Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Going for the Gold

Well another fours years have passed, and the pageantry and spectacle of the Summer Olympics are upon us. Couldn't make it to Merry Old England for the games? Me neither. Between the airfare, event ticket prices, and the crush of humanity, I am just as happy to catch the games on TV, even if it means enduring hours of filler between the few moments of actual sport. I've taken to visiting the site of previous Olympics instead, and this year I am going for the gold in Olympic Valley, CA. Sure there are no sporting events, but there are no lines or badminton cheaters either.

You may know Olympic Valley by its other name, Squaw Valley. And if you are as old as I am, which may not even be possible, you will recall that it played host to the 1960 Winter Olympics. That was the first Olympics ever televised live, and was also the first time the U.S. mens hockey team ever won gold. Sometimes referred to as the "Forgotten Miracle" in reference to the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," this team won all seven of its matches and took home the hardware for the home team. The Squaw Valley games were also notable for being the smallest locality to ever host the games, the first athletes' village, opening and closing ceremonies produced by Walt Disney (the man himself), not having the bobsled event, and being dominated by the U.S.S.R. Today it is home to one of largest ski resorts in the country - the Squaw Valley Resort - and attracts over 600,000 skiers annually.

So what am I doing here in the summertime? Well that's a very good question. For starters, the aforementioned 600,000 skiers are not here. So unlike the wintertime, there are no crowds or lines anywhere. And with its location in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, just 10 miles from Lake Tahoe, it is an outdoor adventurists dream. From hiking to biking, zip-lining to paint-ball, this area has it all. A nice way to kickoff your trip is a ride on the Squaw Valley Resort's aerial tramway. Originally built for the games, it takes visitors from the base of the mountain (6,000 feet up) to High Camp, at over 8,200 feet. Besides the breath-taking views of the High Sierras up there, you will find a roller rink, disc tennis, geocaching, paintball, hot tub, and a pool with an island and a waterfall. You can also rent a bicycle and set out on numerous paths of varying degrees of difficulty, take in self-guided hiking trails (or go with a group), as well as play on some seriously nice golf courses.

I happened to arrive right at the tail end of the July Wanderlust Festival. Wanderlust is a traveling festival of leading yoga teachers, top musical acts and DJs, renowned speakers, top chefs, and winemakers. If that sounds like a strange combo, it is. I managed to catch both self-help guru Wayne Deyer (the bald guy from the PBS fund drives) and Ziggy Marley, take a standup paddle-board yoga class on Lake Tahoe, and enjoy a "chakra-aligning" farm-to-table dinner at 8,200 feet up in the mountains - all in the same day. Paddle-board yoga not your thing? How about poetry or screenwriting? For 43 years, Olympic Valley has played host to the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference, which brings in top writers from all genres for workshops, conferences, lectures, panels, readings, and more. I've got this screenplay I've been trying to pitch to Hollywood types for years, and I am thinking about perhaps trying to sell it here instead. It's about a guy who travels the world staying in exotic timeshare locations, but secretly longs to be in cabaret. But I digress.

I am renting a timeshare at the Olympic Village Inn, appropriately enough, just a quarter of a mile from the original Olympic site. The resort features two different floor plans (mine's a one-bedroom with one bath), indoor/outdoor pools, a hot tub, and complimentary bicycles for getting around on. RedWeek members give it 4-stars, and I have to agree. As one of our reviews says: "It's not luxurious, but it has everything you might need."

Well I am off to strike it rich at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park. It's a California state park about two hours away, and the site of the find that kicked off the California Gold Rush in 1848. Their Eureka Experience Interpretive Programs teaches you how to pan for gold, and lets you keep anything that you find. At $1,600 an ounce, I figure I'll be laughing all the way to the bank. Of course I also have a serious side bet on the outcome of the badminton medal round, just in case.

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