FEEL THE RUSH OF ROLLING THUN­DER

Sum­mer Bob­sled­ding

Whistler Traveller Magazine - - TRAVELLER I CONTENT - STORY BY DAVID BURKE IM­AGES BY JOERN ROHDE

The fi­nal few turns of the Whistler Slid­ing Cen­tre ( WSC) bobsleigh track are called the Gold Rush Trail for a rea­son: It’s where world-class bobsleigh, skele­ton and luge ath­letes, com­pet­ing on the world’s fastest track, win gold — or lose it. And al­most in­vari­ably, those who have taken rides down the track, in win­ter or sum­mer, ex­claim af­ter­ward that it cer­tainly is a rush. Par­tic­i­pants in Rolling Thun­der, the sum­mer­time bobsleigh pro­gram at the track, are ad­vised to ar­rive 30 to 60 min­utes be­fore the start of their sport ex­pe­ri­ence. Once they’ve done the weighin, re­ceived their seat as­sign­ments and are fit­ted with hel­mets, guests are given an ori­en­ta­tion and safety brief­ing, then go for an ed­u­ca­tional walk down a sec­tion of the track — ed­u­ca­tional be­cause it helps guests see how steep the walls are when en­ter­ing and ex­it­ing the turns, said Silke Jeltsch, com­mu­ni­ca­tions spe­cial­ist for Whistler Sport Lega­cies ( WSL).

The main mis­sion of WSL, the non-profit so­ci­ety that op­er­ates the WSC and other “legacy” fa­cil­i­ties from the 2010 Win­ter Olympics, is to “grow sport.” Pro­ceeds from Rolling Thun­der and other pub­lic pro­grams help sup­port both up­com­ing and es­tab­lished ath­letes in the slid­ing sports. On this day, Anna, one of the pre­sen­ters at our safety brief­ing, of­fered ad­vice on what to do “in the un­likely event you see a bear.” Two min­utes later, as our group was stand­ing on a ter­race out­side the brief­ing room, a bear am­bled out of the for­est just across the road but at a safe dis­tance. Bonus!

The sleds used for the sum­mer pro­gram are some­what dif­fer­ent from the bob­sleighs used in the win­ter. In­stead of stain­less steel run­ners, they have wheels — larger in the back, smaller in the front. There are also side wheels for sta­bil­ity on the banked track. The sum­mer sleds’ nose sec­tions are ar­tic­u­lated so that they move sep­a­rately from the main body of the sled, said Philippe Melun, WSC guest ser­vices man­ager and Rolling Thun­der pi­lot. In ad­di­tion, the pi­lots in the sum­mer sleds steer from the back, not the front. “With the steer­ing from the back and the nose ar­tic­u­lated, you can go higher on the wall and then when you come down, the de­scent is a lot smoother,” Melun said. “That way it feels al­most like the sleds in the win­ter.”

Four years ago, when WSC em­ploy­ees (in­clud­ing some who also com­pete in bobsleigh in the win­ter) were be­ing trained to pi­lot the sum­mer sleds, the ride was ex­tremely rough un­til they learned the feel of the steer­ing/brak­ing mech­a­nisms, Melun said. “When you go around 70 (km/h), it’s very bumpy and it doesn’t ne­go­ti­ate the turns very well,” he said. “When we reach 88 km/h the ride is a lot smoother. So, we say faster is bet­ter.”

Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced it in both sum­mer and win­ter (the lat­ter with speeds more than 120 km/h), I didn’t no­tice much of a dif­fer­ence in speed. In a con­fined space, fast is fast! But the side-to-side buf­fet­ing was sim­i­lar, and in both in­stances, I just held for dear life onto the ca­bles in­side the sled. That was es­pe­cially true af­ter we dropped out of Cor­ner 11 and hur­tled to­ward the Gold Rush Trail.

Melun re­calls be­ing the pi­lot for twin 13-year-olds who came to the track with their grand­par­ents. The young­sters were keen, but be­cause each 12- or 13-yearold must be ac­com­pa­nied by a par­ent or guardian, the grand­par­ents were told they’d have to be in the sled, too. “The grand­mother, we told her she needed to go, other­wise the kids can’t go. And the kids had to go,” Melun said. “The grand­mother said she hadn’t even been in a roller­coaster be­fore. We started down the track and she started scream­ing, and she screamed all the way down.

“When we fin­ished, she was laugh­ing so much that she couldn’t move, and when she fi­nally got out, she was hug­ging ev­ery­one with tears in her eyes. For her, it was one of the big­gest things she’d ever done.”

The 2017 Rolling Thun­der pro­gram rum­bles down the track from July 1 to Sept. 3. This year, young­sters aged 12 to 18 ride free with a pay­ing adult.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit

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