin’s backside. “And try Cascade. It’s got some good bumps.”
17. TRY BIATHLON
Biathlon, the sport of skiing and target shooting, might not seem like an accessible Olympic sport, but the Washington Biathlon Association is always trying to grow the sport. Each year, usually in January, the WBA hosts an introductory class at Stevens Pass. This year’s date has not been set. wabiathlon.org
18. TRY CURLING
The Granite Curling Club in Seattle is the most accomplished curling club on the West Coast. In addition to producing several national champs, it was also the training ground for 1999 Kentridge High graduate Nicole Joraanstad, a member of the 2010 U.S. Olympic team.
The club offers open houses where you can try the sport for $15 per person or $40 for a family. This winter’s open houses are Nov. 14, Dec. 19, Feb. 20-21, Feb. 27-28 and March 27. curlingseattle.org
19. SKI AT MOUNT WASHINGTON
Mount Washington on Vancouver Island has snow conditions so similar to Whistler Olympic Park that the Swedish team is training for the games at the ski area.
Mount Washington has 55 kilometers of groomed trails. But if you’re going to make the seven-hour trip from Tacoma you might as well hit the alpine runs too. The expert glade skiing opened in 2005 and is rapidly becoming the ski area’s trademark.
20. SKI OLYMPIAN
Mount Bachelor ski area near Bend, Ore., is changing the name of its Skyliner run to Olympian. “It seemed like a good name considering it’s an Olympic year,” said Alex Kaufman, the resort’s marketing director.
Bachelor also is the home hill of 1968 Olympian Kiki Cutter.
21. SOAK UP GROUSE
Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver is not an Olympic venue, but it has some spectacular views and some solid intermediate ski runs. It’s also the home mountain of Canadian Olympic hopefuls Georgia Simmerling (alpine) and Pat Farrell (snowboarding).
The mountain will serve as the Olympics set for NBC’s “Today Show” during the games. grousemountain.com
22. DROP IN AT HOODOO
Hoodoo Ski Area on Oregon’s Santiam Pass is a great stop for a few bonus turns on your way to or from Mount Bachelor. Hoodoo is a modest hill where Olympic skier Jean Saubert learned her craft. Saubert won silver in the giant slalom and bronze in the slalom at the 1964 Olympics.
Hoodoo is rarely crowded, and offers some of the best deals in the Northwest. Tickets are $19 on Tuesdays and two-for-one ($42) on Thursdays. You can also rent ski bikes for $30. hoodoo.com
23. SKI SKOOKUM
Tom Rothrock, a 2002 Olympian, grew up in Cashmere skiing at Mission Ridge. His favorite run at Mission Ridge is Skookum – one of the racing hills at Eastern Washington’s most popular ski area.
Skookum is an intermediate run and so popular, some people wait in line on race days just to get in a run once the race is over. missionridge.com
24. DO A TOE LOOP
Sprinker Recreation Center offers the least-expensive figure skating in the state, said Janice Forbes, skating director. Eight-week programs are $66 and include a 30-minute lesson each week and skate rentals.
“If you want to go to the Olympics, this is where you’d start,” Forbes said.
Participants range from 4 to 70 years old. Private lessons are $12-$16 for 15 minutes, but do not include rink access or skate rentals. 253-798-4000
25. GET SOME MOE MENTUM
Some of the best American skiers have raced at Whitefish Mountain Resort at Big Mountain near Montana’s Glacier National Park. Tommy Moe, the 1994 downhill gold medalist, raced here early in his career. Whitefish’s Moe Mentum run is named in his honor.
Bill Johnson, the 1984 downhill gold medalist, suffered permanent brain damage in an infamous crash here during his comeback attempt at the 2001 U.S. Alpine Championships.
26. RACE DOWN OSV
Since 2005, the Austrian ski team has trained at Sun Peaks in preparation for the games. Austria is widely regarded as the best ski team in the world with stars including Hermann Maier and Benjamin Raich, who’ve won two Olympic golds each.
Hit the OSV run if you want to ski where they train. OSV stands for sterreichischer Skiverband (Austrian Ski Federation).
27. SERENADE SUN VALLEY
For $14 you can hit the ice on a pair of rental skates at the Sun Valley Ice Rink. The ski resort bills the ice rink as the best place to see celebs and Olympians.
Stars including actress Jamie Lee Curtis hang out in Sun Valley nowadays, but one of the originals was Sonja Henie. Henie, who won gold in figure skating for Norway in 1928, ’32 and ’36, starred in the 1941 romantic musical “Sun Valley Serenade.”
28. SKI GRETCHEN’S GOLD
The skiing double for Sonja Henie in “Sun Valley Serenade” was Tacoma native Gretchen Fraser. Fraser went on to win America’s first skiing gold at the 1948 Olympics. She also won a silver medal. Gretchen’s Gold, a beginner run at Sun Valley, is named in her honor.
29. TRAIN WITH KETTLEBELLS
More and more Olympians have a fever, and the only prescription is more kettlebell.
Olympic skier Daron Rahlves says he’s hooked on kettlebells. The typical kettlebell looks like a cannonball with a handle and weighs about 50 pounds. “It’s good for full-body and core strength,” Rahlves said.
Rainier CrossFit in Puyallup offers kettlebell training.
30. SKI TIMBERLINE IN JULY
Timberline Lodge isn’t even the best ski area on Mount Hood in the winter, but it’s the best summer ski area in North America. Timberline also is the only ski area in North America open year-round.
Palmer Snowfield high on the mountain’s south side lures America’s best skiers in the summer. Patrick Deneen trains here in the summer.
Picabo Street, who won gold in ’98, also trained here.
John Tullis of Timberline Lodge said that in July “you are almost guaranteed to see an Olympic athlete up here.”
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497