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A young slider prepares to take the track at the Utah Olympic Park during last year s After School Luge Program. Photo courtesy of Wasatch Luge Club

The U.S. Luge Association is teaming up with the Youth Winter Sports Alliance to host the After School Luge Program once again.

This year, however, the program will lower its minimum age requirement in order to better match similar programs in Europe. After only being available to students ages 10 to 13 in years past, eight- and nine-year-olds will also be able to participate this year.

The program, which runs on three consecutive Fridays beginning on Oct. 25, is open to all students who fall within the age limits. And, due to their proximity to the Utah Olympic Park, Ecker Hill Middle School students have the option of transportation from the school to the track.

Program director Jon Owen, a 1988 Olympian and current Western Region director for USA Luge, said the luge program provides young sliders a chance to see how much they improve over the three-week period.

"It's a multi-day program instead of just a one-day program," he said. "They get to see themselves improve as they move farther up the hill. They can see how they're learning and that gets kids more excited than a one-time thing."

Athletes will start at curve 12 of the UOP track, practicing on the last four curves before working their way up to the Tourist Start.

There are 15 spots available in the program, which Owen said will allow more one-on-one coaching and more ice time.

"We've had years where we've had as few as five or six kids," Owen said. "But we've also had years where the program has maxed out. We just want to make sure the kids have enough opportunities to get as many runs as possible. If we go over 15, people start having to sacrifice runs."

For a program that has produced many world-class lugers over the years, getting as many runs as possible in the two-hour span is crucial.

"A good share of my team has come in through this after-school option," he said. "It's a program that does lead somewhere. It's a fun, experiential program, but it also leads directly to ongoing training."

Getting kids excited about the sport at a young age is a way Owen hopes the United States can begin to close the gap with some European countries.

"This reminds me so much of some of the European models I've seen," he said. "They have it as an elementary school physical education option in several countries. This [after-school] model is our next-best option."

For more information about the After School Luge Program, contact Owen by calling (435) 647-3800 or email parkcityluge@usaluge.org to get a registration packet. The registration deadline is Oct. 11.

Program details:

Dates: Oct. 25, Nov. 1 and Nov. 8

Time: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: $100, which includes all equipment, coaching, track fees and membership to USA Luge