Guests zoom down the sliding track in a four-man bobsleigh at Whistler Sliding Centre as part of the Public Ride Experience now offered by Whistler Sport Legacies.
Today, the coach of the original Jamaican Bobsled Team will be driving us down the Whistler Sliding Centre track.
Mention the word "bobsleigh" and people immediately conjure up the pop culture references of the 1993 film Cool Runnings. Canadian actor John Candy played the has-been coach Irving Blitzer, a washed up bobsleigh competitor with a gambling problem who goes on to lead the Jamaican Bobsleigh team to the 1988 Calgary Olympics.
The film is by no means historically accurate; the sprinters were actually recruited from the army, the team was met with support from the European teams in Calgary and there were actually several trainers, none of whom were connected to any cheating scandal.
Nevertheless it's hard to shake the heartwarming story at the novice start of the Whistler Sliding Centre faced with a short well-built man in a red Adidas sliding suit – the real man behind Jamaica's first bobsled team.
Pat Brown has been sliding for 27 years and he was a second for the U.S. four-man bobsleigh team during the Calgary Olympics when he was asked to coach for Jamaica. When asked how he got the job, he described it as being "at the right place at the right time." He has since coached the first U.S. women's bobsled team in 1998 and South Korea's four-man team, which made its debut here in Whistler during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Today my four-man team consists of our professional driver and two other people that like me, had to experience the ride for themselves. I've been designated to the backseat (traditionally held by the brakeman), but there is no big red lever for me to triumphantly yank at the end of our run. The brake in this "tourist" sled is the pedal type, actuated by the driver for added safety.
As we clamber into the sled one at a time, squeezing legs in around we all see how little room there is in this bobsleigh for the four of us, and how difficult (and dangerous) it is to coordinate a sprint start. Once everyone is secure and holding the cable handles inside the sled firmly, I hear the announcement "sled in track" over the PA. I take a deep breath as the Sliding Centre staff gently push our sled onto the track.
There's no stopping now, gravity is pulling us down the fastest sliding track in the world.
The first 20 seconds of the ride are like the slow start of a locomotive train. The thumps of the sled gliding over the imperfection in the ice grow louder and more frequent as we slide through the first three corners. I'm enjoying the novelty when all of a sudden I feel like I've been shot out of a gun. In my peripheral vision I see the blurred colors of logos in the ice, we are sliding from corner to corner so fast now my reaction to brace against the forces proves futile. My helmet ricochets off the side of the sled and I feel the g-forces driving me downwards into my seat as I feel us run high up on the wall of Thunderbird, the 16th and final corner of the track. I hear and feel the scrape of the brake as we travel uphill on the outrun and pull into the Finish Building.
The adrenaline of the last 30 seconds still has my heart racing as I try to comprehend how fast we were going and the amount of force exerted on my body. The time for our crew is a respectable 44.97 with the second fastest top speed for the day at 125.5km/h. I take a rest in the warming room in the finish building and watch the next group come down on the Sliding Centre's video network. With a series of cameras on the track triggered by motion sensors, athletes can review their run, corner for corner. As I see the next tourist sled whiz around the lower corners of the track, all I can think is no matter how many times I've seen this sport on TV, nothing will ever come close to the rush I just felt sliding behind coach Brown. I'm more than glad that he was driving and not me.
Melissa Janke, Marketing Coordinator of Whistler Sport Legacies, describes what makes the Bobsleigh Experience so attractive.
"For the thrill seeker out there who's already been bungee jumping, who loves skiing and snowboarding and is already here in the resort, it's (a) chance to be a part of the Olympic legacy," she said.
The two-hour Bobsleigh Ride Experience runs twice daily with one ride per participant. The session begins with an indoor orientation including helmet fitting, track etiquette and safety guidelines followed by a shuttle to the novice start. A professional driver pilots all Bobsleigh Ride Experience tours. Participants should wear warm clothes (similar for skiing/snowboarding), running style shoes and bring their own gloves. The rate is $149 per person. For more information visit www.whistlerslidingcentre.com/activities/public-bobsleigh