Okay, pretend it’s winter and you’re a kid with a sled. You’re standing at the top of Killer Hill. No, make that Suicide Hill. It’s the hill your parents told you to absolutely, positively stay away from because it was too dangerous. There are about a dozen other daredevils up there with you, but no one’s worked up the nerve to give it a try. You measure it with your eyes and decide it’s about a million feet to the bottom. A few kids decide it’s too icy and back out, but you ignore them. It’s just you, your sled, and the hill. You know this is it – the ride of your life. You grip the sides of your sled, sprint toward the edge of the hill, and launch. Next thing you know, you’re speeding toward the bottom, totally out of control. The world is a blur. You hit a few bumps, a rock or two, you lose your hat, a boot falls off, the bush you were hoping you’d miss whips you in the face, and you finally flip and crash at the bottom. You lie there, covered with snow, staring up at the sky, and you laugh. You may be bleeding, for all you know, but you’re still laughing.
If this sounds like you, then maybe Skeleton is your sport.
The first Skeleton race competition was held in the ski resort town of St. Moritz, Switzerland in 1884. Back then, it was really a singles toboggan race, and riders sat erect while they slid. By 1887, racers were lying in the prone, headfirst position used today, as they raced down the road from St. Moritz to a neighboring town, vying for first prize – a bottle of champagne. Five years later, a new sled was developed, made mostly of metal and vaguely resembling a human Skeleton. Skeleton racing was declared an Olympic sport in 1926.
The Skeleton sled sits only about 3” to 8” off the ground. The sled can be 32” (80cm) to 48” (120 cm) long, and 14” (34 cm) to 16” (38 cm) wide, for both men and women. Since heavier sleds go faster, there are strict rules about the combined total weight of sled and rider. For men, racer and sled can weigh no more than 253.5 pounds (115 kg). Women have a combined racer and sled weight limit of 203 pounds (92 kg).
How You Do It
To ride a Skeleton, you will lie belly down, with your head out in front of the sled and your legs and feet dangling behind. Your arms are at your sides. You’ll be happy to know you’ll be wearing a full helmet with face shield and chin guard, and many racers wear minimal padding as well, on shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, and hands. Your shoes will have steel spikes on the soles and an aerodynamic, injected polymer toe cap. You need the spikes as you push your sled and sprint for your start. The toe caps come in handy during the ride. There is no steering or brake system on a Skeleton. You steer by shifting your weight slightly, or by tapping a toe or toes on the ice. Dragging your toes slows you down if you think you’re going too fast and might crash. Elite Skeleton athletes travel at speeds over 80 mph, and careening off the concrete and ice walls is inevitable and a part of the sport.