While in Utah, I continued my sports adventures by visiting Olympic Park in Park City which is about 30 minutes from Salt Lake City. Olympic Park was one of the host venues during the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. The facility hosted the downhill skiing, bobsled, luge, skeleton, and aerial skiing events. I wasn’t sure what to expect from exploring this place since venues in other host cities such as Beijing and Athens have fallen into disrepair. That was definitely not the case with Olympic Park which is thriving and still hosts multiple competitions at their facilities.
I started my exploration at the aerials pool. On the side of the pool was a monumental 70 foot rock wall that hung out over the pool which had just hosted a national rock climbing competition the week before. (Note: It will be gone as of August 24th for public climbing.)
Olympians use the aerials pool to train new tricks for sports such as half-pipe snowboarding, freestyle skiing, etc. Every Saturday and Sunday during the summer, some of these Olympians perform with the Flying Aces team in a half-hour show that displays their unique skill sets. One such Olympian was Heather McPhie who has competed in women’s moguls skiing in Vancouver and Sochi. It was amazing to see these guys and gals twist and turn so effortlessly through the air including several jumps off an 82 degree curved ramp which launched him into the air in time for him to complete three and a half twists.
But perhaps the most impressive part of the show was whenever all of them did their jumps at the same time in a different part of the pool which required expert precision on where they were going to land in the pool so none of them would get hurt. It was made even more difficult by the bubbles that are blown to the surface in the water to soften the landing for each of them.
Near the aerials pool is a ski museum as well as a museum dedicated to the 2002 Olympics. The ski museum was interesting in explaining how skiing began in Utah and how it has grown. At the end of the ski museum was a hometown heroes case that had different things from local athletes that have competed in the games like skier Ted Ligety.
The 2002 Olympics museum had some cool things like puppets from the opening ceremonies…..
and Bode Miller’s downhill ski suit from the Salt Lake Olympics.
With the museums checked off the list, I checked out the downhill ski jumps. They didn’t look too intimidating from the bottom.
Then you get to the top and realize not only that you’re up way higher than you thought but that it’s a blind landing. The skiers step onto the ledge that it like two feet wide to put on their skis. I was told they have skiers as young as 12 jump off these. It definitely gives me more respect for those guys because it takes nerves of steel.
Olympic Park offered lots of things to do from taking beginning freestyle skiing lessons to alpine coasters and ziplines to ropes courses but there was one activity that I have been wanting to try for awhile. I was introduced to the sport of bobsledding through a fun Disney movie called Cool Runnings. (Side note: I was told the Jamaican bobsled team lives in Wyoming and trains at Olympic Park!) Then my interest was reignited because of Johnny Quinn mainly because we went to the same college and he was from the same part of Texas as me. So when I saw that you could in fact ride in a bobsled, I was all for it. The track was the same one from the 2002 Olympics and was host to 5 World Cup events this last year including bobsled, luge, and skeleton competitions.
The safety orientation was definitely unnerving. You have to keep your back and neck straight while leaning slightly forward with your legs spread out to the sides. If you leaned too far forward, your head would hit the person in front of you or the pilot. If you leaned too far back, you would get sucked to the back of the sled. The summer sled that we rode in was a bit different than the one used in the winter. It has wheels instead of blades and there are seat belts and a roll cage. They told us that we would reach speeds of 65 mph and hit 4Gs while the winter bobsled can reach 85 mph an 5Gs. Piece of cake right? I was the first ride of the day and a bit nervous but my driver was awesome. We got the running start which was cool.
The ride was intense but a lot of fun. I was able to reach the optimal position by curve 2 of the 15-curve track. You could definitely tell when you the Gs hit you. It feels like you’re being pressured into the seat with so much weight that at times it can be hard to breathe. It’s a rough, shaky ride, which might be why you have to sign waivers first. It’s cool to have the same vantage point down the track and to see the boards, cameras, and times during the ride. Since there were only two of us, our times was pretty slow but I thought it was pretty good for my first run.
I talked to my driver afterwards and asked how he got into bobsledding. Surprisingly, he did the same ride I did 8 years prior and loved it so much that he moved from Boston to Park City just to work on the track. Everyone that works on the track has the opportunity to take the training and become a driver so that’s what he did. So if any of you guys are interested, you could do the same thing. However, you might have a headache and/or backache most of the time. These guys take a beating as drivers, especially with inexperienced tourists, but mainly because they make 15 to 35 runs a day. I have to think that would rival even the Olympians themselves. With the bobsled under my belt, I called it a day. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend checking out Olympic Park. They are a non-profit that takes care of these awesome facilities and continue to train the Olympians of tomorrow. Who knows, it might be one of you someday.