Bobsledder Jamie Gruebel Poser poses by Lake Louise in Alberta on Sept. 18, 2017.
In a matter of days, members of Team USA will don their red, white and blue at the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, and for some of them, it will be their first time stepping foot in South Korea.
But U.S. Olympians are some of the most well traveled athletes in the world. From the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland to off-season Southern Hemisphere training grounds in Argentina and New Zealand, America’s best have been to some strange (and awesome) places. They’ve eaten with locals, explored their new surroundings with no maps and – for one – had a romantic Valentine’s Day meal at a swanky Italian place… in Germany.
Where are their favorite stops? And what makes said places so special? And – for the ones who have been to South Korea before – what makes the host country of this year’s Olympics so exciting to return to this month?
“I enjoy spicy food, so it was fun to go to South Korea,” skeleton racer Matt Antoine told TeamUSA.org. “There were a lot of us competitors that really wanted to experience what the food was truly like in that area. Sometimes they just give us Western food at events. We wanted the real stuff.”
“I think South Korea is like nowhere else that I’ve been and traveled to,” added Jamie Anderson, a slopestyle snowboarding gold medalist. “The food is awesome: lots of ramen and kimchi.”
In South Korea, it seems, it’s not just about the chow. Anderson noted the kind nature of the Korean people as well as a propensity for self-care. South Korea loves hot springs and beautiful landscape views.
It’s not just South Korea that Americans sing praises for in their travels abroad. Figure skater Adam Rippon says his favorite stop is a classic: Paris. The trick? Find a local friend or two to show you around.
“Who doesn’t love to go to Paris? It’s so romantic, even if you’re there by yourself. I just love it,” he said. “I love the people, the museums and the culture. I always try to meet up with a few of my French friends and go to the Champs-Élysées, the Eiffel Tower and we’ll go shopping. I think I’ve honestly had the best experiences when I’ve had great company that knows where to take me.”
Finding a local friend – or guide – is never easy, however, especially when athletes’ schedules revolve around competitions and training blocks. Though that rarely presents an issue, says Ashley Caldwell, an aerials skier.
“If we have a free day, we knock on each other’s doors being like, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’” she explained. “Then you put on some normal-people clothes, go outside and then find the first place to go. You’re off for an adventure.”
Caldwell has plenty of top picks: Moscow in Russia, China, Belarus.
“Belarus is one of my favorite places because it’s so culturally different than the U.S., but people are extremely nice. They also have this amazing library in Minsk. I’m a nerd.”
A year ago for the world championships, she geeked out over their time in Spain, which is perhaps at the top of her list.
“I would go back there in a heartbeat: Great food, great people,” Caldwell noted. “We were in Sierra Nevada. You could see Morocco from where we were. And, they had an ice cream bar, which is like the end for me.”
It helped that she won a gold medal there.
Some enclaves around the world act as winter sport havens, much like Lake Placid, New York, in the U.S. There is the historic St. Moritz, Switzerland, which is a constant stop for bobsled, skeleton and luge athletes. So is Innsbruck, Austria.
“Innsbruck is just gorgeous with the Austrian Alps right there,” said luger Tucker West. “The mountains are always snow-capped.”
“One of the prettiest places that we go to is St. Moritz,” added Jamie Gruebel Poser, a bobsledder. “Everywhere we go is beautiful. There is mountains and snow… I’d love to go to all of these places on vacation and not be working. Every few years we get a day that works in the schedule where we have to ourselves.”
Gruebel Poser is the athlete who has snuck out for a Valentine’s Day Italian dinner with her husband – German bobsledder Christian Poser – in Königssee, Germany.
While Europe is easier to get to, Asia is an enthralling trip for any U.S. athlete to make.
“Japan is an amazing country,” said Kevin Bickner, a ski jumper. “It has such a different culture than anywhere else and I really love going there. I love rice and noodles and the meat that they have. I try to experience the culture as much as possible while I’m there.”
Figure skaters get treated like royalty in Japan with screaming fans greeting them at the airport and bouquets of flowers cascading onto the ice when they finish a program. Rippon has a collection of drawn or painted portraits of himself – all done and given to him by Japanese fans.
Snowboarder Chase Josey has spent his off-seasons in both New Zealand and Argentina. His must-have meal on the road: Argentine asado (their style of barbecue).
“We were down in Bariloche in 2014 in one of my favorite spots in the world and we’d always be cooking up these really great steaks, lomos (sandwiches) and asados,” he said. “They’re the best.”
Halfpipe skier Aaron Blunck adds Iceland to the list, as well.
“I love the culture and style in Iceland. It’s so different,” he said. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen anywhere else. Going there, I just felt like, ‘This is the coolest place in the world.’ I would love to possibly live there someday. Growing up (in Colorado), it’s a little bit of a bubble. We are very secluded in the mountains. I never thought I would be able to do what I do now… I really just want to travel and have a good time competing.”
That’s the plan for most of Team USA when it comes to PyeongChang: Travel there and (hopefully) have a good time competing – and winning a few medals would be a good bonus, too.
“Honestly? I’m really excited to go back to Korea,” said Torin Yater-Wallace, a freestyle skier. “But mostly for the food. It’s awesome there.”
Well, the Olympics themselves won’t be too bad, either, one would think.