Skeleton in Whistler: 98km/h headfirst down an ice track


 

Photo: courtesy of The Question newspaper

I recently demoed the Skeleton Sport Experience program in Whistler as a preview to the public program, which launches Feb. 16:

A la Olympic competition, an echoing voice from the control tower calls my name and all of a sudden, I’m lying stomach down on a narrow sled, my head facing an icy track and my arms gripping the side handles tightly. The only thing that lies between me and rapid acceleration is a track crewman holding my legs. But then, after quickly checking that I’m still game, he lets go. My first try at skeleton in the Whistler Sliding Centre commences.

On this first attempt, I hear nothing – I only feel it. The sled rumbles down the track, rapidly picking up speed as it whizzes around corners with names like “50/50” – as in there’s a 50/50 chance of making the turn. I’m screaming; partially from fear and partially from exhilaration. By the time my body hits a g-force twice that of my body weight, I’m completely terrified.

“Just don’t let go!” I keep thinking, repeating the advice I’d been told at an earlier one-hour information session. Head down, grip tight, I hold on through the final corner, Thunderbird. Just one year ago, world-class athletes were charging through this very turn on their quest for gold – albeit a few clicks faster than my piddly 97.2 km/h. As I slow, I begin to hit the sides of the outrun like a ping pong ball.

When my sled finally comes to a complete stop, the track crew grab me and help me get off the sled. I’m shaking all over and my head feels spacey, but the adrenaline is still pumping. I want more!

My second attempt at skeleton is less vocal – but equally as nerve racking. Now I know what’s in store and it thrills and scares me.

My second run was 98 km/h, which I’m proud to say is among the top 4 times of the day. They later emailed the results and as you’ll see, Chris Gailus from Global TV got top spot:

Whistler Sliding Centre Results

The Skeleton Sport Experience Program, which launches Wednesday, takes approximately 3.5 hours and costs $130 for 2 timed runs and the opportunity of a lifetime. The experience – which caps out at 20 participants – runs from Wednesday to Sunday starting at 2:30pm through to March 20. Check this link for more information and to reserve your spot. The bobsleigh experience with professional pilot launches in November 2011.

You might ask: “Would you do it again?” and my unequivocal answer is absolutely, in a heartbeat! In fact, people all across the Sea to Sky Corridor have been getting into recreational sliding. All you have to do is take 2-day intro to sliding course and register with the BC Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association. For more info on how you can get into recreational bobsleigh or skeleton, check out this website.

So, what’s the deal with skeleton?

My British beau, Neil, will be proud to note that skeleton was invented in the late 1800s by Englishmen living in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Skeleton, inspired by the English sport of cresta sledding, was named for the skeletal resemblance of the original sleds. Skeleton made its first appearance at the 1928 Winter Games, and then took a 20-year hiatus, before reappearing in the 1948 Winter Games. After another 54-year hiatus, skeleton came back with a vengeance at the 2002 Winter Games. Read the full history here.

IF YOU GO … (which you must do!)

  • Skeleton athletes wear skin tight outfits, so the less drag the better.
  • Just let your body go limp. Think: “sack of potatoes”.
  • Don’t try to steer. Let the sled do the work.
  • Remember to breathe and stay calm.
  • Don’t let go of the sled.

OTHER LINKS

My article on Vancitybuzz.com

Dave Ebner’s article in the Globe and Mail

Lisa Richardson’s take on Skeleton



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