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Ski Lines: Lake Placid to celebrate 40th anniversary of 1980 Winter Olympics

Ski Lines: Lake Placid to celebrate 40th anniversary of 1980 Winter Olympics

Phil Johnson's weekly ski column
Ski Lines: Lake Placid to celebrate 40th anniversary of 1980 Winter Olympics
This jacket is what volunteers wore during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
Photographer: Phil Johnson

If you don’t have one tucked away in a closet somewhere, chances are you know someone who does.

I am talking about the blue Asics parka with the yellow trim, of course; issued to “The Clones,” the hundreds of volunteers, many of them from our area, who spent two weeks in February 1980 working on the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. 

The Games were the most significant sporting event to hit upstate before or since. And because the U.S. Hockey team upset the Russians en route to a gold medal and American speedskater Eric Heiden won a remarkable five gold medals in five events, Lake Placid has never given up the Olympic spotlight, even though there have been 10 Winter Games since then.

Lake Placid is organizing a 40th anniversary of the Games, starting Feb. 13 with “Totally 80,” an exhibit on the work of Robert Whitney in creating the look of the event. The exhibition is being organized by the Olympic Museum, a Lake Placid gem located on the first floor of the Olympic Center. It has become a must-stop for visitors to the village. 

In addition to the expected memorabilia, you can always see the video of the U.S.A.-Russia hockey game on a continuous loop with all the “Do you believe in miracles?” commentary that was part of the broadcast. The drama is still there, no matter how many times you watch. The outcome never changes. Nearby, the uplifting Kurt Russell as coach Herb Brooks pregame team send off from the 2004 film “Miracle” is posted: “Great moments are born from great opportunity.” 

The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  

The event schedule begins the next night with a re-creation of the torch lighting at the Horse Show Grounds outside of the village. That is where the opening ceremonies were held on a frigid early evening, remembered more for the collapse of the transportation system shuttling spectators back to town than for the lighting of the cauldron.

It was an inauspicious start to the games, which had been six years in the planning and almost 50 years in the dreams of local organizers who had grown up with the memory of the original Lake Placid Winter Olympics held in 1932.

For people today who choose to focus on the hole instead of the donut, there are ready targets for retrospective criticism, from organizational issues, to budget matters and, of course, the transportation problems that plagued the start of the Games. 

But for those in our area who volunteered, it was the experience of a lifetime that the two weeks next month will bring back to life.

It will not be nearly as glamorous as the 25th anniversary celebration, when almost the entire U.S. Hockey team came back to town. Most members of the team will get together again for the anniversary. But this time, the gathering will take place in Las Vegas. So much for sentiment. The Mahre brothers, Phil and Steve, who spent time at the 25th skiing again at Whiteface, are not expected in Lake Placid, nor is Heiden, who visited last year. 

The event this time — so far at least — seems to be more about memories of the people who have connections to Lake Placid and the Games — those who still have the blue coats and those who have heard the stories — and the legacy featuring athletes like Andrew Weibrecht, Gordy Sheer, Mark Grimette, Erin Hamlin and Frank Mazdzer, who have won medals in subsequent years and have come back to the area to live.

There will be fun events over the two-week period at the sports venues and throughout the village. Highlights include an ice show featuring Scott Hamilton and other figure skating Olympians on Feb. 18, and a visit by Wayne Coffey, whose book “The Boys of Winter,” about the 1980 Hockey team, has been updated for the 40th anniversary.

A full schedule will be released by organizers soon, but now is a good time to mark Feb. 13-23 on your calendars and plan to be part of the event.
In the meantime, look for that blue parka with yellow trim you know is stored somewhere, maybe the matching blue bib pants, too, and even the blue and yellow moon boots, not very chic perhaps, but certainly a warm way to deal with two weeks in February in Lake Placid. 


In case you missed it earlier this week, the Governor’s office announced $14 million dollars to rebuild the Mid-Station lodge at Whiteface that was destroyed by fire in late November.

While the final details are still being worked out, it appears that the location of the new lodge will be the same, and the plan calls for a slightly larger, two-story A-frame building with surrounding outdoor deck. The work will be done in two phases, the first completed next fall and the second in fall 2021 in time for the World University Games two years from now.


The story of Section II skiing so far this winter is the dominance of Madison Relyea in the girls cross country competition.

At the recent Shen-Saratoga Invitational at North Creek Snow Bowl, the Mayfield junior won the classic style race by a remarkable 1 minute, 38 seconds over runner-up Katrin Schreiner of Hadley-Luzerne, who in turn was almost two minutes ahead of the third-place racer.

Mayfield easily won team honors in the event, making at least one observer liken the outcome to “Hoosiers,” where the small-town team beats all the big schools to win the championship. Something to watch for in February. 


Last year, it was noted here that Shenendehowa grad Pete Sonntag was in charge of the super sized Whistler-Blackcomb ski area, a part of Vail Associates, the mega resort owner/operator.

Well, Vail has expanded Sonntag’s portfolio to now include Heavenly and two other areas in the Lake Tahoe region and other company resorts, including three in Australia. Sonntag, who is one of Vail’s three senior operations vice presidents, is back living in Colorado and keeping a close eye on the Union women’s hockey team that includes his daughter Katie. 

Reach Phil Johnson at [email protected]

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