Do It Yourself Winter Olympics: Ride the Bobsled

Tourist can pay to have Olympic Experience

Over the years I have signed plenty of liability waivers before doing thrill-seeking adventures such as bungee jumping, dog sledding and rock climbing, but I have never had somebody explicitly tell me that I will get injured. Not just a chance of injury here, but a promise of at least some bumps and bruises.

"I can guarantee you that everyone in this room will be feeling it tomorrow," our guide Jon Green explained during the lengthy safety lecture. Only once in the program's decade-long history has a sled flipped over.

Great. This is supposed to be fun?

I had come to Utah to experience an 80-mph trip down the 2002 Olympic bobsled track, a ride sold as "the most-intense minute of your life." But for some reason the only thing running through my mind was pain.

Video: Bobsleding 101 in Park City, Utah.
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The Olympic bobsled track here is only one of 15 in the world and one of four in North America. (The others are in Lake Placid, N.Y., Calgary, Canada, and of course Vancouver, Canada, site of this winter's Olympic Games.)

That may seem like a small number, until you realize the cost involved: the Utah track took 30 months to build at a cost of $25 million. And maintaining such a track is not easy, with 60 miles of pipes cooling the 8/10th of a mile track and keeping the ice smooth all winter long.

Winter Olympic Cities Through the Years

Park City's track also happens to be one of the fastest runs in the world.

In less than a mile, bobsledders are sent through 15 gut-wrenching turns and drop 390 feet, or 40 stories. By turn number six the sled has already reached 80 mph and riders feel forces five times the pull of gravity.

While other tracks do allow tourists to ride down, Park City is the only track that lets tourists ride the full length of the track, getting an almost-identical experience to the Olympians. The only difference: we started inside the sled and got a push. The professional athletes get a running start.

Olympic Bobsled Gold Medal Run

VIDEO: Olympiad Nich Pearson gives a lesson on how to speedskate.
Speedskating 101 on the Olympic Oval

About 3,000 people each winter shell out the $200 to race down the track. The ride takes less than a minute, prompting one member of my group to say, "See how quickly $200 can be spent."

Visitors ride down the track in four-man bobsleds; each with three tourists and one professional driver. In Olympic competition, the fourth man in the sled is in charge of stopping. Here, the sled is modified so the driver also brakes.

"We don't want you to have to remember to pull the brake on your very first night," Green told us.

Luckily, my driver wasn't just a pro, but had his own little page in the Olympic history books. I got to speed down the track at more than 80 mph with Pat Brown, the head coach of the 1988 Jamaican Bobsled Team. Yes, the "Cool Runnings" team.

Video: Ski jumping 101 in Park City, Utah.
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