Come this weekend, Olympic images of ice and snow will fill TV screens across the Sunshine State. Northerners will remember good times on skates and skis; Floridians will muse about the crisp, cool, low-humidity air. No doubt, many of us will wish we were standing on the podium sniffling over the national anthem. At this point, winning gold might be a long shot, but it's never too late to get into the games. Tampa Bay offers plenty of ways to learn your favorite event. —Susan Thurston and Dalia Colón
If the Jamaicans can do it, so can Floridians. In fact, this year's U.S. bobsledding team has a former track star from the University of South Florida, Jamia Jackson. The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation discovered her while recruiting in Tampa. The group looks for athletes possessing qualities of a world-class bobsledder: strength and speed. If that describes you, go to bobsled.teamusa.org.
Rich Rosa of Sarasota started the Florida Curling Club in 2002 after watching the sport for the first time during the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. The group played at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex for a while but quietly disbanded after Rosa moved away. These days, the closest you can get to curling is shuffleboard. And there's no shortage of that. Friday nights at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club are hip, artsy and world renowned. 559 Mirror Lake Drive; stpeteshuffle.com.
It's no surprise an area home to a Stanley Cup champ would have ample opportunities to play hockey. The rinks mentioned above have hockey classes for people who already know how to skate. (The Countryside rink only has classes for kids because flying pucks from adults could whack mall shoppers.) Tryouts for the Tampa Bay Junior Lightning teams start next month at the Clearwater Ice Arena. For inspiration from the pros, head to the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, the official training facility of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Team practices are open to the public and are posted online at lightning.nhl.com. Click on Event/Community Calendar under Fan Zone. The team is off during the Olympics but will resume practices after the games.
Skiing and snowboarding
This year, Tampa Bay Ski Club is organizing 16 trips and Tampa Bay Snow Skiers and Boarders is leading 17 trips to ski-and snowboard-friendly resorts like Vail, Colo., and Lake Tahoe. For both clubs, membership is free; experienced skiers escort the trips, so all ages and ability levels are welcome. You'll also get group discounts on lift tickets and other expenses. Beginners can forget about performing death-defying jumps, but you can do some alpine or cross-country skiing. Many trips also include social events and sightseeing excursions. "Some people go on our trips just for the ambiance and never put on a pair of skis," said Tampa Bay Ski Club manager Fitz Rawls. "Others are experienced skiers." tampabayskiclub.com, tampabaysnowskiers.com.
No snow? No problem. Take a lesson with the Tampa Bay Water Ski Show Team, which offers one-day "camps" for all levels in July and August. Don't expect to do jumps after the four-hour lesson, but "by the end of the day, they'll have you up on two skis," said Lisa Stephens of the ski team's publicity committee. The session costs about $75. To get an idea of what water ski jumping is all about, come to one of the team's free shows, which are held every Saturday at 6 p.m. from March 20 until October. The shows and camp take place at Tower Lake, 190 Burbank Road, behind the Oldsmar Flea Market. Call (813) 454-5826 or go to tampawaterski.com.
The Tampa Bay area is fortunate to have several places to skate, thanks to all the transplants from the icy north. The Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, the Clearwater Ice Arena and the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar and at the Westfield Countryside mall each have learn‑to‑skate programs for children and adults. Starting March 7, the Brandon rink has power-conditioning classes Saturday mornings for skaters trying to build endurance and speed. On Monday nights, the Countryside mall offers "Olympian" classes for budding figure skaters. And if you don't mind a little drive, head to Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, the training grounds of two figure-skating pairs competing in the Olympics. One of the skaters, Caydee Denney, lives in Wesley Chapel.
This is a stretch, but think of Adventure Island as Tampa's version of a luge course. Twist and turn down the park's water slides without getting frostbite. Adventure Island is closed for the season, but it reopens March 13. If you can't wait that long, try the extreme sport of street luge, in which participants lie on a skateboard and careen downhill — assuming you can find any hills around here.