Skeleton must be experienced


I should have worn tighter clothes.

Those aren't words that you would typically hear coming out of my mouth, but I repeated them over and over last Thursday as I lay down on my skeleton sled and was lowered onto the ice at the Maple Leaf start.

It was supposed to be snowing that day, so I showed up to the Skeleton Sport Experience at the Whistler Sliding Centre in my baggy snowboard pants and jacket. Instead, the afternoon was relatively warm and overcast and I could have gotten by, like other participants, with jeans and a snug jacket.

What would that have given me? Maybe two kilometres an hour. The fastest time in our group was a speedy 99.1 km/h. And me? A tortoise-like 96.9 km/h.

Since none of the participants on this media tour knew how to steer or had ever been on a skeleton sled before it had to be the clothes creating wind resistance. Had to be...

The only way to find out for sure would be to go again, this time dressing in the tightest clothes I could find. And as of yesterday (Wednesday, Feb. 16) that's entirely possible with the Skeleton Sport Experience opening to the general public.

It's taken months for the tour to go through the certification process with the B.C. Safety Authority. Given that there are only a few programs like this in the world the BCSA was understandably cautious. Plus, the track itself has a reputation - it's the fastest in the world, and on the eve of the Games a luge athlete died after his sled was bumped from the course.

However, nobody seemed too worried about that. All of the members of the media in attendance had covered the story of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and understood that our top speeds - while they may seem fast to us - are 40 to 50 km/h slower than World Cup level athletes experience. As well, there have been modifications to the exit of the last corner that would prevent the same type of accident, and some changes to the bottom corners of the track that make it easier for sliders to maintain control.

The tour itself lasted around three hours, starting with the orientation and safety talk, finishing with our two timed runs down the last six turns on the track. Afterward we filled out a survey that asked what we thought about the whole experience.

For my part, it's kind of difficult to explain - it was so unlike anything I've ever done that I don't have a point of reference for comparison. It is most definitely not tobogganing or tubing. It's not bungee jumping. It's not skiing or snowboarding, skating or skateboarding. The only thing I've done that compares was a stupid teenage ride down a country road on the top of a car, clutching the top of the windshield, and I don't think that car went over 50 km/h.

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