Where to Try Winter Olympic Sports in and Around New York City

By Amber Ray on February 17, 2014 7:18am 

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 With the Sochi Winter Olympics in full swing, here's where to emulate the Olympians, without the airfare.
Try Winter Olympic Sports in or Near New York City
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NEW YORK CITY — Watching someone on a sled, heading face-first down a skeleton track at 80 mph is enough to excite even the most winter-weary New Yorker.

The sports showcased in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, are not just for Olympic athletes — they can give city slickers a reason to get excited about all this snow and ice.

If watching world-class athletes break records on the slopes or deliver perfect triple axels in figure skating inspires you to try a new sport, here's where to learn hockey, curling and, yes, even skeleton.

SPEED SKATING

Taconic Speedskating Club, E.J. Murray Ice Rink, 348 Tuckahoe Rd., Yonkers, NY

Taconic Speedskating welcomes beginners of all ages to channel their inner Shani Davis during the club's Wednesday night practices.

"We encourage people with all levels of skating ability to participate," said Kevan Hitch, the club's membership director.

There is a $25 fee for the 1 hour and 20 minutes of ice time and short track instruction.

Taconic member Leslie Tomkins of the Bronx first learned about the sport as a teen in northern California — but not from the kind of speed-skating enthusiasts you might expect.

"My boyfriend's sister, who was married to a member of Jefferson Airplane, took up speed skating with some of the band members as a means of getting in shape. It sounded cool to me," she said.

A classical musician, Tomkins began her own speed-skating training about three years ago. "Being a beginner in my mid-50s is both humbling and exhilarating," she said.

"I love the challenge, both mentally and physically, and the grace and power of the accomplished skaters."

Flushing Meadows Speed Skating Club, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Avery Avenue and 131 Street, Queens, 516-671-5526 (call after 5 p.m.)

The Flushing Meadows Speed Skating Club also offers a short track experience for beginners. The club is home to about 60 members of various skill levels, with a handful of those athletes competing in events like the Middle Atlantic Short Track Championships, which will be held March 2 in Hartford, Conn.

The club practices on Monday and Thursday evenings through March.

FIGURE SKATING

Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, Pier 61 – 23rd Street & Hudson River Park, 212-336-6100

Sky Rink's Adult Skate Night is a comprehensive 80-minute session for skaters to hone their skills, including 20 minutes of on-ice free-skate time, 30 minutes of group class by level and 30 minutes of practice ice. Bonus: Skate rental is included. The winter semester is sold out; call 212-336-6100, ext. 6158 or 6152 for spring semester availability.

City Ice Pavilion, 47-32 32nd Pl., Long Island City, 718-706-6667

The City Ice Bridge Program offers everything a budding Gracie Gold could want in a practice: 30 minutes of off-ice training, one hour of on-ice instruction and 30 minutes of free ice to ace those moves.

"This is an option for skaters of all ages to learn the advanced steps in what it takes to skate at a higher level," said Brianna Younes, director of the Skating School. The seven-week class is $310 for first-timers and includes public skating passes.

If the idea of standing on the ice, let alone attempting an elegant spin, seems a little overwhelming, Younes suggests a beginner's course. The seven-week program is $190 and includes insurance, skate rental and a seven-week public session punch card pass.

Aviator Sports, Floyd Bennett Field, 3159 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, 718-758-7500

Learn to skate in classes taught by a staff that includes Olympic and World coaches and competitors. Spring classes begin soon; check the Aviator site for the full schedule.

ICE HOCKEY

Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers, Pier 61 – 23rd Street & Hudson River Park, 212-336-6100

Sky Rink's Adult Hockey Prep program introduces T.J. Oshie-wannabes with beginner or intermediate skating skills to the sport. Players will learn proper skating techniques and the basics of the game during sessions that include skill instruction and private practice. The next 11-week program runs March 31–June 9 and costs $360.

City Ice Pavilion, 47-32 32nd Pl., Long Island City, 718-706-6667

Learn the game, play the game. The Adult Learn to Play Hockey program at City Ice includes four practices and four games with on-ice instruction. Call for program schedules and costs.

Aviator Sports, Floyd Bennett Field, 3159 Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, 718-758-7500

Learn the fundamentals of hockey in 10-week sessions ($300), or drop in for a class ($40) at Aviator's Adult Learn to Play Hockey program. The winter season is currently in progress; the spring season begins April 7.

CURLING

Long Island Curling Club, Newbridge Arena, 2600 Newbridge Rd., Bellmore, NY, 516-855-8226

"Most people have barely heard of curling, let alone tried it," said Long Island Curling Club president Matt Scheiner. In anticipation of New Yorkers' increased curiosity about the sport during the Winter Olympics, the club is offering two open houses in March (on the 1st and 15th). Reservations are required and the cost is $10.

For a more hands-on experience, sign up for the club's Learn to Curl program, which gives participants two hours of formal, on-ice instruction. The cost is $30, but that money can be credited toward a league membership. League fees are $225 plus tax, and a $150 annual membership is required.

Scheiner recommends wearing warm clothes — the game is played on ice, after all — and rubber-soled shoes. The club provides all other equipment.

John Paccione, who works in TV and video production, watched Olympic curling for years before deciding to try the sport last May. The Queens resident participated in one of the Long Island Curling Club's open houses and got hooked; he's now playing in his second season.

"It was fun from the get-go," Paccione said. "It took a while to get my footing on the ice — I fell a couple times — but I knew I wanted to stick around. Everyone had great attitudes; curling is fun and social, and I saw that right away."

The strategy required to play the sport also appealed to Paccione. "I love figuring out how the ice is changing over the course of a game and how the other team will plan their next shots," he said.

"People are running around on ice with a broom and 40-something pound stones. We're doing something a little different and having a lot of fun."

Plainfield Curling Club, 133 McKinley St., South Plainfield, NJ, 908-668-9460

Curling rookies can also check out the sport in New Jersey, where the Plainfield Curling Club is holding two open houses tied to the Olympics. The events on Feb. 22 and 23 are currently full, but to be put on a wait list, email tryolympiccurling@njcurling.org.

Or check out the club's Curling Experience sessions, which give participants two hours of ice time to learn the basics, for $50 per person.

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

Fahnestock Winter Park, 75 Mountain Laurel Lane, Cold Spring, NY, 845-225-3998

Get a workout while gliding through a snow-covered forest at Fahnestock Winter Park in the Hudson Valley. The Putnam County park features more than 10 miles of groomed, tracked and mapped trails for cross-country skiers of all skill levels.

"A variety of different languages can be heard on the trails, in the Acorn Café and around the outdoor fireplace," said Paul Kuznia, director of the Taconic Outdoor Education Center & Fahnestock Winter Park. A large percentage of the park's cosmopolitan visitors make the 65-mile trek north from the city, he said.

Trail passes are $10 for adults. Rentals are available on a first-come basis; you can pair touring skis ($16) or skate skis ($19) with your boots and poles and the park also offers snowshoeing and tubing.

Mohonk Mountain House, 1000 Mountain Rest Rd., New Paltz, NY, 855-883-3798

Whether you're a guest at the historic Hudson Valley resort or just visiting for the day, take advantage of Mohonk's 30-plus miles of groomed cross-country trails (weather permitting). Equipment rental with a grounds pass is $42 per person mid-week, $47 per person on weekends and holidays. Lessons are available; contact the resort for pricing.

ALPINE SKIING/SNOWBOARDING

Tuxedo Ridge Ski Center, 581 Route 17A West, Tuxedo, NY, 845-351-1122

Everyone talks about the big resorts in the Catskills and New England. But even Shaun White and Bode Miller had to start small. If you're looking to strap on skis or a snowboard for the very first time, why not hit the newbie-friendly slopes a little closer to home? Located an hour north of the city, the 100-acre Tuxedo Ridge Ski Center features seven trails and a beginner's area.

Tuxedo Ridge offers group, private and semi-private lessons in both skiing and snowboarding. Adult equipment rentals are $29 for skis, boots and poles, $32 for a snowboard and boots, and $10 for helmets. Tired of falling on your butt? They offer tubing here, too.

Mount Peter, 40 Ski Lane, Warwick, NY, 845-986-4940

A little farther north in the Hudson Valley is Mount Peter, a winter wonderland dreamed up by Macy's executives in 1936 to show off the department store's ski equipment and fashions. Now the mountain may be best known for its free beginner ski and snowboard lessons (with the purchase of a lift ticket/area pass), held weekends and holidays. Adult equipment rentals are $30 for both ski and snowboard packages. Then test your newfound skills on Mount Peter's 14 trails (five are designated as easy). Or celebrate your personal victory at the lounge.

BOBSLED, SKELETON, BIATHLON AND SKI JUMP IN LAKE PLACID

Lake Placid, a small village in the Adirondack Mountains that's less than six hours from NYC, hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. Although Lake Placid will always be synonymous with the "Miracle on Ice" — the hockey game won by a scrappy underdog American team over the dominant Russians in 1980 — the town's Olympic heritage is on full display in some of the lesser-known winter sports.

Perhaps the most exhilarating Olympic opportunity for Lake Placid visitors is the chance to zoom down a track that's still in use by world-class bobsled, luge and skeleton racers. At the Olympic Sports Complex, you can ride a bobsled with a professional driver and brakeman ($85 per person) or zip down the Mt. Van Hoevenberg track controlling your own skeleton sled ($65 per person).

"You're in charge of your own destiny," Jon Lundin, communications manager for the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, said of the Skeleton Experience. "You're face-first going 30-35 mph, but you're thinking you're going 135 mph."

At the foot of Mt. Van Hoevenberg at the Cross-Country Lodge, test your skiing — and shooting — skills with the Be a Biathlete program.

"You can learn how to ski, then learn how to shoot a .22-caliber rifle at targets used in Nagano [at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan]," Lundin said. The targets are 50 yards away and 4 inches in diameter, but Lundin insists the instructors are so good, you'll come away looking like a sharpshooter. "We had a girl yesterday miss her first shot by a hair, then she went a perfect 9-for-9," he said.

The $55 session includes equipment rental, cross-country and shooting lessons and a trail pass.

And though it's best to leave the actual ski jumping to the pros, visitors can still check out what it's like to be on top of the world with an Olympic Jumping Complex tour ($11 per person). Ride a chairlift to the base of the ski jump towers — which stand like imposing mountains on the outskirts of town — then take a ride up the glass-enclosed elevator to the observation deck of the K-120 meter jump for outstanding views.

For Lake Placid visitors looking for the full Olympics experience, consider buying an Olympics Sites Passport. The $32 pass offers free access to all of the Olympic venues and discounts on the Bobsled and Skeleton Experiences and the Be a Biathlete program.

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