Park City ski jump

View from the top of the 120-meter ski jump

Want to see what it looks like from where a skiĀ  jumper takes off in the Winter Olympics? Want to see where the freestyle snowboarders and skiers practice their flips and twists?

You can do all this, and hurtle down the mountain at 80 mph on a bobsled, at the Olympic Park of Park City, Utah, about 40 minutes from Salt Lake City.

Since the Winter Olympics are only held every four years, there are a limited number of places where you can see where the action was. In the USA that’s Lake Placid, NY and Park City—site of the 2002 games. These are the only two places in the country where the hopefuls can train on the bobsled, luge, and skeleton, plus train for sports like ski jumping on actual spots that hosted the international competition.

The Olympic Park in Utah is a year-round attraction, with free admission to the museum and base (where you can watch athletes training) and guided tours available for $10. You’ll need to opt for the latter to travel up to the take-off spots for ski jumping and bobsled racing.

There’s a swimming pool at the bottom, near the museum, that’s like no pool you’ve ever seen. Kid-sized ramps and adult-sized ones send athletes up into the air after they come down a slippery wet ramp on skis or a snowboard. They get airborne, do their series of flips, then land in the pool. The water is aerated so that they get a soft landing.

Training for the Olympics is a full-time job, so there’s a high school on site too that runs from April through November. After that it’s time to hit the slopes and start training again on real snow.

Sledding at 80 mph

I was there as a guest of Visit Park City and got to do something few people get to experience: flying down the bobsled course with 5G of pressure pushing my helmeted head around. We had a safety orientation, signed our rights away on a waiver sheet, then got tips on how to ride “The Winter Comet” without hurting ourselves. (Shrug your shoulders up, tuck your head in, brace your arms against the side, don’t bang your helmet into the driver in front.)

Park City bobsled

I’ve read in several places that this is the winter sport you could get into the Olympics for without having a lot of training. Basically the entrants just push off really hard, jump in one at a time, then lean into turns on the way down. We didn’t even have to push, so we could concentrate on the ride. It started off like a good water slide, turned into one of those water slides that are way too steep, then felt like what it’s probably like to blast into space. In a flash though, that was it.

If you want to do this yourself, it’ll be about the fastest $200 y0u’ve ever spent. That’s the equivalent of two days of skiing at Deer Valley, Park City Resort, or The Canyons. But going down the Olympic bobsled track comes with far more bragging rights. Plus is supposedly costs more than $8,000 a day to maintain this track: it’s a complicated collection of ice-coated concrete, pipes, and human scrapers keeping the conditions optimal. There’s never been an accident, but something tells me the insurance costs are hefty as well.

While you’re in museum visiting mode, it’s worth checking out the downtown historic Park City museum, which goes into all the mining history of the region. More on that later…

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Tim Leffel is author of five travel books, including Travel Writing 2.0, and A Better Life for Half the Price, on living abroad. He is editor of Perceptive Travel webzine and this blog. He splits his time between Guanajuato, Mexico and Tampa Bay. See his writing portfolio, awards, and links to his books at TimLeffel.com.