Olympic Bobsledder Am I

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Originally published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Feel like an Olympic bobsledder -- for a moment
By Patricia Guthrie 

Park City, Utah -- I am zowing 80 mph down an Olympic bobsled course, and I can't remember why.

OK, I'm really only going 79.6 mph. A freight train is rumbling through the tunnel of my ear, with a chorus of zow, zow, zow. From the maelstrom, a voice keeps shouting: "Curve 6," "Curve 7," "Curve 8," rattling in the din like the ghost of Christmas past.

Then, a pickup truck pulls up and parks on my back. l've had enough.

I want out.

Now.

But just as my head detaches from my neck and my neck from my shoulders, and my shoulders from my arms, a wondrous motion takes over. 

S-l-o-w-i-n-g d-o-w-n.

I open my eyes. I breathe. I tap the top of my black helmet.

You, too, can have this Olympic experience -- aptly named the Comet -- at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City. That is, if you're at least 16 years old, physically healthy, mentally not so much and have $200. lt's the real deal -- the real ice, the real curves, the real sled, the real crush of gravity dropping four times your body weight on top of your cranium.

Oh, and a real bobsled athlete or coach steers the four-person sled down the 15-curve, $20 million track, reputed to be the fastest on the planet. (There are only 14 bobsled courses worldwide, three in North America.) So someone knows what they're doing. Screaming or praying is your job, as well as the two others who'll be scientifically selected by weight and lQ to share the ride.

Comet bobsled fast facts: The track measures just under a mile and drops the equivalent of a 4O-story building in less than a minute.

Two dozen brave souls (22 men, two women) showed up last month on the day I decided to try the course. Most of the speed junkies were stuck in the daily doldrums of life as lawyers, accountants and stockbrokers.

"lt's like 70 percent good adrenaline and 30 percent real bad," Alex Weisskopf expounds after his ride in the four-person bob. Weisskopf, a self-described country lawyer from Ashville, Ala., is one of my teammates. We've dubbed ourselves Team South without any input from the third person assigned to our sleigh, tall dude Tracy Duckworth from Salt Lake City. This is his second ride so he doesn't say much.

Weisskopf tells me that his wife and four kids are off sliding in tamer territory at a nearby tubing park.

"l've always wanted to do this," he says. "Four years ago, we went to lnnsbruck [Austria] and they had a bobsled. But instead of going on a really cool bobsled ride, I was dragged with my wife shopping for Gucci in Venice [taly]. ln really horrible, cold, nasty Venice."

Park City fast facts: Adding up Park City's sprawling downhill terrain: 48 ski lifts, 332 trails, 8,550 skiable acres. Altitudes range from 6,720 to 8,460 feet above sea level.

Besides attracting outdoor enthusiasts year-round, Park City goes Hollywood every January for Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival. At the 10-day show, independent filmmakers premiere their films. The fest runs through Jan. 25. Shuttling movie stars around makes for great conversation with hotel van drivers. One told me with pride: "Last year, I drove around Jennifer Lopez and, whatever her boyfriend's name is. They went to a restaurant in downtown, and police had to close down Main Street because so many people rushed to see them.”

Deer Valley Ski Resort
lts patrons can ski in for a Sunday brunch at the renowned Stein Eriksen Lodge or get toasty anytime in front of the lodge's massive fireplaces and Troll Hallen Lounge's stock of single-malt scotch. (Yes, Utah still has some strange liquor laws but also lots of creative bartending.)

Gourmet offerings have become quite an added attraction in the ski industry. No greasy hamburgers and plastic pizza anymore. lt's more like cantaloupe, prosciutto, artichokes, antipasti and grilled mushrooms and dipping sauce. But no matter how scrumptious the food, it's probably best to indulge après bobsleigh.

New course record!
Perhaps that helped my Team South to the best time at the finish line -- 53.31 seconds. Course champions! Until the second sled blasted off. And then the third,the fourth, the fifth. But at day's end, we all got gold medals -- well, pins commemorating our feat -- and something better: bobsled bragging rights.

Patricia Guthrie is a recovering newspaper reporter now freelancing from Shoreline. Follow her on
twitter.com@loislanealive or read her blog.


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