Capital Project Makes Lake Placid an International Sliding Hub
Olympic hopefuls from around the world say the Mt. Van Hoevenberg facilities feel like a second home
(Story written by Aaron Todd and re-posted with permission)
When it comes to bobsled training in Lake Placid, John Napier has seen it all.
He started training at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg track at eight years old and went on to qualify for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in both the two- and four-man events. Over the course of his decade-long competitive career, he spent many long afternoons in the summer at Lake Placid’s push track facilities, working on improving his starts.
“We used to have an old push track at the horse show grounds,” says Napier, who now directs bobsled development programs for The New York State Regional Olympic Development Authority (ORDA). “It was on wheels, and towards the end it got a little dangerous. We went from that to another wheeled, greased metal railed system with a weighted push sled at the Olympic Training Center.”
Earlier this year, as part of a two-year, $76 million capital improvement project of the Olympic site facilities at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, an indoor push start facility dubbed the Ice House was completed at the newly-built Mountain Pass Lodge. The facility is the only indoor push start facility that allows athletes to push on ice in the United States, and is one of just two in North America.
“The push facility they built here at the lodge in Lake Placid is just pivotal,” says Napier. “You can train on ice down the hill in bobsled, skeleton or luge only so many months a year and the rest of the year, you’re left working on physical preparation, so having the push track here is just huge.”
“This is a total game-changer,” says Brittany Reinbolt, a bronze medal winner in the women’s bobsled team event at the 2019 World Championships in Whistler. “Running on ice and running on a non-iced surface are totally different. Now we can be on ice before the winter comes.”
Reinbolt, who is looking to make her Olympic debut at the 2022 Games in Beijing, is one of dozens of bobsled and skeleton athletes competing in North American Cup events in Lake Placid this week. And it isn’t just the Team USA athletes who feel at home at the new facilities at Mt. Van Hoevenberg.
“Lake Placid is my house,” says Brazil’s Edson Luques Bindilatti, who is looking to make his fifth appearance at the Olympics in Beijing. “I love this place.”
Bindilatti is one of many international athletes who chooses to spend a portion of the off season in Lake Placid training.
“When you train in the Ice House, it’s easier to transition to the track,” says Bindilatti. “We have a push track in Brazil, but it’s on rollers. Being in the Ice House, it’s possible to come here before the start of the season and when we go to the track our push is better.”
In addition to the Ice House, the Mountain Pass Lodge also contains a four-lane, 70-meterMONDO track surface for athletes to warm up and do sprint drills, and a weight room for strength training, making the facility a one-stop-shop for sliding athletes.
And while the facilities play a role in enhancing the experience of the athletes, ORDA also goes out of its way to welcome athletes from nations with emerging bobsled and skeleton programs.
“We spent a lot of time competing in Europe the last three years,” says Australia’s Evan O’Hanlon, a five-time Paralympic champion in track and field who is attempting to qualify for the Beijing Games in bobsled. “To be able to come (to Lake Placid) where everyone is so welcoming, where they will help us prepare our sled, give us access to facilities for training, and even giving us somewhere to house our sled … it’s a completely different environment when you compare it to traveling alone around Europe and having to find everything ourselves.”
That welcoming spirit is part and parcel with ORDA’s mission, says Paul Wylie, the organization’s director of sport.
“We’ve really prided ourselves in training athletes from all over and being open to coaching and nurturing athletes that come from places that you never expect,” says Wylie. “I think that Lake Placid, maybe more than any other destination for bobsled, has taken it upon ourselves to train people, to believe in people, and then to watch them succeed and thrive in the sport.”
A LONG TRADITION AS A GLOBAL CENTER FOR EXCELLENCE
The sliding track at Mt. Van Hoevenberg was built in 1930 in preparation for the 1932Winter Olympic Games. According to a 1931 article in Popular Science, it was at the time, “the only one of its kind in the world.”
“The Lake Placid course was longer, steeper and featured a more pronounced drop incurves than European runs, which allowed for steadier driving and faster speeds than those obtained on prior bobsled events,” the National Parks Service wrote in 2010.
The track was reconstructed for the 1980 Olympic Games, and was completely rebuilt in preparation for the 2000 Goodwill Games. While the course of the track has remained unchanged since 2000, recent upgrades to the ammonia plant refrigeration system have helped extend the track’s sliding season and create a better, more consistent surface for training and competition.
The push track in the Ice House has extended that history of excellence. Lake Placid was a bobsled hub over the summer, culminating in the 2021 USA Bobsled Push Championships at the end of July.
“You’d come up here, they’d have their music playing and there would be 20 guys in there jumping around and getting warmed up and hyped up,” says Napier. “It was unique to see that camaraderie among the U.S. team as they trained.”
“The team spirits were very high this summer,” says Reinbolt. “Training here and having this … if you feel like you’re the best and you know that you have the best (facilities), I think that goes a long way in your performance on the ice.”
A PIECE OF THE PUZZLE
The impact of the upgrades for the international bobsled and skeleton community are significant, but it’s just one aspect of the massive capital improvement project. The brand new 55,000-square foot Mountain Pass Lodge is also the hub for Nordic sports, with new competition trails, state-of-the-art snowmaking and paved roller ski trails for off-season training. The ski jumping facility now includes frost rails, adding consistency for training and fairness for competition.
These improvements have caught the attention of national and international sport federations, which are turning to Lake Placid to host events and championships. The US Ski Team will hold Olympic trials for ski jumping and Nordic combined in Lake Placid on December 24-25, and the 2022 U.S. Biathlon National Championships will be held at Mt. Van Hoevenberg from March 23-27. The Ice House will be the site of the 2022 World Push Championships, and the FISU World University Games will take place in Lake Placid in2023.
“The consolidation of the Nordic sports and sliding sports in one building builds a collegial, almost Olympic atmosphere here on a daily basis,” says Wylie, who won a silver medal in men’s figure skating at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville. “The athletes are cross-pollinating in a sense, being around each other and feeding off of that energy. That’s something that, as an athlete, would have really meant a lot to me.”
While the capital improvement project has enhanced the experience for the world-class athletes training and competing in Lake Placid, they are also designed to cater to the recreational visitor as well. The lodge includes a large, open lounge space with a view to the Nordic trails and biathlon shooting range. Visitors can grab a bite to eat at the restaurant, take a ride on the Cliffside Coaster, take a shower in the locker rooms and buy gear at the retail shop. Hikers also have access to a new, family-friendly trail that summits Mt. Van Hoevenberg with spectacular views of the high peaks.
“It’s supporting athletes while it’s also supporting tourism,” says Napier. “It’s supporting the local community and developmental programs. I think this facility really supports our mission. There’s so much you can do; there’s nothing like this place.”