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Ride the Luge

Ben O' Donnell
From the Print Edition:
Phil Ivey, March/April 2010

What the Winter Olympics lack in Gatorade wattage, they more than make up for in weirdness. The Games can be a curiosity shop of oddball sports—with inscrutable rituals (curling?) and wacky equipment (the biathlon, which combines skis and a rifle?). But one competition looks like enough fun to beg a quadrennial question: who the hell does luge, and how can I be one of them? Enter the USA Luge Fantasy Camp.

Luge isn’t exactly a sport that encourages pick-up matches, and if you’re older than 14, you’ve already missed your shot at Olympic recruitment, but the fantasy camp at the Team USA training facility in Lake Placid is as close as armchair Olympians can get to sliding like the big boys. It is an unrivaled chance to “experience what it’s like to be a luge athlete,” according to founder, director, and coach Gordy Sheer, himself a three-time Olympian and silver medalist.

That experience sends you barreling feet first down the unforgiving ice at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour, on a small brakeless sled with minimal steering controls to wrestle the 2G-force turns. Mercifully, fantasy campers slide on an abbreviated version of one of the world’s longest luge tracks (the full course has Olympians approaching 80 miles an hour). But even taking on half the run gives a thrill akin to being a mouse in a laundry chute or—if you’re unfortunate enough to flip over—speed-skating on your face. “You’ve either got a feel for it or you don’t,” warns Sheer. Nevertheless, he assures, “You’re statistically about as safe on a luge track as you are on a soccer field.” (Feel free to leave that out of your barroom retelling.) Some campers leave with bruised egos, but plenty of others get hooked on recreational club sliding.

Understandably. The $2,000 try-not-to-crash course is held April 8–11 this year and includes access to high-quality equipment and the compound’s indoor training apparatus, as well as 15-plus dashes down the outdoor track, each followed by pointers on starting, stopping, and steering from experts like Sheer. Plus, the tax-deductible charge goes toward helping Team USA’s sled stars maintain their competitive edge. If that’s not your speed, you can also tackle tracks in New Hampshire, Michigan and Utah on your own. But you might want to leave your good sense at home.

Visit usaluge.org or call 1-800-USA-LUGE.

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