UOP’s bobsled offers a wild thrill ride
Last week, with the holidays looming ahead, I made a life-changing decision. Fine, maybe not life-changing but somewhat earth shattering, for sure. With tourists coming into town, it seemed that my average "Miners win by 10 in overtime" story would simply not be as relevant to an out-of-town crowd. Then, I remembered Utah Olympic Park (UOP) Vice President of Sport and Development Rondo Fehlberg had offered to send me down the track on The Comet bobsled ride at my convenience. It was time to take the plunge. A natural born risk taker the idea of shushing down an icy track at top speeds barely fazed me. In fact, it a thrill that my usual, ‘go to the gym, go to work, head home’ life rarely afforded. So, I made the necessary calls, grabbed a coworker for support, and headed to the UOP last Wednesday. Since its opening eight years ago, the track has sent over 10,000 people down its path with no reported problems, so I figured I was in no real danger. We went through the usual thrill ride song and dance "keep your hand and feet inside the ride at all times", "sign here in case you die," and within an hour my coworker Mandy and I were ready to follow in the Olympic footsteps of gold medallist Todd Hayes and his team. After taking about ten minutes to find the right helmet, Mandy and I headed out to the start house and lined up in order of height and strength, putting me third in a group of four. In an official four-man bobsled race, there is diver, two crew members in the middle, and a brakeman in the rear. The team waits for a green light to alert them that the track is clear and they may start their run. They have 60 seconds to push off and start their run. The quality of the push is very important as it often determines the outcome of the race. Athletes must sprint about 164 feet from the starting clock to gain momentum. I vaguely remembered something in the orientation about six G- or gravity forces being absorbed by the backseat people, but I was liberal arts major in college, so they may as well have doled out instructions in Spanish. The ride started out perfectly. Park operators gave us a gentle push, and experienced driver Pat Brown took his seat at the helm of the sled. According to the UOP, drivers need excellent depth perception and split-second decision making skills and the ability to choose the fastest line down the track and through the curves while avoiding the walls. So, I figured we were in good hands. We started to make our way down the track and made a silent resolution to start taking more thrill rides like this one. I took in the scenery as we began to pick up speed heading into the first turn. It was somewhere coming out of the turn that the world went black. Nobody fell out of the toboggan; it was just at that point that the force of every roller coaster ride I had ever taken in my life hit me all at once and I had to close my eyes. Now traveling at about 80 miles per hour, my head began vibrating, my back went from straight to some spaghetti-like curl and the passenger behind me somehow managed to grind his knuckles into my triceps as the need to grip the safety bars became greater and greater. With 13 turns still ahead, I started to panic. When they had told us earlier that the ride was to take less than a minute, I had naively turned to Mandy and said, "That is so short." Suddenly each second had somehow become a year and I was grinding my back molars into a fine dust. The whole pre-ride talk about proper posture a distant memory, I floppily waited for Mr. Brown to pull this weapon of mass destruction to a screeching halt. Finally, we came to the end of the ride. Mandy and I crawled out of the back of the sled, tripped off the track and waited for Park staff to take a picture of us– a curious mix of green, black and blue skin and mashed strands of hair next to the smiling, unfazed Brown, who was ready to make his way up the hill for the second of four more rides. I am amazed that in an actual bobsled race our maximum speed was actually pretty slow. Mandy and I compared our minor injuries, including the huge purple circles on the back of my arm, hugged and marveled at what we had just been through. In some way, the experience had bonded us just as any traumatic/exhilarating event will and we thanked each other for the experience and headed to our respective cars. My cell phone had started ringing as we were unloading from the sled and I returned the call to my girlfriend, Tia, as I was leaving the Park. I told Tia about my wild ride in full detail. Tia has major health concerns and such a ride for anyone with any problems related to back, neck or bones is told to stay far away from The Comet. So, I unfolded the amazing story to my friend that would never know what six G-forces would feel like, and began to realize that despite my spinning head, aching back and stiff jaw, I was lucky enough to have what very few will ever experience the ride of a lifetime. The Comet winter bobsled rides cost $200 per person and reservations are required. All rides are led by certified drivers down the entire length of the Olympic track. Sleds travel at or near 80- miles per hour and endure about 5 G’s or gravity force or the equivalent of 40-foot drop in just under a minute. Reservations are required. All passengers must be age 16 or older. Participants under 18 require a parent or guardian signature. Identification is required at the time of check-in. Riders must be in good overall health. Riders with chronic neck problems, back or kidney problems, heart problem, are pregnant, or if have had recent surgery should not ride. For more information, call 658.4206.
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