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Alta states

Val Thorens’ Luge Cup: Getting in touch with your inner mountain child

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From the top of the Funitel, you have to ride down the main piste a few hundred metres to get to the start of the luge track. Some people chose to walk, but I needed the practice. Mistake. There’s something uniquely terrifying about sitting in a sled, going downhill while skiers and riders zoom in and out of your way.

Fortunately, I made it to the start without any major collisions. But already I looked like a snowman. I don’t know how many times I fell between the Funitel and the luge course. What I do know is what little confidence I had at the beginning of the day had completely evaporated by the time I made it to the start.

I watched the race for a while and tried to psyche myself up a bit. The other competitors made it look so easy. Surely my form was going to get better…

“You’re up,” said starter William Revenaz. And then he smiled encouragingly. “Etes-vous prêt?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I answered. “Alors, allez-y maintenant.” And suddenly I was knuckling my way out of the start gate and heading into the first pitch.

I’d love to say I finally got the hang of it and redeemed some of my bruised pride by the time I reached the finish line. But I’d be lying. It was hell. It took me half the course to figure out how to use my hands and arms to control my descent — kind of like a sitting-down cruciform pose. “This is finally working,” I thought as I stretched my arms as far as they would go. “Maybe I’ll be OK after all…”

Alas, just when I was finally get the hang of it, I encountered a series of big banked turns that just kept coming at me faster and faster. First one passed. Yes! Second one, just by the skin of my teeth. Third turn and I knew I was in trouble. I was riding as far up the bank as I could go. The sled was wobbling madly by now. Should I bail? Or just damn the torpedoes and hope I could make it through the fourth and last turn and fight my way back onto the straightaway?