Four Decades After a Miracle, Lake Placid Is Still America's Olympic Village

The Adirondack town has barely changed since the '80s — which is exactly why you should visit

Lake Placid
LakePlacid.com
By Evan Bleier / February 19, 2020 10:01 am

In the nearly 100-year history of the Winter Olympiad, only three towns have hosted the Games multiple times.

The first? St. Moritz, Switzerland (1928 and 1946). The second? Innsbruck, Austria (1964 and 1976). And the third is Lake Placid, New York, which hosted the Games in 1932 and then again in 1980.

Though it’s been 40 years since Lake Placid last brought the world’s winter athletes together in one place, the Adirondack town of fewer than 3,000 residents still carries the Olympic torch with pride (sometimes literally, like during an Opening Ceremony re-enactment that occurred on Valentine’s Day).

Around town, evidence of Lake Placid’s link to the Winter Games is everywhere, from the selections that top the shelves in the bookstore to the centrally located Olympic Center that played host to “The Miracle on Ice” in 1980 and has welcomed hockey fans and players for tournaments ever since.

And, of course, there are the Olympians themselves.

Locals routinely cross paths with members of the Olympic team who live in Lake Placid or routinely travel to the area to train on the luge, skeleton and bobsled tracks at the Olympic Sports Complex. You might run into them while having cocktails at Top of the Park or getting a pint and a plate of comfort food at Big Slide Brewery. In the past, Olympians have also worked in town, some at Whiteface Lodge, a luxurious all-suite resort designed with timber and fieldstone that was conceived and built by former Olympic luger Joe Barile in 2005. In addition to giving all guests free access to hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms, Whiteface offers a variety of on- and off-site Olympic-themed activities including ice-skating, skiing and bobsledding.

“A lot of the Olympians train here,” Jon Lundin, the director of communications for the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), tells InsideHook. “The slide-y sports and ski jumping all train here, figure skating to some degree, some of the hockey. And then we have the World Cup and the World Championships. We’re still a major international destination for competitors.”

An aerial view of the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. (ROOST)

Lundin, who notes local hotspot Lisa G’s is a favorite of many Olympians and athletes in training but also suggests elevated bistro Salt of the Earth, has lived in Lake Placid for most of his life and has seen how the town has changed since the ’80 Games. As it turns out, it sort of hasn’t.

“The town really hasn’t changed that much,” Lundin says. “There were 2,600 year-round residents in 1980 during the Games and there are about 2,600 year-round residents now. Obviously, the cost of living has changed, the second-home purchasing has changed, but if you look at a picture of Main Street 40 years ago and compare it to a picture of Main Street today, it looks very similar. I think the biggest part of it is that there’s such an Olympic legacy here, that we’re still the destination for international sports to come and train and race, we feel as though it’s part of our responsibility to keep that legacy alive.”

To get a taste of that Olympic legacy, the most popular destination is the historic Olympic Center hockey rink on Main Street.

“I work in the Olympic Center and every day I see somebody come in with their wife and their family,” Lundin says. “They talk about the ‘Miracle’ game and about where they were and who they were with and what they were wearing. That memory, even though it’s 40 years ago, is still at the top of people’s minds. It’s something that continues to resonate.”

The view at the top of the ski tower at the Olympic Jumping Complex. (IH)

In addition to the Olympic Center, another destination where people go to get a taste of the ’80 Games is the Olympic Jumping Complex, a venue where current athletes train that also lets visiting fans take a gondola up Whiteface Mountain followed by a glass elevator ride to the top of the property’s 120-meter ski jump tower.

Between the historic hockey rink, the jumping complex and the Olympians themselves, it’s hard not to feel a bit of the Olympic spirit in Lake Placid or see the pride the small Upstate New York community has in its ties to the Games.

“If you’re an Olympic buff like I am, Lake Placid is to the Olympics as Cooperstown is to baseball,” Lundin says. “It’s a place to escape. Put away your cell phone, put away your iPad, put away the social media and enjoy the beauty that surrounds you. There is a simplicity to Lake Placid and to the Adirondacks that’s hard to describe unless you’re here. The Olympics and everything that we do is great, but take in the rest of it, take in the climbing, take in the snowshoeing or skiing and just enjoy this wilderness that we have. It’s truly something special and it really does rejuvenate you.”

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