The sport of bobsledding, which was already popular in Europe and had been part of the previous winter Olympics in Chamonix, France (1924) and St. Moritz, Switzerland (1928), was rapidly gaining popularity in the United States in the years leading up to the Lake Placid Olympics. The United States bobsled team won the gold medal at the St. Moritz Olympics even though no technically-engineered sliding tracks existed in the western hemisphere prior to 1929 (Lattimer).
The Lake Placid Club, which had an integral role in popularizing winter sports in the Park, completed a ½ mile track on Intervales Hill in 1929 adjacent to the club’s ski jump. The track included 7 turns and had an average grade of 8%, but it was deemed insufficient for Olympic competition due to poorly built turns that were excessively difficult and dangerous at speed. The Intervales track only operated for one season although it was maintained for practice runs and testing sleds. The Olympic organizers in Lake Placid hired Stanislaus Zentyztzki, an engineer from Berlin who had designed tracks in Europe (as well as the Intervales track), to plan the project (Lattimer).
A number of potential locations were proposed and surveyed. There was talk of building a track on state land on a slope in the Sentinel Range to the east of Lake Placid or Scarface Mountain to the West. Mt. Jo, which lies to the South of Lake Placid, seemed especially promising as it would be possible to build the track without encroaching on state lands. However, the committee eventually decided to build on the slope of South Meadow Mountain (Mt. Van Hoevenberg), which was on a tract of land owned by the Lake Placid Club. Construction of the Van Hoevenberg bobsled run began April 4, 1930 and was completed by Christmas of the same year. The track is a mile and a half long with 26 turns and an average grade of 10% and was sturdier that the Intervales track, which was built out of wood and sand (Lattimer). It was also used for the 1980 Winter Olympics and is still used for competition and training today.
The legal battle concerning the construction of the bobsled run is especially interesting given the unique combination of protected state lands and private lands within the Blue Line. In 1894 a constitutional convention approved Article XII (now XIV) of the New York State Constitution which set forth rigorous standards of protection of trees on Forest Preserve lands (Terrie 146). The amendment states, in part:
The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.
Since two of the proposed sites for the track were on Forest Preserve lands, the New York state legislature passed a bill in 1929 that would permit the construction of the run on state land. This bill was challenged in the Appellate Division as unconstitutional by the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks. Adhering to a strict interpretation of Article 7, Justice Harold J. Hinman argued that construction on Forest Preserve land would require a constitutional amendment and established precedent for a high degree of protection of state lands. In his ruling issued in January 1930 he writes:
We must preserve in its wild nature, its trees, its rocks, its streams. It was to be a great resort for the free use of the people, but it was made a wild resort in which nature is given free rein. Its uses for health and pleasure must not be inconsistent with its preservation as forest lands in a wild state. It must always retain the character of wilderness. (Terrie 146)
The Conservation Department challenged this decision in a higher court, the New York State Court of Appeals, but on March 18 the higher court affirmed the decision of the lower court, thus blocking all possibility of building the track on state land, barring a constitutional amendment. The Olympic planners, having given up on the prospect of building on state land, accepted an easement from the Lake Placid Club to build the bobsled run on Mt. Van Hoevenberg (Terrie 146).