10 great places to feel like an Olympic champion

By Sarah Sekula, Published in USA Today

There’s nothing like witnessing Shaun White stomp a double cork 1080 in the 22-foot halfpipe, or seeing Rachael Flatt effortlessly nail a triple Salchow. However, if you can’t join the sports-loving masses in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics (today through Feb. 28), never fear. Jim Kaese, cofounder of athleticmindedtraveler.com, shares withSarah Sekula for USA TODAY his favorite ways to harness the oomph of the Olympics all year long.

Utah Olympic Park
Park City, Utah
For the daredevil in you, snag a spot on the skeleton course where you race headfirst down icy tracks at speeds of up to 45 mph. “It’s Utah’s version of the Fountain of Youth,” Kaese says. “For a few minutes you’ll feel 12 again.” Nearby, at Park City Mountain Resort keep your eyes peeled for lightning-fast Ted Ligety, 2006 Olympic gold medalist. Word has it, he favors the East Face run. Call ahead for reservations. 435-658-4200; olyparks.com

Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
“If you’ve fantasized about experiencing a bobsled run, but avoid cold and snowy weather like a reptile, then consider this tropical rainforest venue,” Kaese says. “Bobsled Jamaica is more roller coaster than bobsled, but this gravity-pull ride is thrilling.” The “sled” whips through a 3,280-foot track featuring scream-worthy twists and turns. When you come back to your senses, hop a chairlift to the top of Mystic Mountain and chow down Caribbean cuisine at the attraction’s charming eatery. 876-974-3990; rainforestbobsledjamaica.com

Mont Tremblant Ski Resort
Québec, Canada
There’s just something about cross-country skiing past porcupine tracks, through open meadows and along the Diable River. It’s part exhilarating, part exhausting. That’s where après-ski pursuits come in. Mont Tremblant goes out of its way to create activities for the entire family to enjoy indoors, as well, says Kaese. While the tikes are splashing it up at the adventure-themed aquatic center, adults can soak in Scandinavian baths at the slope-side spa. 888-738-1777; tremblant.ca

Bemidji Curling Club
Bemidji, Minn.
Curling isn’t the coolest Olympic sport, but it’s catching on. At Bemidji Curling Club, visitors can give it a go by prior arrangement. This club boasts more than 50 state and national titles and has been around for 70-plus years. Better yet, while you are throwing “rocks,” you may get a few pointers from 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Pete Fenson, who trains there often. 218-751-1123; bemidjicurling.org

Mount Snow Resort
Mount Snow, Vt.
“Mount Snow is to East Coast snowboarders what Boston is to marathoners,” Kaese says. Here, in Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark‘s hometown, you’ll ride the same tubes and jumps that Olympic snowboarders ride throughout the year. Afterward, if you crave BBQ ribs or a handcrafted pizza, try TC’s Family Restaurant, owned by Clark’s parents. 800-245-7669; mountsnow.com

Tordrillo Mountains
Winter in Alaska, simply put, is majestic. Likewise, there is no more impressive sight on the continent than the massive and jagged Tordrillo Mountains, Kaese says. Here’s the chance to conquer remote terrain via a heli-ski session alongside Tommy Moe, 1994 Olympic gold medalist. The über-athlete guides trips from Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in April and the “Kings and Corns” program in June. Think: velvety snow and runs with an average vertical of 3,000 feet. 888-983-3742; epicquest.com

Germain Arena
Estero, Fla.
Lace up your skates and soak up some figure-skating know-how with three-time Olympian Todd Eldredge as your guide, or sign up for a rough-and-rugged pickup game of hockey. “But prepare to work those ankle muscles,” Kaese says. Once you’re worn out, warm up outsidein the Florida sunshine. 239-948-7825; skateeverblades.com

Whistler Blackcomb Resort
Whistler, B.C.
The resort is the site of the annual TELUS World Ski & Snowboard Festival April 16 — 25. “Whistler’s mountain runs are legendary, but the real hullabaloo is about the impressive live music concerts, winter fashion shows, film and photography displays, and quirky sideshows (e.g. dog parade). While Canadians are warm and friendly year round, the brisk outdoor temperatures finally start to abate in April, making the fourth month of the year perfect for a Whistler visit.” 866-218-9690; wssf.com

U.S. Olympic Education Center
Marquette, Mich.
Being in the seats for a speedskating event at the USOEC is like watching a NASCAR race on steroids, Kaese says. “Competitors whiz around the ice oval at amazing human speeds, and winners and losers are often separated by only tenths of seconds,” he adds. 906-227-2888; webb.nmu.edu/SportsUSOEC

Whiteface Mountain
Wilmington/Lake Placid, N.Y.
The U.S. Alpine Championships take place March 20-23, marking the 30th anniversary of the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, when skiers carved their way down this mountain in a quest for medals, Kaese says. Watch 2010 Winter Olympic greats, like Lindsey Vonn and Steven Nyman, take on Whiteface Mountain’s most challenging slopes. 800-462-6236; whiteface.com