Lake Placid is a mecca for elite athletes, and often hosts athletes from different countries and sports. Two of these are Olympic legends, and train tirelessly from June until early November in the Olympic Center.
I am referring to the legendary Protopopovs. Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov are the 1964 and 1968 Olympic champions in Pairs Skating for Russia, and call Lake Placid their home.
This year, the Skating Club of Lake Placid is hosting a show in their honor. “A Tribute to the Protopopovs” will take place on Saturday, September 3rd in the 1980 arena. Joining local skaters of all ages and levels will be special guests, such as Dick Button. Himself a Lake Placid figure skating icon (Button trained in Lake Placid with Gus Lussi in the 30s and 40s), Button will be on hand to help celebrate the achievements of the husband and wife pairs team.
Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov’s rise to figure skating prominence was not effortless. The Soviet Skating Association discounted them as “too old” for serious training, even though they were only in their teens. Not to be limited by the Association, the Protopopovs trained independently, often skating outdoors in sub-zero temperatures. Their dedication paid off when they won the 1964 and 1968 Olympic title in Pairs skating, as well as four World Championship titles from 1965-1968.
After the Olympics, they were routinely rejected by the Soviet Skating Associations because of their derivative style. The Leningrad Ice Ballet did not want to give them a job, because they were too athletic, and the skating federation did not want them because they were too artistic. They turned professional, and started touring professionally throughout the United States. The Soviet Skating Federation’s continued ill treatment, however, was constant. For example, they skated in a show at Madison Square Garden for the fee of 10,000 dollars, but all they were allowed to keep was 53 dollars. In 1979, they defected from the Soviet Union and became citizens of Switzerland; this change of citizenship permitted them to tour with the Ice Capades.
The love of their sport is evident, and now in their 70s, the Protopopovs continue training every day. Nothing is able to stop them from participating in their sport; not even a stroke. Oleg Protopopov suffered from a stroke in 2009, but a few weeks after the event started skating again. He is still skating, and has regained his skills. Residents of Lake Placid, it is not uncommon to see the Protopopovs walking or riding their bikes through town, or training on one of the 3 ice surfaces. After November, the Protopopovs travel to Switzerland and Hawaii, skating in Switzerland and surfing in Hawaii. No matter what, the Protopopovs always strive to keep healthy and fit.
The show will be a display of all ages and abilities. Admission is $10.00 for Adults (13-64), $8.00 for Youth (7-12) and Seniors (65+). Children age 6 and under are free. All proceeds benefit the Skating Club of Lake Placid. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.
What’s in a name? Take the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Museum as an example. When guests visit the museum, located in the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., they believe that they’ll only view and experience artifacts from both the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games, but there’s so much more. Not only does the museum feature items from the two Games held in Lake Placid, displays also include pieces from every Olympic Winter Games dating back to 1924. That’s why the museum worked with the U.S. Olympic Committee to obtain International Olympic Committee (IOC) approval to change its name to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.
“Visitors to the museum often said the collection represented more than the two Games held in Lake Placid and we agree that the name should reflect that,” said New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) president/CEO Ted Blazer. “The museum’s collections have grown over the years to encompass representation from each of the Olympic Winter Games, as well as the Olympic Games. With that expansion we felt it was important that the name of the museum mirror the breadth of the museum.”
Established in 1994, the Lake Placid Olympic Museum is the only one of its kind in the United States. In fact, it holds the largest Winter Games collection outside of the IOC’s Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. It’s also the only museum to have received the Olympic Cup, which is the oldest award given by the IOC.
“As the collections have grown and the presentations have become wider in scope, so has the need to change the name,” added museum director, Liz De Fazio. “As we move forward in getting this museum to be a full member of the IOC’s Olympic Museum Network, I feel this will bring us closer to that international look and feel.”
While touring the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, guests can view the first Olympic Winter Games medal ever won, a gold medal, earned by speedskater and Lake Placid native Charles Jewtraw during the 1924 Winter Games. Displays also feature athletes’ participation medals from every modern Olympic Games and Olympic Winter Games, as well as Olympic Team clothing and competition gear from several Games, including the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
The museum’s collection also includes costumes from Olympic figure skating legend Sonja Henie and several world cup and world championship trophies captured by U.S. bobsled and luge athletes, artifacts from the famed 1980 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, as well as Olympic medals.
The Lake Placid Olympic Museum is located at the box office entrance of the Olympic Center at 2634 Main Street and is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for juniors and seniors, while children six and under are free. For more information about the museum, log on to www.whiteface.com/museum.
The United States Olympic Committee’s Lake Placid Olympic Training Center and the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) are teaming up to present Olympic Day, Saturday, June 25, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Olympic Training Center, 196 Old Military Rd., in Lake Placid. Village of Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall will open Olympic Day with the Olympic Day Proclamation.
The free event gives families and youngsters the chance to try Olympic sports and meet athletes from biathlon, luge, bobsled, ski jumping and Nordic combined, freestyle aerials, speed skating, figure skating and canoe and kayak. Plus participants can try luge on the fully refrigerated indoor start ramps at USA Luge’s headquarters. Visitors can also watch athletes train, including 2010 U.S. bobsled Olympian John Napier. » Continue Reading.
It’s been called the greatest sports moment of the century. The Miracle on Ice, Feb. 22, 1980, when the U.S hockey team, made up of 20 college kids, upset the Soviets 4-3 during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., on their way to winning the improbable gold medal. Now it’s your turn to tell your story—where you were during that historic day that united the nation? How did that win against the Soviets inspire you?
Do you have a story to tell about that day? If you do, submit your story to the United States’ goaltender Jim Craig, email@example.com, for your chance to tell your story in an upcoming book of the memories about that game with the Soviets. What do you remember about the morale of the country at the time of the victory? Maybe you remember where you were and what you were doing. Or maybe this win served to inspire your life.
The two winning stories will receive a Miracle movie poster, personally signed by Craig. The deadline is May 31, 2011.
A new discipline will be on the program in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi; an event that has been struggling for years to be included. Women’s Ski Jumping will finally be allowed in the Winter Olympic Games. On Wednesday, the IOC announced that it would add the event after previously ruling that the discipline had too few elite competitors to justify an Olympic berth. Another concern voiced was whether the physical demand of ski jumping was appropriate for female athletes, despite inclusion of women in traditionally male dominated sports like hockey, boxing, and wrestling. Before last year’s games in Vancouver, an appeal was brought to court on behalf of women ski jumpers against the organizers of the Games, VANOC. They claimed that not allowing women to ski jump in the Olympics was a form of gender discrimination in government activities. While a Canadian judge agreed that it was discriminatory and VANOC was subject to the same laws, it can’t change the events. The IOC is the authority on the events in the Olympics, and isn’t bound by Canadian law. Therefore, women were not allowed to ski jump in Vancouver. But it looks like they will be flying through the air in Sochi.
Still, some concessions were made; women are still unable to participate in team events, on the large hill in Olympic events, or in Nordic Combined. The President of the Women’s Ski Jumping Foundation would like to see those privileges extended to female athletes too. “Now that we can jump, that should be something that should follow,” she said to the New York Times.
A second Olympic bobsledder has joined the New York Army National Guard. Nicholas Cunningham, a member of the U.S. Olympic Bobsled Team in 2010, will take time away from training in Lake Placid to become a Carpentry and Masonry Specialist for the 1156th Engineer Company in Kingston, NY.
In January Olympic Gold Medal Bobsledder Justin Olsen enlisted in the New York Army National Guard under the same program. Olsen has been a member of the United States Bobsled team since 2007; he will report for basic training at the end of April. “I just signed my papers with the New York Army National Guard and I’m off to basic training in two weeks,” Cunningham said in a Twitter message sent last Monday.
Olsen said he began thinking about the National Guard when his fellow USA Bobsled teammate Mike Kohn, who was then a sergeant in the Virginia Army National Guard, told him about the Army National Guard and the Army Athlete Program.
Olsen made the World Cup team in his first season and became one of the nation’s top bobsledders, he is one of two pushers on the four-man team.
In 2008, Olsen earned a spot on sled USA 1 with driver Steven Holcomb, winning two silver and two bronze medals in the first half of the World Cup tour. Olsen also helped push Holcomb to a first place finish at the 2009 National Championships for four-man and a silver medal at the inaugural World Cup in Whistler, Canada.
At the 2009 World Championships, Olsen teamed with Holcomb again to win gold in the four-man and a Gold Medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Cunningham, 27, who took 12th place in the 2010 Winter Olympics in the two-man bobsled category, made the official switch from the back of the sled to the driver’s seat, and has been named as an emerging elite driver for the U.S. program. Coaches expect Cunningham to be vying for a spot on the national team as a pilot next season.
Once they complete their individual entry training, both men are expected to apply for the Army World Class Athlete Program which provides athletes with support and training to compete in national and international competitions while maintaining a professional military career and promoting the US Army.
Selection in the Army World Class Athlete program is open to members of the active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard who compete in an Olympic sport and have maintained good military standing. Once a National Guard Soldier is selected, they are brought on active duty and performance is monitored for selection and attendance to required military schools to ensure program Soldiers remain competitive with their military counterparts.
Since the program’s inception in 1997, 40 Soldier-athletes have participated in the summer and winter Olympic Games winning Gold, Silver and Bronze Olympic Medals.
Photo: 2010 Olympic Gold Medal Winner Justin Olsen displays his Gold Medal after enlisting into the New York Army National Guard, Jan. 7. Photo by SFC Steven Petibone, New York Army National Guard.
Since the 1920s, the Skating Club of Lake Placid has been an integral part of Lake Placid’s skating culture. The first formal group skating in Lake Placid were the “Sno-Birds”, sponsored by the Lake Placid Club. They organized their own competitions and were the group in charge of assembling the U.S. and Canadian Skating Associations in 1921. The United States Figure Skating Association was formed at this meeting; making the Sno Birds very important in not only Lake Placid’s skating history, but the country’s skating history as well. According the Skating Club of Lake Placid historian Barbara Kelly, figure skating in Lake Placid really started to develop in the 1930s. The Sno Birds hosted their first indoor competition in 1932 in the new Olympic Arena. This was also when the skating club, then called the “Adirondack Skating Club”, was formed after the Olympics. The board of directors were influential local people, among them the manager of the Olympic Arena Jack Garren and Chairman of the North Elba Park Commission Rollie J. Kennedy. In 1937 the name was changed to the “Skating Club of Lake Placid”.
The “Golden Age” of skating continued through the 40s, when skaters flocked to Lake Placid to train in the summers with the best coaches in the world. This provided them the opportunity to skate in the two spectacular summer ice shows, some of the most elaborate shows in the country. At this time, well-known skaters such as Dick Button trained with equally famous coaches like Gus Lussi.
Through the 50s , 60s, and 70s, the figure skating program continued to attract talented and well known skaters. Some notables included Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Ronnie Robertson, Tab Hunter, and Evelyn Mueller Kramer. Fleming and Hamill were the 1968 and 1976 Olympic Gold Medalists in Ladies Figure Skating, respectively. Ronnie Robertson was the 1956 Olympic Silver Medalist in Men’s Figure Skating, and was best known for his amazing spinning ability. Coached by Gus Lussi, Robertson’s incredibly fast spins were tested by the American Space Program to determine how to achieve balance in a weightless environment; they were baffled by his lack of dizziness after spinning. Tab Hunter was a movie star and recording artist best known for his good looks and roles in movies such as “Damn Yankees”. Hunter was a figure skater as a teenager, competing in both singles and pairs; he was another of Gus Lussi’s famous students. Evelyn Mueller Kramer trained alongside Ronnie Robertson and Tab Hunter, and is currently a well-known skating coach.
In 1979 the first Skate America competition, now a part of the annual Grand Prix series, was held in Lake Placid. It was considered a “test event” for the 1980 Olympics, and was obviously a success, since the competition was also there in 1981 (the competition was not held in 1980). Since then, Lake Placid has continued to host several important figure skating events. Most recently Lake Placid hosted the 2011 Eastern Synchronized Skating Championships, which determined the synchronized skating teams that qualified for Nationals. Previously, Skate America returned in 2009, along with Regional and Sectional Qualifiers, the annual Lake Placid Free Skating Championships and Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. Ice shows such as Smuckers Stars on Ice and Disney on Ice return annually and biannually respectively.
Summer skating continues every year, bringing skaters from all over the world to train with a variety of coaches. Celebrity skaters train here as well; the most well known are Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov, 1964 and 1968 Olympic Gold Medalists in Pairs Skating. Part time residents of Lake Placid, they train here every summer and can often be spotted practicing on one of the rinks (see photo above).
The Saturday Night Ice Shows have also continued. Skaters taking part in the summer skating camp have the opportunity to skate alongside “guest” skaters who are National and World caliber. The shows are weekly instead of just twice in the summer, allowing for more skaters and more memorable performances under the spotlights in the 1932 Arena. Notable guest skaters have included Johnny Weir, Ryan Bradley, Kimmie Meissner, and Rachel Flatt, as well as many others.
For more information on the figure skating program, visit the Lake Placid Skating site. For more information on the Skating Club of Lake Placid, visit their website.
Philip George Wolff, 95, a Saranac Lake resident and florist for decades and an Adirondacker well known for his public service and wry wit, died Thursday February 3, 2011, at his western home in San Diego.
Phil, as he was known to friends and several governors, was the oldest living licensed bobsled driver, the chief of staff of the 1980 Winter Olympic Organizing Committee, and the proud founder of the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum. He achieved State Historical Site recognition in 2009 and National Historic Site recognition in 2010 for the 1932 Mt Van Hoevenburg Bobsled Run. Phil’s hand-restored 1921 Model T nicknamed “Jezebel” was donated to the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. Phil was a veteran of WW II, serving in the Army Corps of Engineers in the South Pacific from 1943 to 1945. At the end of the war, he was among the troops sent to occupy Japan, where he and several fellow soldiers on an assignment there just six days after the atomic bombings that ended the war saw a road sign for Nagasaki, and out of curiosity, detoured into the heart of the destroyed city and took photos of one another at ground zero. The adventure became one of the many stories of his incredible life that Phil loved to tell, showing the snapshots that proved it. He received the Purple Heart, Silver Star and other citations before returning to Saranac Lake and a reunion with his wife Elsie (Hughes) Wolff, who had built up their business during the war years and given birth to their first daughter, Cynthia, during his absence. Phil served an additional 17 years as an Army Reserve officer, starting an Army Reserve unit at Paul Smith’s College. He retired with the rank of Captain.
Born in Buffalo on October 19, 1915, he attended Cornell University where he was a member of the ski team and met his wife of 70 years. Another of his favorite stories was of the night he was playing bridge with classmates, discussing whom they were going to invite to an upcoming campus event. When a fellow card player said he was going to invite Elsie Hughes, Phil excused himself from the table the next time he was dummy, went to a phone and asked her himself.
Phil, who earned the money for college by selling furs he trapped on his way to and from high school, took a year off from college for his first job, that of designing and constructing Saranac Lake’s Riverside Park in 1937, before graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in landscape architecture in 1938. Elsie gave him an ultimatum — he could be a farmer without her or a florist with her, and they were married in 1940, opening and operating a greenhouse in Ray Brook that year and a florist shop in Saranac Lake called Wolff Your Florist, which closed in 1981, having delivered thousands of distinctive white corsage boxes to young women over the decades.
Phil became an early 46er in 1940. He loved hiking the High Peaks (in moccasins) with his scouting friend Frosty Bradley. Adirondack Life magazine published his memoir of those trips and his meetings with hermit Noah Rondeau in the April/May, 2010 edition, making Phil, then 94, perhaps the oldest author to have an article published in the magazine, complete with photos he took of Rondeau. He was proud of his paycheck from the publication.
Phil was active in the community, serving as president of Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club. He was a member of the Town Board of North Elba, Chairman of the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, a member of the Northwood School Board of Directors, the Saranac Lake Golf Course Board of Directors, He also was the Treasurer of the Cornell Alumni Association Class of 1938 (until his death), and a founding member and treasurer of AdkAction.org, an Adirodack advocacy group founded in 2006 when he was in his early 90s. He was elected Town Justice of the Town of North Elba in 1960 and served for 16 years, performing many marriages including those of his children. He was seen during Winter Carnival over the years with other Rotarians as Miss Piggy, among other caricatures. In San Diego, California where he and Elsie took up winter residence in 1987, he enjoyed serving turkey to the “older folks,” most of whom were younger than he, at the Poway Rotary Thanksgiving Dinner for Senior Citizens.
Phil was an Eagle Scout and member of Troop 1 in Barker, NY, where he returned in 2010 to bestow the Eagle badge on their latest recipient in August, 2010. He founded the first Boy Scout Troop in Saranac Lake in 1939.
Phil was a member of the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympic bid committees. In 1978 he was appointed Chief of Staff of the 1980 Winter Olympic Organizing Committee, a position he held until the LPOOC’s closure in 1987, volunteering his time during the last three years of that assignment. He also served as chief of the Security Committee for the 1980 Games. One of his proudest accomplishments was being the founder and president of the 1932 and1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum, where he remained on the board until his death. He was inducted into the Lake Placid Hall of Fame in 2002.
Phil will be remembered by family and friends for his generosity and thoughtfulness, his ability to fix anything, his love of golf with his friends, the intricate ship models he constructed in bottles, his broad thinking about solutions for the Adirondacks he loved, his bad jokes, his love of his alma mater, his collection of Olympic and Adirondack books and memorabilia, and his love for his wife and family. His favorite saying was, “Isn’t it nice to have the WHOLE family together.”
Phil is survived by his wife Elsie, his children Cynthia of LaJolla, CA (Bill Copeland); David of Ridgefield, CT and Saranac Lake (Holly); and Steve of Poway, CA (Stephanie) as well as grandchildren Dj, Stephen, Alex, and Andrew.
Two engineers from Clarkson University will work to design a faster, more aerodynamic sled for the United States Luge Team, which it hopes to use at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Mechanical engineering professors Douglas G. Bohl and Brian Helenbrook will use computer models and wind tunnels to speed up the sled and reduce drag.
Bohl got involved after his now 13-year-old son tried out for the USA Luge development team last year. While traveling to the luge track in Lake Placid with his son each weekend, Bohl met sports programs director and two-time Olympic medalist Mark Grimmette, at which point he proposed the idea for a research project to reduce aerodynamic drag on the sled. “We’ve wanted to do this for years, but did not have the resources,” says Gordy Sheer, director of marketing and sponsorship for USA Luge. “We also needed someone who understood the sport and its nuances.”
“As athletes become better, equipment plays a bigger part in winning,” says Bohl. “I don’t know if there’s a ‘silver bullet,’ but I think we can make a difference.”
Luge is the only Winter Olympics gravity sport measured to 1/1000th of a second, so very small changes in drag can greatly affect times.
“We’ll build a computer model of a sled with a slider on it, compute the drag, examine the flow going past and finally put an actual sled in Clarkson’s wind tunnel to make drag measurements,” says Bohl.
Eventually, a sled will be built based on the Clarkson team’s research and taken to the low speed (sub-sonic) wind tunnel at the San Diego Air and Space Technology Center where USA Luge sleds are tested.
“We’re looking for evolution, not revolution,” says Sheer. “The Clarkson team will be looking at the aerodynamic shell and aerodynamic shape of the sled as a whole.”
Placid Boatworks, a custom canoe shop in Lake Placid, N.Y., builds the pods or shells, which act as a seat for the athletes. The kufens, which are the bridge between the steel runners and the pod, are hand carved from ash and wrapped in fiberglass.
“There is lots of artistry in luge sled design,” says Bohl. “Art will direct you to good solution through natural selection, but basic sled designs haven’t changed in 10 to 15 years. Scientists and engineers might be able to bring some new ideas into play.”
Bohl, Helenbrook and their team of students will receive no monetary compensation for their research.
“We won’t get technical papers or money out of this, but we’re helping the U.S. team,” says Bohl. “That’s a cool benefit of being at a University. It’s a lot of fun to do projects like this and Clarkson’s location near the Adirondacks and Lake Placid gives us the opportunity. We’re really excited.”
Photo: Douglas G. Bohl (right), a Clarkson University engineering professor, discusses luge design with Gordy Sheer, a 1998 Olympic silver medalist in luge and director of marketing and sponsorship for USA Luge.
The Lake Placid Speed Skating Club Race Series continues this weekend with the Charles Jewtraw All Around. The event if free, and spectators are encouraged to watch the live speed skating races on the Olympic Oval.
Named after local speed skater and 1924 Olympic Champion Charles Jewtraw, the event encompasses four races; the 500 meter (1 lap and a straightaway); the 1,000 meter (2 and a half laps); the 1500 meter (3 and ¾ laps); and the 3,000 meter race (approximately 7 laps).
The skater who performs the best in all four races will be the winner in their age categories. There are 11 age categories, from under 6 years old, to 79 plus. Saturday will start with the 500 meter and 1500 meter, and Sunday will conclude with the 1000 meter and the 3000 meter. For more information, visit the registration site at www.lakeplacidoval.com.
Last week I had the opportunity to interview Olavi Hirvonen and his wife Ann, who own and operate the Lapland Lake Nordic Vacation Center in Benson, near Northville. Olavi competed in the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympic Games as a member of the U.S. Nordic Ski Team., and in 1978 he founded Lapland Lake, which he and Ann have built into one of the East’s foremost cross country ski centers.
Jeff: What events led to you being selected for the U.S. Olympic Nordic Ski Team in 1960? Olavi: Well, it’s a long story… I was born in Montreal and was brought to Finland when I was eight months old. I was raised there by my grandmother and learned to ski as a youngster. I came to this country in 1949 after serving in the Finnish Army. After being here a couple years and married for a few months, I received greetings from the U.S. Army with special orders to go to Alaska as an instructor in the Arctic Indoctrination School. In the wintertime I taught skiing, snowshoeing, and Arctic survival, and in the summer it was mountain climbing, rock climbing, glacier travel.
Jeff: Alaska must have been an incredible place in the 1950s.
Olavi: I liked Alaska, yes. Good fishing and good hunting, and lots of lingonberries in the woods! [lingonberries are a Scandinavian food staple].
Jeff: Your service in the Army led to you being selected for the U.S. Olympic Ski Team?
Olavi: After the Army I had a ski lodge in Vermont that I was leasing. I had an invitation to go to the U.S. Olympic training camp in Colorado, but we were adding on to the ski lodge in ’59 and early ’60, and I couldn’t take the time to go because of all the work that I needed to do at home. So I trained by myself, until a week before the tryouts, and then I went out to meet up with the team in Winter Park, Colorado, which is at 10,000 feet. I had headaches night and day and didn’t do very well at all. On the fifth day, at a race in Aspen before the tryouts, I came in 26th and I thought I’ll never make it. The day after that we drove up to Steamboat Springs, and I went out to check the course for the first race of the tryouts. All of a sudden I felt like somebody turned the power switch on, like my old self. I came in second in the tryouts.
Olavi: Well, there’s more to the story. Because I hadn’t been trained by the Olympic coaches I was something of a black sheep. I didn’t get to race my best distance, the 30K, which was the first race. I found out the night before the race, and I was very disappointed. Instead I raced in the 15K and the 50K.
Jeff: Which event did you do better in?
Olavi: Well, the 50K, but I had never skied 50K in my life. I didn’t medal, but I ended up being the second US finisher, after breaking my ski. I had to ski on a single ski for more than a mile. I got a ski from a spectator and finished the race. That happened in the first 10K.
Jeff: That’s an incredible story, how did that happen?
Olavi: I stepped out of the track to make way for a Finnish competitor and that’s when I broke my ski. That was Veikko Hakulinen, and he won the silver medal. We became good friends after the Olympics. In the 40K team relay, he came from 20 seconds behind in the last leg to win the gold medal by just one meter. [Veikko Hakulinen was the only athlete at the Squaw Valley games to win three medals. The third medal was in the 15K].
Jeff: And what led you to eventually found Lapland Lake?
Olavi: We were living in Vermont in the 1960s and 1970s, and I had seen Trapp Family Lodge, the first cross country ski center in the United States. My late son worked there as an instructor in the 1970s, and it had been in my mind since the Olympics to one day start something like that.
In 1977 I had built two houses, one that we were living in and one that I was still finishing, and they were both for sale. I thought one of them might sell, but they both did, and so in the spring of 1978 we were homeless and we headed out. My plan was to head into upstate New York, but farther north than here. Driving north on Route 30, I saw the sign for Benson and I thought “I have to make that left.” It was like a magnet, I had not planned to come here. Eventually we found this place. It had cabins, lots of land and a lake, and it was for sale.
When we finally made the deal to buy the property, the lady who sold the property to us, the former owner, wanted to take us out to dinner. On the way to the restaurant she asked me what sports my late son had been involved in [Olavi lost his son Esa in an accident in 1977]. I said biathlon and cross-country skiing, and she said her nephew was on the U.S. biathlon team. So I asked her what’s his name, and she said John Hall. Well, I could hardly believe it because John Hall had been my son’s good buddy in college. That connection must have been the magnet that pulled me here.
Jeff: What were the early years like? Did you operate Lapland Lake as both a touring center and a vacation resort right from the start?
Olavi: Originally, this place was a farm. The lodge was a barn, for cows. In the 1930s, the owner put up some summer cottages but they weren’t winterized. We closed on the property August 3, 1978 and we had the first ski race December 15. There wasn’t much time to work on the trails that first year. We had to jack up all the cottages and put in foundations. I got a backhoe and I dug all of the water lines underground. We worked round the clock to get the place ready.
Jeff: Last year was a really tough year for snow. How did you do?
Ann: We average 117 days of skiing and over 11 feet of snow per year. Last year was our lowest snow year ever (80 inches), but we had over 100 days of skiing. We worked the snow and we were lucky with what we got.
Jeff: How much snow do you need to open?
Olavi: Well it depends on what type of snow. The best is a wet snow, and then cold after that. We can ski with just 2 inches on the lake trail. But six inches of wet snow lets us open just about everything.
Jeff: What’s involved in the trail grooming?
Olavi: At this time of year before the snow comes there’s clearing limbs and trees that have come down, and clearing drainage pipes. In the summer we mow the trails. It’s continuous maintenance. In the winter we groom every day. I’ve got a new 2010 Prinoth Husky Snowcat groomer, I think it’s our fourth snowcat groomer, plus a couple snowmobiles.
Jeff: Do you do all the grooming yourself?
Olavi: Yes, I still do. I have a young man who just started who I hope I can get to groom with the snowmobile, so at least I’ll have a backup if I get sick or hurt. It depends how good he is.
Jeff: How has the grooming evolved?
Olavi: When we first started I just had a snowmobile and track sled. We used mattress springs to break up the snow if it got hard or there was freezing rain. The trails were narrow, and groomed with tracks for classic skiing. Then people started skating, and I complained that people were destroying my tracks. So I widened the trails, bought our first snowcat, and started grooming for both skating and classic. Jeff: Has anyone taken you up on your “Groomer’s Challenge?”
Ann [explaining to Olavi, who apparently hasn’t seen this on the website]: That’s online. We checked with the Cross Country Ski Association, and we don’t think there’s anyone who has more hours of grooming experience than Olavi in North America. One gentleman said he had been grooming as many years, but he was from downstate where the seasons are short. So in terms of total number of days grooming, we haven’t heard of anyone who’s got the depth of experience that Olavi has. It’s been on the website for three years now.
Jeff: The grooming and the design of the trail network seem to have given Lapland Lake the reputation of being a skier’s ski center.
Olavi: From the start I had the idea of making the trails all one-way loops, other than some connecting trails. We have a limited amount of acreage, and I wanted to get as many kilometers of trail as possible and take advantage of the natural terrain. We also get lots of beginners. We have a great ski school and we do a lot of lessons.
Jeff: Olavi, do you still ski?
Olavi: I don’t ski much anymore. I work days, and usually when I do ski it’s in the evening with lights on the Lake Trail or the easier trails with a headlamp. But I find my balance is nothing like what it used to be. I’ll be 80 on December 26. You know your limitations.
Jeff: A number of cross country ski areas have installed snowmaking: Trapp, Mountain Top, and others. Is that something you’d consider here?
Olavi: No, I think it’s too much of an expense to be worth it for us, it wouldn’t pay. So far we’ve been very lucky with our natural snowfall.
Jeff: Where do your customers come from?
Olavi: We get day skiers from the Capital District, Johnstown and Amsterdam, even Kingston and New Paltz. Overnight guests from Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio. We get lots of Canadians and Europeans. About 65% of our skiers are experienced skiers. We get racers early in the season, but later they travel to races. We also have a great volunteer Ski Patrol.
Ann: On weekends we’ll have 300 to 400 skiers. We hit 1,000 once, but it was just too many: people were elbow-to-elbow in the ski shop.
Jeff: How does this winter look?
Ann: Our reservations and our season passes are up. People seem to feel more comfortable spending money.
Jeff: Do you think a ski center can exist on its own as a viable business, or does it need to be paired with an inn or lodging business to be successful?
Olavi: I think it works best with lodging. It gives you something to fall back on, something for the summertime. And lodging in the winter without the skiing doesn’t do very well either. You have to have that combination.
Jeff: One thing that has always stood out is your website and the way you communicate with skiers.
Olavi: That’s Ann. When we met she was a PR person at Ellis Hospital. She doesn’t want to miss a ski report, and quite often she’ll update it more than once during the day. I’ll give her a report while I’m grooming. We try our best to be honest, but sometimes you still get it wrong.
Ann: At the time, I thought I was taking a big gamble spending money on the website, but it’s really paid off.
Jeff: How do you two share the work: the ski trails, the retail shop, the cottages and the restaurant?
Olavi: Ann is really the manager, and I do most of the outside work, the trails. In the winter, after the trail grooming, I come in and work in the ski shop selling skis and doing repairs. Ann gives me a to-do list.
Ann: Olavi may say I am the manager, but he’s really the heart and soul of the operation. He puts so much of himself into the trails and the grooming… Olavi says “I groom it the way I want to ski it.”
Jeff: Thanks very much Ann and Olavi for your time, and congratulations on your continued success with Lapland Lake. Olavi, congratulations on your upcoming birthday, and your Olympic anniversary. Kudos!
Photo of Olavi and Ann courtesy the Finland Center Foundation.
Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and a 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker, a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.
They call it “Crazy Corners” or “Spaghetti Junction” or “Dysfunction Junction.”
For years I’ve driven through the unique, bizarre intersection at Routes 9 and 73 in New Russia, a hamlet of Elizabethtown. For years, I’ve wondered: who on earth designed this crazy confluence, and why? » Continue Reading.
Lake Placid’s 1932 and 1980 Olympic bobsled track will officially become a part of the National Register of Historic Places during a plaque unveiling ceremony on Monday, July 12. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. on the deck of the Lamy Lodge.
The original one-and-a-half mile long track (photo taken during construction at left) at Mt. Van Hoevenberg was completed in Dec. 1930, in time for the 1932 Olympic Winter Games, and since that time has played a significant role in the sport of bobsled’s history. It was during those games that Olympic two-man racing was introduced as well as the push start. In 1934, the International Bobsled Federation (FIBT) established a one-mile standard for all tracks. To accommodate the change, the top one-half mile was shut down above the Whiteface curve and the number of curves was reduced from 26 to 16, making the upper portion of the run unusable.
The 1,537-meter long course has also hosted five world championship races (1949, 1969, 1973, 1978, 1983) and one more Olympic event, in 1980. The 1949 Worlds also marked the first time a track outside of Europe had hosted that event.
Today, the track no longer hosts international competitions, but it remains in use. Summer bobsled rides are held on the course, where visitors can enjoy half-mile rides, reaching speeds in excess of 50-miles-per-hour, with professional drivers steering their sleds.
Guest speakers during the National Registry ceremony include New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) president/CEO Ted Blazer; representatives from Town of North Elba, the Village of Lake Placid, New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and 1932 and 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Museum member Phil Wolff, who was also instrumental in the track’s efforts to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Admission to the ceremony is free after 2 p.m. A guided tour with Guy Stephenson, licensed NYS guide, Wilmington Historical Society member, and retired Olympic Sports Complex staff member responsible for the restoration work on the 1932 portion of the track, will also begin at 2 p.m. Tour participants will be bussed to the 1980 start to begin the one-hour walk up the 1932 piece of the track. Light hiking attire is suggested.
Also from 2-4 p.m., in celebration of the national historic registry, half-mile long wheeled bobsled rides on the 1932 and 1980 Olympic track will be available for $55 per person. Bobsled rides have been a continuous part of the track’s operations since it first opened, Christmas 1930.
A tradition that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century will continue Saturday, July 3, when ski jumpers take to the Olympic Jumping Complex for the beginning of the summer ski jumping season.
Summer ski jumping actually began on snow when blocks of ice were removed from area lakes and stored until needed for the competitions. This ice was brought to the jumps and crushed into the hill. Crews laboriously spread this “snow” along the length of the site to allow the event to occur. In the late-1980s artificial surfaces, introduced in Europe for summer training, made their way to Lake Placid. Now the in-run, where the jumpers gain speed, is made of porcelain tile troughs, while the landing hill is a synthetic surface layered like a thatched roof. When the in-run and the landing hill are watered, the result is a winter replica of speeds and jumping distance.
The July 3 winner will have a leg up on the 2010 Art Devlin Cup chase. This is a season-long series that includes the July 3 event, the Flaming Leaves meet in October and the Masters Ski Jump in December. The day begins at 1 p.m. with the first of two official rounds.
Admission is $15 for adults, $9 for juniors and seniors and includes a chairlift ride and an elevator ride to the top of the 120-meter ski jump. Food and drinks are offered by ORDA’s concessionaire.
Admission into this event is included when purchasing an Olympic Sites Passportwhich provides purchasers access to each of ORDA’s Olympic venues for $29. They are sold at the ORDA Store on Main Street in Lake Placid and all ticket offices. For more information about the Olympic Sites Passport can be found online.
The Lake Placid 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Museum has added another piece to its collection of artifacts from last February’s 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, Andrew Weibrecht’s men’s Super-G bronze medal.
“The medal was turned over for display and for safe keeping between appearances,” noted museum curator Liz Defazio. “It’s so nice for these athletes to have a place where they can share their accomplishments with others… sort of their home away from home.”
Weibrecht’s bronze medal helped spark the U.S. alpine ski team to a record eight medals in Vancouver. Overall, the U.S. Olympic squad celebrated its best Olympics ever, claiming the overall medal count with 37. Nicknamed the “Warhorse” on the international alpine ski tour, Weibrecht began skiing at the age of five at Whiteface Mountain and began racing with the New York Ski Educational Foundation (NYSEF) program by the time he was 10. He had only been on the World Cup circuit since 2006 and Vancouver was his first Olympic Winter Games.
There are quite a number of artifacts on display in the museum from the 2010 winter games donated by several of the 12 area athletes who competed, as well as coaches and officials. The artifacts include race gear, Opening Ceremony clothing, official U.S. Olympic team clothing, event tickets, programs and pins.
Lake Placid’s 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Museum features the largest collection of winter Olympic artifacts outside the International Olympic Committee’s museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Some of the artifacts include the first Winter Olympic medal awarded, gold in 1924 in Chamonix, France, to Lake Placid native and speedskater Charles Jewtraw, equipment worn by U.S. goalie Jim Craig during the 1980 winter games, parade clothing from the 1932 winter games, athletes participation medals and Olympic medals from every winter Olympics.
Admission to the museum is $6 for adults and $4 for juniors and seniors. Admission is also included when purchasing an Olympic Sites Passport. The Passport gives visitors access to each of ORDA’s Olympic venues—from Whiteface Mountain to the Olympic Sports Complex and everything in between. Sold for $29 at the ORDA Store and all of our ticket offices, the Passport saves you time, money, and gets you into the venues at a good value. For more information about the Olympic Sites Passport, log on to http://www.whiteface.com/summer/plan/passport.php.
Photo: Andrew Weibrecht’s Super-G Bronze Medal. Courtesy 1932 and 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Museum, Lake Placid, NY.
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