Now that the Winter Olympics have you pumped about snow sports, you might head into the hills for some real, live athletic feats. Conveniently, a ski area in north central Washington state has set up a luge sledding course.
The Loup Loup Ski Bowl claims it's the only place in the Northwest where you can try it out. Just know that luge sledding is not the same as the plunge down an icy chute flat on your back seen in the Winter Olympics.
Olympic lugers steer by pressing the outside of the runners with their lower legs or with subtle weight shifts. The recreational sled can be steered feet-first the same way, but additionally, sliders can pull on a rein or drag a foot in the snow.
"What we're offering is a recreational version of that that does not have the banked turns, but instead is a flat track,” Loup Loup board member and instructor Steve Nelson said.
The nonprofit ski hill near Twisp, Washington, converted underutilized, groomed Nordic ski trails into a luge course.
"People get it pretty quickly,” Nelson said. "Our training session only goes for about 35 minutes or so and by then everybody is ready to go."
The main luge run winds 5-6 kilometers through woods down the side of Bear Mountain. A snowcat shuttle takes sliders to the top of the run. The elevation drop is 1,200 feet.
Luge sledders can access other groomed trails by hiking uphill from the ski area parking lot.
Loup Loup purchased 26 wood and steel luge sleds from Austria for its rental program. Both singles and doubles are available. You can't bring your own toboggan or Yankee Flyer to do this.
Nelson said he got the idea to propose a luge program to the Loup Loup Board of Directors after he and his wife encountered sliders at Red Mountain, a ski resort in southeastern British Columbia.
"We were skiing up there and a couple of luge sledders came screaming by us and it was completely exciting to see," Nelson said.
Ski area General Manager CP Grosenick said he embraced luge sledding because it could attract more visitors to Loup Loup, including people who don't ski or snowboard.
Grosenick said the initial response "has exceeded our expectations."
"The reception has been tremendous from the community," added Nelson who counted more than 300 luge sliders since the course opened around Christmastime.
Grosenick and Nelson said they are considering building a competition track if there is sustained interest.
Former U.S. Olympic luge athlete Christian Niccum of Mukilteo, Washington, visited Loup Loup Ski Bowl last weekend to promote the activity and give advice on its further development. The three-time Olympian slid down the luge course with his 6-year-old son and other sliding fans, letting out boisterous whoops along the way.
Luge sledding at Loup Loup Ski Bowl is currently open on weekends and holidays. The ski area encouraged sliders to call ahead to reserve a sled and snowcat departure time. Helmet use is also strongly recommended. A sled rental and snowcat ticket costs $23.