Affinity for Bobsledding
Ever since I first saw this sport on TV during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, I have been fascinated. The speed, the athletic ability needed to get the sled going, the bullet-like look of the sled, international competition...everything. Very cool.
|A Team USA bobsled rumbles down the track|
So, over the years I'd make a point to view the bobsled competition each Winter Olympics. Usually, it's dominated by European nations such as Germany (and in the old days the East Germany), Switzerland, Austria, Italy and similar. Until very recently, the only U.S. success was way, way back in the early history of the sport. None the less, I always thought there was something compelling about the competition...and of course always a team to root for in the USA.
And then there was the 1993 movie, Cool Runnings that told a Hollywood-ized version of the real life formation of the Jamaican bobsled team - which, by the way, while obviously ironic given the tropical climate of Jamaica, is not all that absurd given the spectacular athletes they have in that nation.
In 2002, Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics and another bobsled track was added to North America. And then in 2010 Whistler, BC hosted the Winter Olympics...building by all accounts the fastest bobsled/luge/skeleton tracks in the world.
Booking a Ride
Even though Whistler is about a five hour drive from Seattle, it never occurred to me that whoever ran that facility would have public rides available.
Then, this year we planned a ski weekend up at Whistler with some friends. For whatever reason, I decided to look into whether or not the bobsled run there had any public access. Lo and behold, yes...yes they did! For a price, you can book a spot on one of their public ride sessions. I knew I was in, but checked with my wife and the other couple we were to be at Whistler with to see if they wanted to do this too - and they did.
I booked us spots and looked forward to checking this sport out first hand after so long.
Our Bobsled Experience
|Ready to bobsled!|
We also for the first time saw the sled we'd be going down the track in. The staff said that this version was "the luxury" model compared to competition sleds because it had higher sides, padded seats and cords to hang onto inside. In competitions, you would have lower sides so it'd be easier to jump in after pushing the sled to its start, you would not have seats and you would not have anything like chords to hold onto.
|The sled we rode|
With this "public" sledding, you don't push the bobsled yourself and jump in. Back at the check in center, the lady there said that the reason they don't do that with us is that she could "guarantee that not all of us would get in the sled." I am 100% sure she was correct. So, instead, we took our seats one in front of the other and all behind our driver. With the construction of the first class track for the Olympics, Whistler has become a haven for bobsled teams - new, old, training or otherwise. So, there is no shortage of drivers willing to take some tourists down the track for a little extra dough.
|In the sled with my new Australian friends. No driver yet.|
And that was that. Next thing you know, the driver jumped in, the track staff slapped down the visors on our helmets and shoved us off down the track.
|Push start from the crew|
Inside the sled, you move around a little bit...kind of a shaking, but not too bad in my opinion. As for what you can see, well, moving your head around a lot is not too advised because of the speed and G-forces. You don't want to hurt yourself. I kept my head as still as possible and looked around just with my eyes. Mostly what you see is the track in front of you. It was fun to see us climb the curving walls in the turns and see how straight the driver could keep the sled in the flat straights. Right at the end of the run, the sled hit the biggest turn. This meant we were at max speed hitting the longest turn...and that generates the most G-forces on the body. From there, we straightened out and hit the finish line and then the inclined section that naturally slowed the sled to a stop in the finish area.
|Coming into the finish|
As I stepped out of the sled, my two thoughts were: this was AWESOME and I WANT TO GO AGAIN RIGHT NOW! But, that was not to be. The whole experience you pay for only gets you one ride down the track. Want to do more? Come back for the next public session with your wallet or get involved in the sport. Neither are options for me. So, I reluctantly stepped out and onto the platform.
Next, I waited for Diane's sled to hit the track. Standing down at the finish, you could hear the track staff announce that the next sled was on the track. Very soon, you could hear the sled coming down the track and then it flashed by in one of the turns visible at the finish...and soon enough, Diane and our friends were arriving at the finish.
And with that, we were done. They unloaded from their sled, we chatted up one of the drivers for a few minutes and then it was back in the bus and back to the Siding Center where we returned our helmets and said goodbye to the staff. We made an immediate bee-line for Creekbread Pizza for dinner and to relive our runs.
All told, I am very pleased with our bobsled experience. If you get a chance, you should do this too. It really was as fun as I thought it would be and I was at long last able to fulfill one of my long term ambitions. Next time I watch the Olympics bobsled competition, I'll have just a bit more appreciation of what's going on and how it feels to be screaming down the track in one of those machines.
NOTE: All pictures in this post except the Team USA sled were taken by Marc Osborn. Pictures taken by Marc Osborn are not permitted for any use without prior written permission from him.