If you think sledding is fun, then kick your fun up a notch, or a couple of notches. and plan to luge sled.
Luge sledding, the fastest sport on ice, is opening at Blue Mountain Ski Area on Saturday, Feb. 4. It will not only offer a quarter-mile long five-banked track where luge sleds can exceed speeds of 25 miles per hour, but it will serve as a screening site for the United States Luge Association to identify future luge Olympians.
Four years ago, Blue Mountain Ski Area began hosting the USA Luge Challenge, a series of temporary luge tracks set up at ski slopes around the country with the purpose of introducing adults and youngsters over the age of ten to the sport, and identifying young athletes who showed promise to be future luge competitors.
The luge is a small sled. A slider lies on the luge, face up and feet forward, and using his or her legs and shoulders, and steering with a rein, attempts to complete a spiraling course in the fastest time possible. In Olympic competition, luge speeds can approach 100 mph, and the difference between first place and 21st place is often measured in hundredths of a second.
Blue Mountain Ski Area general manager Jim Dailey brought in Olympic champion Gordy Sheer to design the luge track. Sheer is the director of marketing and sponsorship for the United States Luge Association.
Sheer competed in Men's Doubles in the 1992 Albertville and 1994 Lillehamer Winter Olympics, ranking #12 and # 5 respectively, and won the silver medal in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano with partner Chris Thorpe.
Sheer became a fan of Olympic luge and bobsledding at the age of four, and at the age of 12, while skiing at Lake Placid, spotted a van with the telephone number for the US Luge Association. "I copied the number and convinced my parents to let me return to Lake Placid and try the sport," Sheer said.
The luge coaches liked Sheer's attitude and enthusiasm. "Enthusiasm goes a long way," he said. "I'm an example of that. I wasn't always the best athlete but I had the enthusiasm, willingness and drive."
Dailey and Sheer came up with a design that drops about sixty feet as the luge sliders maneuver five half-pipe turns, completing the quarter-mile track in between 25 and 35 seconds.
Those new to the sport of luge will ride to the top of the luge track on a moving walkway, and receive an orientation and the loan of a helmet. To start, the slider positions himself on the luge, face up and feet first, and takes hold of the steering ropes. A starter gives the luge a push and then it's a wild ride as the slider lightly steers and shifts his weight to wind the sled down the center of the track. The slider has to raise his head slightly to direct the sled, but not so much as to increase wind resistance and slow it down.
Two United States Luge Association-certified coaches will be scouting for promising and interested luge athletes. The coaches are the parents of Theresa Buckley, the USA Luge Youth National Champion for 2011. Buckley was discovered at Blue Mountain during a previous USA Luge Challenge.
Blue Mountain will use molded plastic versions of the high tech sleds used in competition. Sliders can wear normal outdoor clothing. Ski boots are not permitted as they can damage the surface of the track.
The five turns or corners were formed by roughing out the shape with a snowcat groomer, and the turns were shaped with a piece of equipment purchased special for constructing the luge track, a Zaugg Pipe Monster, a snowblower-like cutter that cuts a smooth, half-pipe turn.
The Blue Mountain luge track is the fourth luge track in the US, and the only natural course on the East Coast. The other tracks are to artificially refrigerated tracks in Lake Placid, New York and Park City, Utah, and a naturally frozen track in Muskegon, Michigan.
"The key is to control is to keep the sled within two inches of an imaginary line-the fastest way down," said Sheer. "It's a lot of fun."