Do It Yourself Winter Olympics: Ride the Bobsled

Tourist can pay to have Olympic ExperienceUtah Olympic Park
Tourists can make their own Olympic experience in Park City, Utah where $200 will get you a white-knuckled ride at up to 80 mph on the 2002 Winter Olympics bobsled track.

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.Play

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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.

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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

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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.Play

Brown, a former member of the U.S. national team, has spent 25 years as a bobsledder. Besides coaching the Jamaican team, he also coached the 2002 Greek bobsled team and is now coaching the first-ever South Korean bobsled team in the Vancouver Olympics.

Even after learning that Brown was going to be my driver, my heart was still racing and my breath was short. Maybe it was the excitement. Maybe it was just the thin air at 7,325 feet above sea level.

No, it wasn't the altitude. It was fear.

"This is probably one of the best tracks ever," Brown told me. "It's the speed. Most tracks you're building to speed and don't reach top speed until you get to the bottom. Here, by curve six, you're at top speed and it's pretty exciting."

A few final pointers and I was almost ready to go. Green advised the group to keep our shoulders up the whole time, to stop our heads from bobbing around. Also, if we could, we were told to push our elbows against the insides of the sled to stabilize ourselves.

"This will not be comfortable," he said. "The sleds are not built for comfort, they are built to go fast."

Thrilling Bobsled Ride Leaves Legs Shaking

So what was the actual ride like? It's hard to say. It was a bumpy 55 seconds of insane turns, speed and so much shaking that I couldn't see straight.

At moments I saw a turn ahead and felt us go into it, only to be instantly jerked the other way as the sled entered the next turn. It was better than any roller coaster I had ever been on.

At the end, slightly dizzy and confused, I stood up and was escorted out of the sled. A medical team was standing by in case me or one of my fellow passengers passed out.

We then had the chance to pose for photos ($3.99 for a digital one e-mailed up to $19.99 for an 8x10 autographed by the driver) leading one of my fellow passengers to mumble: "We're paying $200 and those are not included?"

I hobbled past the photos and climbed -- along with the bobsled -- into an open truck for the ride back to the top of the hill and my parked car. I walked away from the experience with a big smile on my face, a bit of a wobble and probably a better understanding of what it's like to be inside a washing machine during the spin cycle.

The Olympic Park in Utah offers the "Comet" bobsled rides for $200 a person. Reservations are required. Passengers need to be at least 16 years old and in good health. For more information, go to: