Visitors to host cities can become the athletes themselves on world-class ski runs. // © 2018 Creative Commons user travelbusy
Feature image (above): Spectacular scenery and entertainment can be found in Salt Lake City and other Winter Olympic sites. // © 2018 Creative Commons user countylemonade
Every four years, thousands of tourists from around the globe visit a wintertime destination to watch the world’s best athletes compete in their cold-weather disciplines. In early 2018, the Winter Olympics came to Pyeongchang, South Korea — and so did approximately 80,000 travelers looking to cheer on the competitors and explore a region they likely would have never seen if it weren’t for the Games.
Truthfully, the closing ceremony also usually signals the end of most popular interest in visiting the host cities, which is a trend that is somewhat unjustified. Even though their torches were extinguished, these five Olympics sites remain worthy of attention, offering clients sports-related activities and more, no matter the season.
Calgary, Canada’s third-largest metropolitan area, hosted the Games in 1988, but the Alberta city still holds its own as one of the country’s prominent cultural centers. The first item on any itinerary should be an elevator ride up to the glass-bottomed observation deck of Calgary Tower, which offers stunning vistas of skyscrapers and the snowcapped peaks of nearby Banff National Park.
At Heritage Park Historical Village, Canada’s story comes to life through immersive exhibits and live presentations; hop onboard an authentic steam engine for a ride to the fur trading outpost, craft your own ice cream and ride the paddlewheel boat. In warmer weather, a daytrip to Dinosaur Provincial Park east of Calgary is exciting for all ages, and a stay at the campground is even better. There, kids can dig up fossils with a paleontologist guide or the whole family can pedal along scenic bike trails.
Things have changed since 1936, when Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, welcomed the world to its charming cobblestone streets. At the time, the small Bavarian village’s stunning alpine scenery disguised the growing ugliness of the Nazi regime in Germany. Today, the ski resort community is a popular tourist destination year-round, known for its black-diamond runs and summertime walking trails. An expansive network of cable cars and gondolas carry sightseers to several of the adjacent summits, including Zugspitze, Germany’s highest point.
Down in the valley, hikers can explore Partnach Gorge on a pathway cut into the stone wall; during the winter, sizable icicles grow like Jack Frost’s beard. In town, visitors sit outside colorfully painted storefronts and quaint cafes, sipping espresso and enjoying peaceful mountain life. Linderhof Palace, King Ludwig II’s elaborate estate, was meant to evoke Versailles and is just a short drive away. With the Alps in the background, the golden fountains and ornate architecture are a jaw-dropping spectacle.
The 1994 Lillehammer, Norway, event marked the first time the Winter Olympics were not held the same year as the Summer Olympics, but that’s not the only reason they were notable. The games welcomed nine former-Soviet nations for the first time, implemented stricter qualifying requirements and introduced the world to figure skater Tonya Harding. Visitors can relive all of the drama at the Norwegian Olympic Museum, an interactive experience that celebrates Norway’s successes on the podium.
If the biathlon simulator doesn’t get the blood pumping, clients can get their adrenaline fix at Hunderfossen Familiepark’s bobsleigh track. Fairytales meet action sports at this amusement park guarded by a 45-foot-tall troll. He watches over rollercoasters, a go-cart circuit and a snow hotel complete with intricate ice decor. For the best views of the surroundings, ride the chairlift above the landmark Lysgardsbakkene Ski Jumping Arena. Be prepared, though: Standing at the top is not for the faint of heart.
Salt Lake City, Utah
The “Crossroads of the West” became the focus of the world at the 2002 Games. Salt Lake City is an inviting mountain metropolis that serves as the gateway to Utah’s five national parks. Exploring the scenic landscape is a must, but the city offers other attractions, too. At the Family History Library, travelers can explore their genealogical roots. And at the Tracy Aviary, guests can toss some fish into the cavernous beak of a white pelican or witness the endangered kea, the planet’s only alpine parrot.
Temple Square and its lofty Mormon church are a sight to behold, and Clark Planetarium will transport clients into the cosmos. Mornings can be spent perusing several farmers markets before checking out the American gallery at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. Casino resorts sit across the salt flats in Wendover, but seeing the otherworldly terrain alone is worth the trip.
Though it hosted the 1972 Games, Sapporo, the capital of Japan’s northernmost island Hokkaido, is best known for its beer. Tour the red-bricked Sapporo Beer Museum, learn about the region’s breweries and sample some of its eponymous lager. Cuisine is delicious as well, and dishes such as ramen and soup curry are commonly made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Another huge draw to the city is its annual Sapporo Snow Festival; artists construct towering sculptures of snow and ice across Odori Park, wowing tourists and locals alike. The Hokkaido Shiki Theatre puts on incredible musical performances, specializing in Disney productions such as “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” Venturing outside the city, travelers can find relaxation and quietude at several different spas and hot springs. Multiple shuttles depart for Jozankei Onsen each day, where warm, mineral waters and a picturesque landscape offer an escape for city folk.