Taking the Fastest Track
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Taking the Fastest Track

In this week’s #WhisLife, Harry Patchett gets his speed fix at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The Whistler Sliding Centre runs a public bobsleigh program that encourages everyone to experience the raw speed and tumultuous turns that the Olympians felt in 2010.

I arrived to the bobsleigh track with no expectations and no preconceptions of what it would be like. None of my friends had ridden it before and my only familiarity with the sport comes from the Cool Runnings movie.

I needed to feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, to get on up because it’s bobsled time.

At the safety meeting we’re told the differences between competition sleighs and the one we’d be using. The professional sleighs are slimmer, more streamlined and have absolutely no padding. The athletes launch it themselves and pile in as quick as they can – if you haven’t seen it before.

Canadian Bobsleigh team

Lyndon Rush, David Bissett, Lascelles Brown and Chris Le Bihan of Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. Photo: Dave Sandford

This makes it a world apart in difficulty compared with our more leisurely method for getting down the track. We would be loaded into the sleigh and given a running start by the Whistler Sliding Centre staff – not quite so intense. Our height and weight was taken and we were slotted into teams of three. My teammates, Alix and Stephanie, were part of a larger group of older women all very excited to get racing – there is no age bracket for fun.

We wait for our turn at the famous Thunderbird Corner. It’s one of the last turns on the track and where we’ll feel the most g-force. This is also where the track opens up, giving us a clear view of what we’d be in for. An ominous rattling sound echoes down the ice. I am instantly reminded of the epic crash in Cool Runnings and while thinking of that a sleigh whips past. I shiver a little when the wind of it hits me – no crashing for this crew though.

Thunderbird Corner at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

It takes four men to put a sled on the ice track. Add the combined weight of four adults squeezed in and that’s a heavy bullet of metal. They patiently go over the safety instructions again and after we’re given radio clearance we are set. The countdown starts and then we were being pushed down the track.

I expected to race from the get go but we started off slowly, building up our speed on the ice. I hold on tight, waiting for the whiplash corners – the ones we’d been told to brace for. I was the heaviest of our team and positioned at the back. I wanted more of a view down the track so I stuck my head out to see past the helmets of the two ladies in front and our driver Pat Brown – a local legend.

Thunder On Ice: A bobsleigh racing down the Whistler Sliding Centre.

The white walls of the track are brightly lit and misleading in their twists and turns with the corners seeming to come from nowhere. The speed picked up, I tucked back down with my team. We’re rocketed up the walls and zipping through sections with just the slight movement of our heads letting us know the direction we’ve turned.

I recognized nothing until we slide high up the wall into an open-air section where I can see the night sky. This is Thunderbird Corner where we had waited patiently for our go on the track. The speed of the bobsleigh blurs time and it feels like no more than a few seconds since we were at the starting line.

An incline in the track acts as a gentle brake. Four sets of hands keep us from sliding back the way we’ve come then a tap on the shoulder lets me know I can stand now. There is a guy waiting to grab me in case I am too shaken by adrenaline to walk. Apparently that happens a lot – I can see why.

Pilot Pat got us up to 118km/hr and we had the fastest ride at 42.91 seconds for a little while – the last team beat us by a tiny margin. If you’re a fan of going fast, feeling a little out of control and love Cool Runnings then this is your thing.

To find out more visit the Whistler Sports Legacies page.

Harry Patchett