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Sport: I'm a Luger, Baby

Karen Cakebread

Our goal is to stamp every sport on our “passports,” the passes we procure at Lake Placid’s Whiteface Lodge that gain you entry to all the Olympic sports complexes in and around the town. It is not an easy task for a weekend, yet it is only midafternoon on a Friday, so ample time remains in the day to check a few sports off the list.

 

The remote villages in New York’s Adirondacks are, for the most part, placid burgs. Lake Placid itself, however, is anything but. Tourism flourished in the town even before it hosted its first Olympics in 1932. After the 1980 games were held here, the state legislature created the Olympic Regional Development Authority to manage the facilities as official training sites for future Olympians and as a collective destination for weekend athletes, who, as they say at the Whiteface Lodge, can live the Olympics instead of just watching them on TV.

From the comfort of the lodge’s timbered great room, my brother, Bruce (known to family and friends as Bruiser), and I venture a few miles from the village to Mount Van Hoevenberg and the luge rocket, a solo ride that provides the thrill of Olympic sport while requiring none of the skill. This version of a luge is equipped with a self-steering mechanism, and braking is not necessary, nor possible. In the tradition of nausea-inducing amusement-park rides, you lie down on the sled, and an attendant straps you in and then pushes you off. Bruiser goes first, and then, once he has reached the bottom, it is my turn. Feeling like a mummy wrapped in goose down, I watch each of the 17 turns approach at a horrifying speed (only 45 mph, as it turns out), with the sled somehow emerging from each hairpin to hurtle toward the next. The straps are redundant for me given that I am panic-paralyzed, and as the ride concludes, my first thought is: How—and why—does anyone ever learn to control a real luge?

“I would have called to suggest you reconsider, but I couldn’t reach my phone,” Bruiser says, ashen, once we reunite at the bottom of the track. Nevertheless, after we crawl out of our sleds, and before our heads clear, we sign up for a bobsled ride.

On a four-man sled, I squeeze behind the pilot and between the legs of a 12-year-old from Jersey, who in turn is locked in by the legs of the brakeman; the latter looks reassuringly older—maybe teenaged. We set off, and on each turn my helmet bangs against the sled’s high sides as we barrel down the icy track. The half-mile ride is a 38-second adrenaline rush that costs about a dollar a second and is worth every penny.

A quick stop at the outdoor speed skating oval downtown gives us three different sports in as many hours. You also can visit the ski jumps or the hockey rink.

Whiteface Mountain, however, could be the venue of choice for those who would step away from the village’s throngs. The mountain has the highest vertical drop east of the Rockies and views that stretch to Vermont. More than half the land within the 6 million–acre Adirondack Park is public, including Whiteface. That public status precludes condos or other construction and rewards skiers with an element of purity within this winter theme park.

New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, 518.523.1655, www.orda.org
Whiteface Lodge, 518.523.0500, www.thewhitefacelodge.com

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Photo by Ellen Jaskol
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Copyright by Adriaan Louw