Utah: Jump on in for the slide of your life

By Jacqueline Smith

Park City is one of only three places in the world to offer thrillseekers the chance to ride a bobsled. Photo / Supplied
Park City is one of only three places in the world to offer thrillseekers the chance to ride a bobsled. Photo / Supplied

We sign waivers over injury and death and are then reminded we can pull out at any moment - there is a simple refund policy.

Then we are told we will be battered and bruised, will feel five times the force of gravity compressing us from all angles and that, yes, our bobsled may tip - though that has only happened once since the track has been open to the public.

Utah's Olympic village, on the outskirts of Park City, is one of three places in the world to send untrained thrill-seekers down a real Olympic track in a real Olympic bobsled at real Olympic speeds of up to 128km/h.

We daredevils will be at the mercy of a professional driver, but are given a bullet-pointed list of instructions to help us survive:

One, hunch your shoulders to protect your neck, hold them stiff. Don't let them loose for the 50 or so seconds that you are screaming down the ice.

Two, push back on your handles. This will help you stay as upright as possible under the gravitational forces and stop you collapsing on to the person in front.

Three, especially if you are straddling the driver, don't squeeze your legs too tightly around him or let your helmet bounce off his back. This puts him off saving your life.

Four, don't forget to breathe.

I meet my teammates, Dan from New Jersey and Garrett from New York.

We stride, like Olympians, over to the start of the track - a 1.3km half-pipe of ice with 15 curves.

A professional team would whiz through it in 48 seconds ... a team like the tall, slender machines who emerge from training in spandex jump-suits. In fact this year's Olympic bobsled gold-medallists were lead by Steven Holcomb from Park City who trained on this very track.

As Dan, Garrett and I do not have fancy little spikes on our shoes like the could-be Olympians, we just get an almighty shove off the start line. The only modification to the public bobsled, called the Comet, is that, thankfully, its brakes have been shifted from the back to the front. Otherwise, the experience is entirely Olympic.

Ready? Silence. We slide off across the ice. "Actually no," I pipe up, as the sled leaves my stomach on the first bend. Too late.

A lot can happen in 55 seconds.

First comes the roar - cold metal meets ice at 120km/h.

Then comes the G-force. I can't even try to push back on the handles or lift my head. Astronauts are said to experience 3G when they are shoved into space - chicken feed - although theirs lasts a little longer than a few seconds.

My limbs, arteries and cells felt pummelled. My head drops into the space between me and the driver curling my spine in a way no yoga pose has ever achieved.

I hear the helmet rattle against the sides of the tin can as we skid 180 degrees either side of the track, 15 times.

Then I remember to breathe.

It isn't until I'm tapped on the shoulder that I realise I have survived - though I did later claim I was sure I was dead for several seconds.

Helped by the steady grip of a staff member, I uncrumple myself and stand, helmet tucked under my left arm, for the team photo. They take it at the end of the ride so staff can laugh at the passengers' bloodless expressions and helmet hair.

Not even watching Cool Runnings five times over from a human compression unit could do bobsledding justice. It has to be the most insane sport in the world; in fact I'm not sure how breathing your way through a minute-long car-crash qualifies as a sport.

Yet strangely, in a self-destructive kind of way, as I rubbed my still-stiff neck days later, I want to sign another waiver and do it all again.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Park City is 35 minutes' drive from Salt Lake City International Airport. There is free bus transportation within Park City township and ski areas covered by the Park City International Lift Pass: Park City, Deer Valley, The Canyons.

Accommodation: There is a good range of accommodation in the Park City area. The moderate-grade Best Western starts at US$99-120 per night including a full breakfast. The five-star Stein Eriksen Lodge starts at US$420-470 per night during the winter months.

Further information: Phone 0800 11 22 99 or see skitraveller.co.nz.

Jacqueline Smith travelled to Park City courtesy of Air New Zealand, Ski Traveller and Park City Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 26 Oct 2014 19:00:10 Processing Time: 414ms