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The Olympics bring out the flag-waving, Team USA-cheering amateur athlete in almost everyone. Sure, you can watch the Winter Games on television, but it's easier than you'd think to experience the thrill of victory firsthand at one of these sporty cities. Bobsled ride, anyone?
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Speed Skating in Milwaukee
Game Plan: Pettit National Ice Center is the indoor oval where athletes prepared for this year's Winter Games in Sochi. Every single U.S. speed skater from the last five Olympic Winter Games has competed or trained at the Pettit Center, which also offers public skating every day.
Break Time: Built in 1893, the historic Pfister Hotel (thepfisterhotel.com, from $139), located in downtown Milwaukee, is known for its old-world touches, including soaring painted ceilings and an impressive Victorian art collection. For something completely different, The Iron Horse Hotel (theironhorsehotel.com, from $179) is an industrial-cool boutique lodging with 100 loft-style rooms in a converted mattress factory. It attracts everyone from families to business travelers to motorcycle enthusiasts (the Harley-Davidson Museum is nearby).
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Bobsledding in Salt Lake City
Game Plan: Salt Lake City and nearby resorts hosted the Winter Games back in 2002, and today daredevils can make a reservation for a Comet Bobsled ride ($200 per person, ages 16 and up) at Utah Olympic Park. (Don't worry, a professional will be driving.) In less than 60 seconds, you'll rip through 15 turns, reach top speeds of about 80 miles per hour and experience up to 5 g's of force. The not-so-brave can head to the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center for complimentary admission to the Alf Engen Ski Museum and Eccles 2002 Olympic Winter Games Museum. The former highlights the history of skiing and features a virtual-reality ski theater that mimics what it feels like to "ride" over Mount Superior in Little Cottonwood Canyon, while the latter provides an up-close look at costumes and props from the 2002 opening ceremony as well as gear used by athletes.
Break Time: Most rooms at the Newpark Resort & Hotel (newparkresort.com, from $319) have a private hot tub on the balcony, heated bathroom floors and a fully stocked kitchen. Spread out at the well-appointed (stainless steel appliances, a fireplace and a washer-dryer in each unit), spacious Jupiter Inn condos (pclodge.com/properties-park-city-lodging/jupiter-inn-park-city, from $215 for a one-bedroom that sleeps four).
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Hockey in Lake Placid, New York
Game Plan: Lake Placid hosted the Winter Games in 1932 and 1980, so your first stop should be the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, featuring the largest collection of Winter Olympics artifacts outside the International Olympic Committee's museum, including medals, torches, posters and mascots. Next, tour the Olympic Center, site of the legendary 1980 "Miracle on Ice" hockey game in which underdog America defeated the Soviets. The venue offers public skating sessions, concerts, hockey tournaments and figure skating championships. At the Olympic Sports Complex, thrill-seekers shoot down the combined bobsled, luge and skeleton track year-round. Skiers and snowboarders of all ages can hit the powder at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, the same slopes that hosted racing competitions during the games.
Break Time: At the family-owned Wildwood on the Lake (wildwoodmotel.com, from $88) most rooms have a private deck or patio with a water view. If you prefer to be in the center of the action, the Crowne Plaza Resort & Golf Club (lakeplacidcp.com, from $109) features breathtaking views of the lake and Whiteface Mountain.
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Ski Jump in Calgary, Alberta
Game Plan: At Calgary's Canada Olympic Park, site of the 1988 Olympics, athletes train at the Ski Jump Tower year-round. While you can't practice there, the family can explore the park's cross-country skiing trails, with varied terrain suitable for all levels. If you'd rather stay indoors, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame, also in the park, has 12 galleries with more than 50 interactive exhibits and a collection of 95,000 sports artifacts. The Olympic and Paralympic Games Gallery profiles the three times Canada has hosted the Olympic Games: 1976, 1988 and 2010.
Break Time: The Best Western Premier Freeport Inn & Suites (bestwesterncalgary.com, from $138) boasts an indoor pool and water slide, while the Lakeview Signature Inn (lakeviewsignatureinn.com, from $172) offers a wow-worthy amenity—a personal grocery shopper.
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Snowboarding in Vancouver, British Columbia
Game Plan: Carve serious powder on Cypress Mountain, the same spot where freestyle skiing and snowboarding events were held during the 2010 Winter Games. Even the unathletic can feel like winners at BC Sports Hall of Fame's Vancouver 2010 Gallery, where visitors can stand on an actual medal ceremony podium and strike the ultimate Instagram-worthy pose. Don't forget to peek into BC Place, the stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies were held.
Break Time: Nestled in a quiet residential street in downtown Vancouver just three blocks from the water taxi, the Sunset Inn & Suites (sunsetinn.com, from $85) features a fully equipped kitchen in each room and free continental breakfast. Watch seaplanes take off and land from most hotel room windows at the Fairmont Pacific Rim (fairmont.com/pacific-rim-vancouver, from $343).
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Skiing in Lake Tahoe, California
Game Plan: Flanked by rugged mountain terrain and home to 12 major ski resorts (the largest concentration in the country), Tahoe is a year-round draw. Squaw Valley's new SnoVentures Activity Zone has mini snowmobiles for kids ages 6 to 12 and tubing for all. Since the lake never freezes over, you can also kayak; Tahoe Eco Sports offers guided tours ($90) for beginners and rental gear for experienced paddlers.
Break Time: Don't let the retro sign outside the Paradice Motel (paradicemoteltahoe.com, from $118) deter you—the rooms are comfy and cozy. The ski-in, ski-out condos at Red Wolf Lodge at Squaw Valley (redwolfsquaw.com, from $229 for a studio that sleeps four) are steps from Squaw Village's slopes, shops and restaurants.
Originally published in the March 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.