Lake Placid, located in upstate New York, has a rich history in cross country ski racing. The town is home to the Olympic Sports Complex, which was built for the 1980 Winter Olympics, and has hosted numerous national and international cross country ski events since then.

In fact, Lake Placid has been a popular destination for cross country skiers for over a century. In the early 1900s, the Lake Placid Club was a popular winter resort that catered to wealthy tourists who enjoyed skiing and other winter sports. The club had its own network of trails that were maintained for skiing, and they hosted their own ski races as early as 1904.

The first major cross country ski event in Lake Placid was the National Cross Country Ski Championships, which were held in 1921. The event was organized by the Lake Placid Club and attracted top skiers from around the country. The championships were held in Lake Placid several more times in the following decades, including in 1932, 1948, and 1956.

In 1973, the Lake Placid Club hosted the World Nordic Ski Championships, which included cross country skiing as well as ski jumping and Nordic combined events. The event was a major success and helped establish Lake Placid as a world-class cross country skiing destination.

The town’s most significant cross country skiing moment came in 1980, when Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics. The cross country ski events were held at the Olympic Sports Complex, which was purpose-built for the games. The venue included a 50-kilometer course that wound through the Adirondack Mountains and was widely regarded as one of the most challenging courses in Olympic history.

Since the 1980 Olympics, Lake Placid has continued to host major cross country skiing events, including World Cup races and national championships. The town’s rich history in the sport has made it a beloved destination for cross country skiers from around the world.

Closest Finish

The Closest Finish in Olympic History

The 15km cross country skiing race at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, is remembered as one of the closest finishes in Olympic history, with Finnish skier Juha Mieto and Swedish skier Thomas Wassberg finishing the race just 1/100th of a second apart.

Mieto and Wassberg were both top contenders for the gold medal, having won multiple medals in previous Olympic and World Championship events. The race began in snowy and difficult conditions, with Mieto setting the pace for much of the course. Wassberg, however, steadily gained on Mieto and eventually overtook him in the final stretch.

In a thrilling finish, Mieto caught up to Wassberg in the last few meters and the two skiers crossed the finish line together. It took several minutes for the judges to review the photo finish, and when the results were announced, Wassberg was declared the winner by the narrowest of margins: 1/100th of a second.

The race is often remembered as a testament to the skill and determination of both Mieto and Wassberg, as well as the unpredictability and drama of Olympic competition. It remains one of the most exciting and closely contested cross country skiing races in Olympic history.


NY Ski Blog, Article: The History of Mount Van Hoevenberg

Cross Country Skiing at Mt Van Hoevenberg dates back to 1966. In planning for a second winter Olympics, Ron MacKenzie and J. Vernon Lamb Jr. created the first trails around that time. The first 15km of trails were used for the 1969 Kennedy Games, a streamlined version of the Olympic Games. Three hundred athletes from 18 countries came to Lake Placid to compete in a variety of disciplines, including cross-country skiing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. Lake Placid was also the host on the 8th World Winter Games for the deaf in 1975, with the cross-country events happening at Mt. Van Hoevenberg.

After Lake Placid was awarded the 1980 Winter Olympic Games the Olympic race loops, biathlon range and stadiums began. The chief of course at Mt. Van Hoevenberg during this time, Chummy Broomhall, oversaw the improvement of existing trails and laid out 40km of new trail. All of the new trails were designed by Chummy and Al Merril. The NY DEC employees as well as the Ray Brook correctional facilities were vital in making of the new trails. The new Cross-Country Olympic Venue help pre-Olympic test events in the winter of 1979.

The 1980 Winter Olympics, while cold, was the worst for snowfall in some time. Organizers had to stockpile manmade snow, move and cover 25km of trails with 10 inches of snow. Most of the snow was made onsite, but snow was trucked in from the Ski Jumping Complex as well as Whiteface Mountain.

Following the Olympic, Mt. Van Hoevenberg, along with the rest of the Olympic Venues came under the care of the newly formed Olympic Regional Development Authority. ORDA has seen a multitude of top-level competitions since becoming the stewards of Mt. Van Hoevenberg. From National Championships, World Cup races and Olympic Trails, Mt. Van Hoevenberg continued to be a competitive venue.

–Peter Minde

"I skied my own race. I knew where my strengths were and I played to them. I was motivated by the crowd and by the spirit of the Olympics."
- Bill Koch, 1980 Winter Olympics, the first American to win a medal in cross country skiing