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February 21, 2014

Lake Placid satisfies the need for speed

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The Daily Star

---- — Like many of you, I’ve been watching the Olympics every night on television.

As I watched the women’s bobsled runs the other night, I recalled a time at Lake Placid.

My wife, Pat, and I had taken my father and our camper to Lake Placid for a week’s vacation. We did all of the normal things. We drove up the Memorial Highway to the top of Whiteface Mountain one day and rode the gondola up the ski area another.

One morning, we drove over to Mt. Van Hoevenberg, where the Olympic bobsled and luge tracks are located. This area is operated by the Olympic Regional Development Foundation.

The bobsled run is operated year-round. When the snow and ice are gone, they remove the runners from the sleds and put on steel wheels. Anyone over 4-feet tall can ride down the runs from the halfway point with a professional driver and reach speeds better than 50 miles an hour. But as luck would have it, the run was closed for maintenance and repairs and would not be running for a few days.

We tried to go into the main building there to see the displays, but that was closed, too. We peered into the windows and a man just happened to see us. He came to the door and explained that we were a week early but ...

And what a “but” that turned out to be.

The man represented a company that was installing a simulator, intended to give the same feeling one would get from riding on a luge, skeleton sled or bobsled all the way from the top. It was all installed and ready for testing, so he invited us to take the first run.

I chose the skeleton, Pat went for the luge and my dad climbed into the bobsled. We were each given a set of goggles with screens in front of our eyes.

Suddenly, the machine started. The crowd cheered in the background and the skeleton started to shake and bounce. We soon started down and into the first curve. The sled banked into the corner and rocketed out to another tight curve in the other direction. The sled shook. The noise of the runners on the ice echoed in my ears.

I could see the same things an actual rider sees while barreling down the track at 80 miles an hour. Talk about being up close and personal. On the skeleton, your face is mere inches from the ice. It was an adrenaline rush almost beyond description. The only thing it lacked was the wind in my face.

In just about a minute, we slowed down and coasted to a stop. Wow! The crowd cheered as the announcer screamed, “59.35 seconds ... a silver medal for the USA!”

I took off the goggles and sat up. My dad was a little pale in color and his eyes were as big as saucers when he took off his goggles. He had driven the bobsled down the track at nearly 90 miles an hour and felt every inch of it.

It’s amazing what some electronics and a little bouncing and shaking can do. We had planned to go back and do a real run on the actual Olympic bobsled track someday, but we just never made it.

If you want to experience what the Olympians do, head to Lake Placid and take a ride. It’s best to make reservations. A ride runs about $80, but I’m sure it’s worth every penny.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.