After brief stints on the Olympic stage in 1928 and 1948, skeleton officially returned to the Olympic program in 2002 at Salt Lake City, inspiring millions to ask, “What is skeleton?” Essentially high-speed sledding on a bobsled track, skeleton is similar to luge, except done head-first on one’s belly. Although Olympic competitors can hit speeds of 70 mph or more on straightaways, it can be done at less suicidal speeds (up to 50 mph) for the price of a ticket at three North American Olympic parks: the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, N.Y.—host of the 1980 games—the Whistler Sliding Centre near Vancouver (2010), and Utah Olympic Park near Salt Lake City (2002).
Women will compete in Olympic ski jumping for the first time ever in the 2014 Sochi Games. If you find yourself inspired by the sight of skiers floating through the air for hundreds of feet and want to experience the feeling for yourself, your best bet is to contact your nearest jumping club to inquire about lessons. The official website of the USA Ski Jumping Team, USASkiJumping.org, lists 30 clubs, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. Don’t worry: you’ll start on a much smaller hill than those used in the Olympics. If you’re content to watch, two of the most historic places to take in the sport are Harris Hill in Brattleboro, Vt.—the “Welcome to Brattleboro” signs feature a ski jumper mid-flight—and Eau Claire, Wisc., which has been holding competitions since 1886.
Where there’s a park there’s a way, but if it’s across-the-board Olympic-level terrain you’re after, it’s hard to beat Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado. Breck’s four award-winning parks are stacked with features, including a 22-foot superpipe at its Freeway Terrain Park—which happens to be the home of the 2014 U.S. Grand Prix for freeskiing and snowboarding, a Sochi-qualifying event. But regardless of which mountain is hosting, says our own Jeff Bauer, in the days after an event, competition features are often still there and ready for the public. “You can ride the same half-pipe Shaun White rode yesterday,” he said.
One of the most accessible Olympic sports for newbies, curling is like shuffleboard on ice. Although most popular in the Midwest and Northeast, there are curling clubs both official and unofficial in 44 states, according to kccurling.com, the website of Kansas City Curling. In hot spots (cold spots?) like Wisconsin in Minnesota, many of these clubs have dedicated curling facilities, and in most other places—like Olive Branch, Mississippi’s Mid-South Ice House—curlers rent time at an ice rink.
This foot-first cousin of skeleton has racers sliding down an icy track and negotiating turns at speeds up to 90 miles per hour. The sport is so dangerous that a Georgian luger died on a training run at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics after flying over the sidewall of a turn. Still want to give it a try? Canada Olympic Park, host of the 1988 Calgary Olympics, offers luge rides on the Olympic track, complete with a coaching session by professional athletes.
For East Coast skiers and boarders with aerial aspirations, Killington Resort in Vermont is the place. But beyond its six terrain parks, Killington’s famed mogul run, Outer Limits—the longest and steepest in the East—is the kind of place where Olympians are made. Not only did gold medalist Donna Weinbrecht train there, she now teaches mogul skiing at Killington. If you think your thighs are up to the task, you can also participate in the amateur-only Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge for a chance at glory on a smaller scale.
If you’re stoked about Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones’ attempt at Winter Games glory, you, too, can try your legs at bobsledding. Utah Olympic park offers the Comet Bobsled Ride, in which a professional pilot and three passengers rip through the entire Olympic track, hitting speeds up to 80 miles per hour. Lake Placid, Whistler and Calgary have similar bobsled rides.
In this discipline, which combines elements of downhill racing with freestyle features, four snowboarders—or skiers, as the case may be—race down a course in the style of a motocross or BMX event. Since the introduction of snowboard cross in the 2006 Turin Olympics, American Seth Wescott has dominated, twice taking home the gold. That home is Sugarloaf, Maine, where Wescott helped design Sidewinder, the resort’s permanent snowboard and ski cross course.
Target shooting and cross country skiing may seem like an odd pairing, but the sport, with its roots said to be in Norwegian military training, is a hit in many European countries. In the U.S. there are more than 50 local clubs that practice the sport, according to the U.S. Biathlon Association. The International Biathlon Union lists five stateside training centers, including Lake Placid’s with its beginner “Be a Biathlete” program.
Apolo Ohno may only be in Sochi as a TV commentator, but his sport, with a history going back centuries, lives on. It also happens to provide a great low-impact workout and was the sport that gave rise to the now-famous Tabata method of high-intensity interval training. US Speed Skating lists clubs in 23 states.