BOSTON — The costs of building and maintaining a bobsled and luge track can prevent communities from bidding to host the Winter Olympics. Folks in Utah, however, were not dissuaded.
Last month a new $25 million bob/luge track, paid for with tax revenues, opened outside Salt Lake City. The 1,335-meter serpentine course, one of only 12 competition-certified facilities in the world, is at the heart of the Utah Winter Sports Park - future home of sledding and ski jumping events during the 2002 Winter Games.
In preparation for those Games, the Utah Sports Authority has also built an ice rink in Ogden and a speedskating oval in Kearns. "Utah's commitment to winter sports through the construction of these facilities helped define and win the bid for the Winter Olympic Games," says Tom Welch, president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.
Ever since hosting the 1932 Winter Olympics, and later the 1980 Games, Lake Placid, N.Y., has been the traditional home of American sled racing. The United States bobsled and luge federations have their headquarters there. But with the opening of a superior facility out West, both groups have established offices and program managers in Utah.
World-class bobsledders like Jim Herberich look forward to training on what may be one of the fastest courses in the world.
Herberich says that some newer tracks have taken the challenge out of driving the sleds, but that at the Utah Winter Sports Park they've flattened the curves a bit "so there isn't one line where the sled is almost forced to go."
As befits a publicly financed track, a recreational ride program permits the public to try five types of sleds, including wheeled racers which are used during the summer months .
The winter sledding options range from $25 to $100 per trip. One-man, luge-like Ice Rockets travel between 20 and 30 m.p.h. The fastest rides start at the top of the course, and are for passengers tucked between a trained bobsled driver and brakeman. Speeds reach 60-to-70 m.p.h. as the course drops 390 feet start to finish.