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Whistler Sliding Centre introduces summer bobsleigh

‘Rolling Thunder’ animates the track during quiet summer months
The Whistler Sliding Centre’s “Rolling Thunder” will be rolling until Sept. 1. Photo by Coast Mountain Photography / Courtesy Whistler Sport Legacies

We reach the top of the winding road and climb out of the van, helmets tucked under our arms.

It's my first time at the Whistler Sliding Centre (WSC), so I take a minute to survey the track stretching out below me - the fastest in North America, I was told during the pre-bob safety briefing.

It looks like a long way to the bottom.

Before I have time to second guess myself, I'm being helped into the front of a bobsleigh by a friendly guy named Snowy, which is ironic, because the ride I'm about to embark on doesn't look very friendly at all.

There's also the noticeable absence of snow.

It's the WSC's new summer bobsleigh attraction "Rolling Thunder," and I'm about to experience it first hand.

But really, I've got nothing to worry about.

The rubber-tire bobsleigh is piloted by Colin Edwards, who has been in training for weeks.

"We were doing 10 runs a day, just constantly, and if we weren't driving then we were in the sled," Edwards said.

"So for two weeks, every day, we were just going round and round and round. You definitely have a headache by the end of the day, but it did help."

Where a traditional winter bobsleigh is steered from the front, Edwards controls his from the rear, giving passengers such as myself an ideal view of every screaming turn.

"I've been down this track so many times now that I know where I am just by feel and speed, so I know where the speed picks up, and when I'm in the corner I know what corner I'm in as I go round," he said.

Flying down the track, it's easy to see what he means: Every turn has a unique feel to it, and there are definitely certain stretches of track that are faster than others.

Our ride tops out at 92 km/hr, reaching the bottom in 57.6 seconds.

As brief as our descent may have been in real time, it felt longer in the front seat of the bobsleigh.

As I somewhat-triumphantly stumble out of the bob, my adrenaline is pumping - which is exactly the result the WSC was hoping for.

"We're looking to do something that will attract people to come up and see the venues and experience something that was an adrenaline rush," said Roger Soane, president and CEO of Whistler Sport Legacies.

"In the summer (the track) sits here basically doing nothing, so why wouldn't we do something that not only animates the track, but also keeps the Olympic legacy alive for the tourism as well?"

That Olympic legacy is a huge part of the Rolling Thunder experience.

During the pre-ride safety briefing, pilots also touch on the history of the Whistler Sliding Centre, and its role in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

There's also the self-guided interpretive tour, where visitors can learn about Canada's sliding athletes, stand on the Olympic podium and take a photo in a bobsleigh.

"To me, a legacy is about keeping these venues alive and producing future champions," Soane said.

"My goal is that the legacy venues are around for the next 20 years and that we can continue to develop great - hopefully Whistler-based - athletes that come out of these venues and produce medals for the Canadian team."

The WSC is the fourth bobsleigh track in North America to introduce wheeled rides, following in the footsteps of tracks in Park City, Utah, Calgary, Alta., and Lake Placid, N.Y.

The new summer attraction had already garnered more than 300 pre-bookings prior to opening to the public on Saturday, June 28.

"Rolling Thunder" will be rolling every Thursday - Monday until Sept. 1.

And if you're worried about safety, don't be.

There are a number of simple guidelines to follow - sit up straight, hold on to the rails, make yourself big - that your pilot will walk you through before you start.

"The safety briefing at the start, some of the people's faces when you're like "if we roll over" or "if this happens," you can see they're getting a bit nervous," Edwards said with a smile.

"But I think that's what it's all about. You want to be excited."