Enjoying month filled with winter sports

Some general observations while enjoying a sports-filled February…

Blue Knob has become a Winter Wonderland under new management this season, marked by improved facilities, more consistent hours and a new tubing location in the works.

The highest skiable mountain in Pennsylvania is a local treasure: a valuable tourist attraction, but also a significant recreational asset to our region. It’s great to see the continuing improvement and promising future, putting a spring in the step of winter-sports lovers.

For those who shiver at the thought of the plummeting temperatures that go with ascending the mountains, the ultimate in cold-weather sports are just a remote-control-click away, with the Winter Olympics in full swing. As always, the time difference makes it hard to follow the dozens of sporting events being broadcast, from skiing to skating to curling and everything in between, but there’s something cool (no pun intended) about being able to wake up in the middle of the night and catch some snowboarding.

Many of these are sports we wouldn’t think of watching any other time, but become mesmerizing when Olympic medals and national pride are on the line.

And today we know many of the athletes better than ever before. Some have been competing for what seems like an eternity — over two, three, even four Olympic Games. Advances in training techniques, equipment, sports medicine and even nutrition are allowing athletes to compete longer and at an older age, as well as return from injuries that at one time would have been career-ending.

But even more than the increasing longevity of athletes’ careers is the expanding access we have to their stories and their lives, told through their own eyes with the help of pocket-sized technology. With every four years that passes between Winter Olympic Games, more athletes are documenting their journey via cellphone and the internet, from mundane workouts to the medals stands, along with all of the scenery, people and pageantry that goes with being an Olympian. More than 2.3 million people, for example, follow American halfpipe gold medalist Shaun White on Facebook; 1.75 million follow his Tweets and another 667,000 are watching for his Instagram posts.

Athletes can speak directly to their fans and the world, some even using the platform to make political or social statements.

The world itself is changing, with the Games a reflection of our ever-growing global community. Ice dancer Alexander Gamelin, for example, is representing South Korea, but grew up on Long Island; he’s one of more than 170 athletes, or about six percent in the Winter Games competing for a country other than the one where they were born.

Multi-cultural athletes, world-wide interest and multi-media platforms: all are making these Winter Games a reflection of our times, and a great time it is.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.