It is the rare and probably Canadian person who grew up near a luge track or a curling sheet. Though they become temporarily high profile when the Winter Olympics roll around, many winter sports are practiced only in very specific places by very specialized athletes. That makes fully appreciating the achievements that will be showcased at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, far more difficult than, say, understanding how exceptional Hussain Bolt is on the track. In order to gauge a competitor's mastery of a sport, it helps to have tried your hand at it.
But you can't just nip out to the local ski jump. If you want to try Winter Olympics sports, you'll have to either visit the few facilities around the country that offer tutorials for beginners or fly to Sochi and try to sneak into the Olympic Park. And we don't recommend the latter. Not surprisingly, it's probably easier to get to one of the following places to take part in the Winter Olympic sports you've never tried.
The Canada Olympic Park in Calgary is home to the only luge track in North America that lets the general public give the sport a try. During select blocks of time on select days, the Alberta Luge Association opens the track as a fundraiser for its development program. Participants pre-register for a time slot and pay $35 a run. Volunteers hand out elbow pads and helmets as Novice Coach Lindsay Forsberg provides one-on-one instruction and guidance from the launch platform. As a safety precaution, participants start a third of the way up, not at the top.
"If we started them up there, they'd all die," says Forsberg. She's not exactly joking. The 30-second ride careens around five banked turns and sees terrified first-timers reaching speeds of up to 45 miles an hour.
Forsberg's number one rule is simple: Stay lying down. "The track pretty much takes you where it needs you to go and you help it out by the way you shift your body weight," she says. "When people start ping-ponging off the sides, the instinct is to sit up, but that's like taking your hands off the steering wheel on the highway."
Beginners on the Calgary course can take heart from the story of the Jamaican bobsled team, which made its first run on ice here during the 1988 Olympics. The team didn't win, but its story was made into 'Cool Runnings,' the only great luge movie we've ever seen.
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