One year after Jon Montgomery won his 2010 Olympic gold medal, I lower myself face-first onto a narrow metal toboggan.
Called a skeleton because its 1892 prototype resembles a human bone-rack, the 80 pound frame is more like an exo-skeleton and I am counting on it to keep all my bits properly in place, as I squeak “yes” to the man holding me by my feet who has just asked, “Are you ready?”
My track-crew guardian lines me up in the centre of the ice and pushes me into the half-tunnel, as if releasing a beached mermaid back out to sea.
High up the walls, I can see blade marks from the lugers who train here at the Whistler Sliding Centre, like the etchings you see on a skating rink before the Zamboni comes through and buffs the ice clean.
There’s enough ice coating this track to fill four NHL hockey rinks, and no Zambonis in sight. The 8 person track-crew do the buffing by hand, in addition to pushing human guinea-pigs down the pipe for a thrill-ride and picking us up at the bottom when our legs are too shaky to operate independently, thanks to the huge and sudden jolt of adrenaline that explodes through your body somewhere around the third corner.
The public skeleton sliding program, which starts February 16 and runs until March 20, 2011, uses the bottom third of the Olympic track, so the steep (and controversial) start section is avoided. We slide through 6 corners, from just above corner 11, and though we will approach 100 km/hr and experience two and a half times our body weight in gravitational forces, we won’t come close to Montgomery’s 5 G-force, 146.6 km/hr gold medal-winning run.
Which is a massive relief – it’s hard enough to keep your head up, your toes pointed, your elbows in, your shoulders down, your arms straight, your hands holding tight, and your shit together, as the sled begins to accelerate.
The ride is thrilling. And the reality is that the only skill-set required is the aforementioned ability to keep your shit together. As our briefing team advised, “Just be a sack of potatoes.”
“Oh, and don’t let go.”
It’s really is as simple as that. If only Evil Knievel had known.
(Thanks to the amazing and fearlessly fast Amber Turnau for sharing her photos. And thanks to Tourism Whistler’s Media Relations team and the Whistler Sliding Centre’s Thunder on Ice Skeleton Sport Experience for the special preview. )