Of the three sliding sports – bobsled, skeleton, and luge – luge is the fastest, with elite racers reaching speeds over 90 mph. Strange, then, that it’s also the sport where you lie on your back, stare toward the sky, and maneuver the course from memory while you steer with your legs.
Luge started in the late 1800’s in the resort town of St. Moritz, Switzerland as a fun sledding pastime for guests. It has evolved into an Olympic sport run on ice-covered concrete tracks almost one mile long, with a vertical drop of 300 feet. There are only thirteen artificially refrigerated, Olympic-style luge-bobsled-skeleton tracks in the world, and three of them are in North America: Lake Placid, New York; Park City, Utah; and Calgary, Alberta, Canada. A fourth, located in Whistler, British Columbia, is nearing completion. There are two smaller, non-refrigerated tracks in the U.S., one located in Muskegon, Michigan and the other in the Upper Peninsula town of Negaunee, Michigan.
Unlike bobsled and skeleton, which can be learned fairly quickly, a luge athlete can expect to spend ten years advancing to Olympic skill levels. When you’re learning luge, you start from entry points low on the track and slowly work your way up the hill as your skills increase. It can take five years to reach the top of the track, where the 80 to 90 mph descents can eventually kick in. Meanwhile, athletes work on technique, learning how to memorize the track, and adjust speed and direction with subtle body movements. Racers steer the sled by pressing on the front runners with their inner calves or using their shoulders to put pressure on the back of the sled. At the end of the race, lugers sit up and pull up hard on the runners, forcing the back blades into the ice.
If luge sounds intriguing to you, the good news is that the USA Luge Association (USLA), sponsored by Verizon, is actively recruiting new athletes. If you’d just like to give luge a try, or luge on a strictly recreational basis, there are outlets for that as well. And while USA Luge is particularly searching for young athletes between the ages of 10 and 14, keep in mind that Anne (Grandma Luge) Abernathy qualified for the 2006 Turin Olympic Games at the age of 52. Luge coaches in the USA are always on the lookout for exceptional talent.
Verizon Luge Challenge
Since 1996, this strictly-for-fun tour has been visiting between 6 and 8 ski resorts each winter, introducing the sport of luge to the general public. You must be 10 or older to participate in this all-day event. Throughout the morning, Olympic and National team athletes teach children and adults the basics of luge, and you’ll get some practice runs on a recreational (plastic) version of the luge sled. In the afternoon, the best morning performers compete in timed races on a simulated snow luge course. Racers get numbered bibs to wear, hear their names announced on loudspeakers, and winners receive very nice prizes. Cost: Free.