We’ve all seen Olympic athletes plummet down frozen luge tracks in what looks to be a riveting race. Most of us will only ever be onlookers of this enticing sport from the comfort of our couch, but if you’re daring, you’re in luck. This exhilarating experience is available to the public at two luge tracks in Michigan.
Upper Peninsula Luge Club, Negaunee
In the northernmost part of Michigan, the Upper Peninsula Luge Club (UPLC) in Negaunee (upluge.org) holds the only full-length luge track in the United States — it’s called Lucy Hill. Fred Anderson, president of the UPLC, said Lucy Hill is a naturbahn track, or “natural track,” making it far more exciting than the kunstbahn, or “artificial track,” seen on TV.
Anderson explained kunstbahn tracks are refrigerated with man-made curves, while naturbahn tracks like Lucy Hill follow the terrain and elevation of the land, making the ride more riveting and precise steering more crucial.
While Olympians come to Lucy Hill for training, the bottom section of the track is used for public sliding. This public course runs 840 meters long (2,756 feet) with 32 turns and an 88-meter drop, causing sliders to reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
“Some people can be intimidated watching others come speedily down the track, but we make the program very safe,” Anderson said. “We start everybody at the bottom of the track and slowly progress them up as they get comfortable.”
Sliders at Lucy Hill use a naturbahn luge sled, like old-fashioned wooden sleds with metal runners, that require athletes to use their feet, hands and bodies to steer, speed up and slow down the sled. But don’t be intimidated, no experience is necessary for public sliders.
“We show riders that the sled is very controllable, and sometimes, it’s hard to get them off because they enjoy it so much,” Anderson said. “With the equipment and instruction we provide, it’s a very safe sport.”
Muskegon Winter Sports Complex
Another local luging opportunity is available at Muskegon Winter Sports Complex (msports.org). Three-time Olympian Frank Masley designed this 850-foot track specifically for beginners. It contains six curves and two starting points, with the potential to reach speeds of up to 30 mph.
The experience lasts 21/2 hours, beginning with instructions on steering the Austrian and Latvian sleds. Riders then slide as many times as they wish until their session ends, and each session concludes with awards distributed on podiums to the top finishers in each group.
“The first run down is always the most nerve-wracking,” said Jim Rudicil, executive director of Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. “While not always obvious to the common observer, luge is a very controlled sport requiring concentration and relaxation. It is always an intense adrenaline-pumping run down the track, but there is also this relaxation on the sled that grows with each run you take.”
Before You Go
Neither facility requires prior experience, all equipment and instruction are provided. Just come dressed for the weather and ready for a thrill!
Upper Peninsula Luge Club
Hours: Fridays 6-9 p.m. and Saturdays noon-4 p.m.
Months/season: December through early March
Ticket information: No tickets or reservations required ahead of time, just show up during public hours.
Cost: $10 per person includes training and unlimited sliding for that day.
Age requirement: 4 and up
Muskegon Winter Sports Park
Hours: Fridays, 1 session is available at 6 p.m., and Saturdays, 5 sessions available beginning at 9 a.m. Up to 30 participants per session.
Months/season: Late December through early March
Ticket information: Purchase tickets ahead of time at msports.org and arrive 15 minutes prior to your scheduled time for paperwork.
Cost: $49 per person for 2.5-hour session including training, 3-5 slides down the luge and award ceremony.
Age requirement: 8 and up