WHEN MY MOTHER-IN-LAW first suggested it, I had no hesitations whatsoever. I love roller coasters, I love heights and speed and feeling like a cartoon character who falls and leaves his head or stomach dangling above him.
So when we arrived at Utah’s Olympic Park, I was ready. I’d eaten a nice, big greasy diner breakfast – eggs, hashbrowns, the works – in cocky preparation. We took a tour of the facilities first, led by a member of the 2010 U.S. women’s luge team, who showed us their track and talked shit about the bobsled team.
“I used to think those guys were wusses,” she told us. “Before the Olympics, we’d do six or seven runs a day, and they’d only do three and spend the rest of the time soaking. Then I took the ride.”
The little luge looked far more intimidating to me than the nice, secure 4-person bobsled. Still, her words started a tingling in my stomach.
Only one other facility in the world allows visitors to ride the full length of a bobsled track: the one used in the 1994 Olympics in Norway. Utah’s track cost about $25 million and is 8/10ths of a mile long. In 2002, US teammates Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers surprised everyone by claiming the gold in the 2-woman bobsled competition here.
Before our own ride down the track, we watched a short video that insisted the bobsled was not for those with any medical or physical conditions. Cuts, scratches, bruises and neck injury are risks. To counteract the 4Gs of force, sit up straight but hunch your shoulders to support your head.
Seriously, it said, if you’re thinking of backing out, you probably should.
How quickly tingling turns to churning.
We joined the line, watching one bobsled after another load up and push off. A grandmother watched the young ones while their parents climbed into a sled. “You’re gonna DIE!” an excited five-year old shouted, waving as they disappeared around the track.
It can’t be that scary, I told myself. Bobsled tracks just do not look that intimidating. We climbed in, my husband in the last seat, me next, another rider in front of me and then the driver. A scoreboard flashed to zeros; most of the rides that day had clocked between 00:59 and 01:02.
Four seconds of “Whee! This is fun!” And then it rips. It’s not like a roller coaster where you can see the upcoming drop; the change is abrupt. We tore around the first of fifteen turns and the speed picked up with each one, relentlessly. The force was unlike any coaster I’d ever experienced. On two separate turns, invisible hands pressed my head down, so I had no choice but to stare at my lap.
And then it was over. Scoreboard: Time – 00:58:87, Speed – 70.8, Rank – 2nd.
I want to say that I climbed out, fist-bumped the driver and headed to the zipline. That had been my plan, and as I shelved my helmet, I still felt pretty good about it (despite slightly shaking knees).
However, truth was that fifteen minutes later, I was introducing my breakfast to the womens’ room toilet. The price of silver.
Shame of puking aside, it was a killer ride. For the slightly less daring, Olympic Park also has the world’s steepest zipline, alpine slide and, in the winter, skeleton rides. Just hold the bacon omelette.
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