If watching the 2022 Olympic winter games in Beijing inspires you or makes you nostalgic for past Olympic moments, then you’ll want to visit the new U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum near downtown Colorado Springs. Here’s why we think this Olympics museum is a gold medal contender.
My kids and I aren’t easily impressed by history museums, but the new, high-tech United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum had us both gushing, “That was cool!”
Opened in July 2020, near downtown Colorado Springs, the USOPM, as it’s nicknamed, is visually beautiful both inside and out. What makes this Olympics museum a standout, though, is not just its neat-to-look-at artifacts, like the Olympic torches from over the years, old-time uniforms and sporting equipment. But the innovative way it tells the powerful and inspiring stories of Team USA athletes using state-of-the-art technology. I love how it seamlessly combined both the Olympic and Paralympic athletes, not emphasizing one over the other.
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The USOPM is also one of the most accessible museums I’ve ever visited, brimming with modern design features to help people with physical impairments.
Here are 11 tips for how to best enjoy the Olympics museum:
1. Start at the top floor.
Begin with an elevator ride to the top floor, then work your way down through the 12 galleries on descending, spiral, handicap accessible ramps. The exhibits include demonstrations on how they make prosthetic limbs for athletes, interactive storytelling about athletes who overcame incredible obstacles to be champions, simulated sport games (more on that below) and a multimedia, 360-degree movie showing what it’s like to be at the Opening Ceremonies Parade of Nations. It’s all really, really well done and so engaging. You’ll find yourself learning about all sorts of things, and athletes, that you didn’t know about.
2. Marvel at the Olympics museum’s tech-enabled badges.
When you enter the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, you’re asked a few questions about where you live, your favorite sports, your age, etc. This information is put into an RFID (radio-frequency identification) on your badge that you wear. That information creates a custom experience for each person. It’s even compatible to different physical challenges. For example, if you have difficulty seeing, register in advance and your RFID chip will activate different technology and increase the size of the text on the digital monitors when you look at them.
The first place you go when you enter the museum are to these giant digital screen columns. Mine welcomed me by name and invited me to scroll through profiles (with video clips) of famous ice skaters, since I said I liked ice skating. Meanwhile, my 16-year-old son’s welcome screen led him to famous basketball Olympians. Custom experiences like this happened throughout the museum.
3. “Interview” Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
The USOPM really shines with its storytelling, and one way to do that is to “interview” the athletes. The technology allows you to choose an athlete, ask a question in the microphone and get a pre-recorded video answer. We chose to interview Paralympic games basketball superstar Matt Scott. We asked a bunch of questions, from “Who’s your favorite NBA player?” to “What do you eat when you’re training?” and he answered them. It made us feel like we were actually interviewing him. So cool!
I’ve seen this same technology used at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, where a hologram of a Holocaust survivor tells their story. Then people can ask the hologram questions and the hologram of that person is able to answer literally hundreds of questions. It’s such a great way to learn a person’s story.
4. Discover Olympic athletes from your hometown.
Another cool interactive feature was finding athletes from your hometown. You walk up to a display with a map and it will show you who is from your town. A surprising number of athletes were from our suburban Chicago town! And if we wanted to learn more about them, we could read their bios. We read every one.
5. Do a 1-hour guided group tour of the Olympics museum.
A 60-minute guided group tour is available, with time at the end to explore the museum on your own. The tickets are slightly more than general admission — $28.95 for adults and $17.95 for children.
6. Save money on Olympics museum tickets.
Go to the Discounts and Deals section of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum website, where they currently link to a Groupon offering two admissions, two pizzas and two drinks at their Flame Cafe for $59. Regular admission is $19.95 for ages 12 and up, $11.95 for children 3-12, free for children under age two and $15.95 for seniors, military (active duty or retired) and first responders with ID.
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7. Don’t worry about going during peak times.
The timed admission system limits the number of people in the museum so it’s never overcrowded (especially good during COVID). A maximum of 35 people are welcomed inside every 15 minutes. It’s usually busiest right when they open, at 10 a.m., and also around 1 p.m. The hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
8. Try out the Olympic sports.
A virtual gaming area might be the kids’ favorite part of the Olympics museum. Downhill skiing video games, timed running on (on a two-lane course) and archery were among the sports available to try. So was a unique game where you blocked the ball based on the sound, which helped us understand how visually impaired athletes compete.
9. After you leave the Olympics museum, look in your digital locker.
The RFID-equipped entry badge comes with a “digital locker.” Basically, it’s a file that collects any game scores, photos or videos you may have taken with the exhibits. Plus, it has a unique “bookmark” feature, so if the kids are anxious to keep moving and you don’t have time to read something, you can bookmark it and add it to your digital locker and read it later. My digital locker included a video of a short sprint race we did and our scores so my son could relive his victory.
10. Loved it? Check out these other Olympic museums.
USOPM is one of three Olympics museums in the U.S. The others are Lake Placid Olympic Museum in New York and the Joe Quinney Winter Sports Center in Summit County, Utah, which both feature the winter games. If you visit Lake Placid, check out this great TravelingMom story about the museum and other family-friendly things to do in the city.
In Europe and Asia, there are more than a dozen Olympic museums, including the Seoul Olympic Museum in South Korea, the Sapporo Olympic Museum in Japan, the Norwegian Olympic Museum in Norway, the Deutsches Sport & Olympia Museum in Germany, the China Sports Museum and the Musée Olympique in Lausanne, Switzerland.
11. Eat or shop in downtown Colorado Springs afterward.
Just a few minutes away from the Olympics museum are blocks and blocks of cute restaurants and shops in downtown Colorado Springs. We loved the burgers and fries at Skirted Heifer, a tiny, no-frills, order-at-the-counter burger restaurant once featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” It can be a scramble to find seating, but the burgers and fries are delicious. So are the fun drinks a few doors down at Pikes Peak Lemonade.