Slide Winder

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By Gordy Sheer

An Olympic Luger Invites You To Camp

I LOVE THE PURITY OF LUGE-IT’S YOU, a sled, a hill and a clock. I also love the sense of accomplishment you get after making the sled move-really, really fast. By design, a sled doesn’t naturally want to turn, which makes for an interesting set of challenges when you hit speeds north of 85 mph – and are pulling 5 Gs on a tiny, metal sled, inches off the ground, clad in only a paper-thin bodysuit.

In 2000, after a lifetime (17 years) of racing in World Cup, World Championship and Olympic competition, I decided to retire the sport of luge. At the time, USA Luge CEO Ron Rossi approached me to see if I would help him launch a novel concept: Luge Fantasy Camps.

I thought of my love for the sport, and I immediately understood the appeal luge would have for “regular people.”

The goal of the camp is to provide a very immersive weekend of luge in Lake Placid, N.Y. Capped at 12 participants, you will experience three on-ice sessions over the course of a weekend. This typically includes up to 30 trips down the track. The staff, which includes two-time Olympic medalist Mike Grimmette and three-time Olympian and World Cup winner Duncan Kennedy, is on-hand to ensure you comprehend the basics of luge sliding, all while staying safe and having the thrill of a lifetime.

Each participant is provided with a sled, helmet, padding, uber-cool aerodynamic footwear and, of course, the not-so-coveted luge suit! To heighten the Olympic experience, Fantasy Campers stay at the United States Olympic Training Center. One of only three such facilities in the nation, it is not uncommon to rub elbows with Olympians and National Team athletes throughout the course of camp.

TRACK ACTION

The real focus, of course, is the time spent sliding on the luge track at Mount Van Hoevenberg, located six miles outside of Lake Placid. The combined length of the luge and bobsled run is 0.9 miles from the top. A seasoned athlete can negotiate the course in less than 52 seconds at speeds exceeding 75 mph.

Campers will begin with instruction on steering the sleds: We’ll begin from halfway down the track (only reaching speeds around 30-35 mph) to get a feel for what’s in store. The starting point is raised progressively throughout the weekend; the most proficient drivers from the group may work their way up to the junior start, approximately two thirds of the entire track.

The start of a luge race is the only place on the track where athletes can actually accelerate the sled. Every place else, the goal is to maintain speed. USA Luge’s refrigerated indoor complex is specially designed to maximize your start. It’s here that campers spend time learn how to rocket themselves away from the two handles, digging their spiked gloves into the ice in order to propel themselves forward as quickly as possible.

The three start ramps, with varying pitches, feature analytical tools to help campers hone their technique. A high-tech, four-camera video system shows campers their start from a multitude of angles, while force meters (built in to the sled’s start handles) provide a graphic readout of how much power you are producing during the start. Finally, a timing system gives you the most important piece of data – how fast you went down the ramp. A big part of being a luge athlete is being able to comprehend all of this information while managing the sled.

Despite the speeds involved with luge, the rate of injury for the sport is actually the same as a typical soccer game. Aside from bumps and bruises, the most common injury is the wounded ego. Learning the sport is a roller coaster ride of accomplishment followed by frustration, followed by further accomplishment…you get the picture.

Sliding sessions, thorough video reviews with seasoned coaches and athletes all unfold to help make improvements for your next trip to the track.

Skills taught include steering-knowing when, how long and how hard to steer-and knowing when to “drive” (too much will ruin the experience!). In addition, learning how to stay within an inch or two of an imaginary perfect “line” down the track as well as finding the perfect aerodynamic position are key. Just picking your head up too high is a no-no, as the extra drag created will dramatically add to your time.

We end with what I believe is one of the best moments of the camp: dinner at one of Lake Placid’s fine dining establishments. We reminisce over what we’ve learned, toast to the skills we’ve learned and share in the memories of the weekend.

A number of our campers then join their families at one of the swank hotels in the area: The Lake Placid Lodge, Interlaken Inn or Whiteface Lodge. Inevitably, the first thing they do is pop in the video from their sliding sessions as evidence of their bravery and accomplishment, which USA Luge sends home with each participant.

(Gordy Sheer is not only an Olympic silver medal-winner, but he appeared in a lengthy segment on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon teaching the namesake host how to slide.)

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