With the opening ceremonies upon us, it might be too late to book a trip to the Vancouver Olympic Games, much less an affordable one (hello, $900 last-minute hotel rooms?). But, there are plenty of other places where you can capture the winter Olympic spirit without shelling out a small fortune. And don't limit yourself by thinking you have to go during the Games (I, for one, will be too busy following Dick Button's figure skating commentary on NBC). Certainly, the magic of any Olympic Games will linger long after the cauldron has gone out.
My very first, and in many respects most memorable, travel experience was a family vacation to Lake Placid in the summer of 1980, just seven months after the U.S. hockey team had triumphed over the Soviets in its unlikely "Miracle on Ice." I was just five years old, but the significance of those games, and how they brought the United States together amid world crisis, was not lost on me. Even in August, the intensity was still palpable as I sat atop Whiteface Mountain where many of the alpine events were held, and later walked down the bobsled run. I knew I was in a place of amazement, and the memories are still with me some 30 years later.
That said, when planning a gold medal trip, consider all the potential destinations where Olympic dreams are birthed and realized, such as athlete training centers or previous host cities. I've highlighted a few affordable spots in North America that continue to offer Olympic-themed experiences or special events during and after the current Games (and that includes Vancouver). If you plan accordingly and take advantage of available deals, you can even go for under $500.
Colorado Springs, Colorado
While Colorado Springs has never hosted the Olympic Games, it serves as the headquarters for the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Olympic Training Center programs. You can visit the U.S. Olympic Complex, which has housed both summer and winter Olympians like swimmer Michael Phelps and snowboarder Shaun White. Tours are free and you just might catch a glimpse of an athlete working out or walking across campus.
The famous Broadmoor Hotel has a deep connection to Olympic history since it was the former site of the Broadmoor Skating Club, once home to Olympic figure skaters like 1968 gold medalist Peggy Fleming. Nowadays, the club has its own training facility at World Arena, which is home base for current U.S. ladies champion Rachael Flatt and recent training ground of two-time U.S. men's champion Jeremy Abbott, both hopefuls for Vancouver. Most practices are open to the public, and skaters often test out their programs in front of live audiences in special "Fire and Ice" exhibitions. I had the opportunity to stop by an elite practice session about a year ago and have gained a new appreciation for the daily rigors of training.
While in the Springs, you can also stop by the World Figure Skating Museum & Hall of Fame ($5 for adults) showcasing memorabilia like the red dress Michelle Kwan wore for her Scheherazade long program during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, as well as an exhibit on Norwegian skater and Hollywood film star Sonja Henning, featuring the only known restored copy of her performance at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
And finally, it would be an oversight if I didn't mention how Colorado Springs, and nearby Denver, also serves as a jumping off point for some of the best ski resorts in the U.S., where you're always free to attempt your own giant slalom or catch air on the half pipe Shaun White style.
- If you want to stay at the upscale Broadmoor Hotel, which is Celebrating its 50th consecutive year as a five-star hotel by Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobil Travel Guide), winter is the best time for value. The Spectacular Winter Savings package, available through February 28, starts at $80 per person, per night based on double occupancy. The Doubletree Colorado Springs, World Arena has special packages as well, and I found room rates starting at just $69 per night for a two-night stay (in February) with free parking.
- For other deals and discounts in town, check out the Colorado Springs tourism website. Or, stay at any one of the motels and some of the more affordable B&Bs in the charming Victorian town of Manitou Springs, located right at the base of Pikes Peak just four miles from Colorado Springs. Most properties are locally-owned and have rates for under $100 per night.
Sample airfares (including taxes and fees for February weekend travel):
- $222 Los Angeles to Colorado Springs (United)
- $239 New York to Colorado Springs (Delta)
- $258 Chicago to Colorado Springs (United)
- Alternatively, you can fly into Denver International Airport, a little over an hour's drive from Colorado Springs.