Story by Petti Fong
WHISTLER, BRITISH COLUMIA — The guy next to me appears pensive when he glances over as we watch the video showing how it’s going to feel to hurl down curving sheets of ice at speeds of 125 kilometres an hour.
“Ginger candy,” I say, attempting to hide my worry with a reference to a stomach-soothing treat.
It doesn’t work. He looks even more worried and gulps nervously. Each of his next nine words contains a universe of regret: “I had a whole plate of fish and chips.”
We are in a briefing room with a dozen or so others sitting at the Whistler Sliding Centre, located in the southeast slope of the Fitzsimmons Valley in Blackcomb Mountain.
Around us are a family from Alabama who had first made plans to visit Whistler after the 2010 Winter Olympics, a couple on a day-trip from Vancouver, and a group of hard-charging executives from throughout Canada and the United States at a corporate retreat.
We are here to prove our mettle and earn some bragging rights. We all willingly agreed to squeeze into a bobsleigh and take on the fastest track in the world, following in the icy footsteps of Olympians and world-class athletes.
At the front of the room, the instructor tells us there’s still time to change our minds.
No mincing words now as she teaches us how to brace ourselves if something goes wrong along the 1,700-metre track (5,577 feet). We are to keep our head down and hold on to the cable beside us. That kind of trouble rarely happens, we’re assured.
What we should expect is a g-force experience so powerful that it will feel as if our internal organs have been compressed. It’s the g-force briefing that causes a few of us to anxiously share details of our last meal.
“Be like the Hulk,” the instructor advises.
Put simply that means we should hold on tight and puff ourselves up like the Incredible Hulk. The more we expand, the less likely we are to fall out. Some of us, though, emulate the Hulk by turning green from the thought of a nauseating ride.
It is only after when we are sitting inside the bobsled, three of us with the pilot up front, that we realize what the g-force and Hulk advice all means.
There are no seatbelts keeping us in the bobsled. We are outfitted with helmets but that’s it. We will stay inside this hunk of metal only because of speed and gravity.
“All I got to say is, hold on tight,” says legendary bobsleigh pilot Pat Brown just before he gets in the seat up front.
At the Whistler Sliding Centre, professionals like Brown pilot down tourists on the bobsleigh and even do it on the skeleton sled. In that sport, participants slide head-first down the track.
Both sports experiences are open to the public at the site of the bobsleigh, skeleton and luge competitions for the 2010 Winter Games. It costs $169 for the training and the ride. On my bobsleigh trip, riders take a shuttle to a start position halfway up the track and then we hop in.
Skeleton sliders walk to a starting position one-third of the way up the track and get a lesson on the track corners they will navigate. Then they careen down solo in two separate runs, reaching speeds of up to 100 kilometres an hour (63 miles).
The bobsleigh ride reaches 125 kilometres an hour (77 miles). It’s only a 40-second journey but the anticipation before we actually push off lingers for what seems like much longer.
There’s no time for any feeling, no fear, just exhilaration as we take off. The reminder to hold on tight to the cables keeps all of us firmly inside. And bulging outwards like the Incredible Hulk makes me feel powerful enough to overcome the g-force. This gravity and speed thing really does work.
When we climb out of the bobsleigh after the run, we all feel a bit more powerful and a lot more like a superhero than we did just 40 seconds earlier.
MORE ABOUT THE WHISTLER SLIDING CENTRE
Location: 4910 Glacier Lane, Whistler, BC
Bobsleigh ride: $169 per person
Skeleton ride: $169 per person
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