Need for speed? Bobsledding a real rush between rounds at Lake Placid
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - Tooling along at 60 mph behind the protective glass windshield of an automobile on the freeway can seem kind of slow. Glacial, even.
Pushing 60 in an open-topped bobsled down a track with more curves than Penelope Cruz and concrete walls with less padding than a steel cage match? When there's no snow in sight? That seems crazy. Snakes on a Plane crazy.
Where else can you bobsled in the middle of a heat wave and play one of a half-dozen century-old courses in the same day?
Did I mention that the guy driving that 1,600-pound bobsled to which you are hanging on for dear life probably got turned down for a job at Wal-Mart?
"Qualifications?" brakeman Josh Hump repeated when asked what it takes to take tourists' lives in your hands on a bobsled run. "You just fill out an application in the main office. That's it."
"It's not for everybody, though," driver David Allen said. "We see a lot of people come and go. You have to be a little crazy."
If you want real comfort as you wait at the top of the track for your turn in the five-man sleds, clutching a dinged white helmet a 1940s football players might decry as flimsy, just ask the workers about the track's safety record.
"Ever have any incidents?"
"A few, sure."
"What's the worst?"
"Wreck. Complete wreck. ... That was driver error, though."
All righty, then. Let's go hurtling down a mountain.
In truth, you're pretty safe on the bobsled run at the Verizon Sports Complex. Ten-year-olds and grandmothers go screaming down this track.
Not that you're thinking about that as you fly down the mountain in a deafening rumble, bugs smashing into your teeth, certain that your chin will be introduced to the wall on that next turn. But when your usual big vacation adrenalin rush comes from trying to reach a par 5 in two, this kind of unnerving excitement can be welcome.
"It's just like a roller coaster, except you've got a helmet on so it makes it that much more real," Bob Staudt of Long Island said. "It's spinning, turning, curving into the corners, making you think you're going to run off the track at one point.
"You're thankful for that helmet."
And more aware of the possibilities because of it. They don't hand you a helmet before you go onto the Demon Drop at Cedar Point.
Following one run that seems to bring more screams of glee (that is glee, right?) than usual, driver Allen fixes his partner with a glare. "You forgot to hit the brakes, man."
"Oh yeah," Hump shrugs back.
They're joking. I think.
One man's mountain is another man's chore. Waiting at the top of the bobsled run, one of the operators told me he'd much rather be golfing.
The good news is you can easily do both in a Lake Placid day. Two bobsled runs take a little less than an hour, including waits (the ride itself is about a minute), and at $35 a pop two's probably all your wallet (or your stomach) will want.
Once you've had your Olympic thrill, it's off to fairways of yore. This is summer, after all.
One quick turn off the main tourist street downtown and you're at the Lake Placid Resort, which dates to 1895. The 18-hole Links and Mountain courses both offer great walkable rounds - no small benefit for legs that a few hours earlier were crammed into a bobsled.
At a mere 81 years old, Craig Wood Golf & Country Club, located between town and the Verizon Sports Complex on Route 73, is the baby of this golf community. It's also a muni, with muni rates and anything-but-muni views and maintenance.
The other way out of Lake Placid takes you to Whiteface Club Inn & Resort, with a 108-year-old golf course. Walter Hagen consulted on the building of the second nine. The kids who stay at the rental house just off the third tee have probably never heard of Walter Hagen, but they're known to sneak onto the course to play the hole over and over again.
Those looking for a little more remote golf should head out to Saranac Inn Golf & Country Club. Located in the woods nine miles outside of Saranac Lake, this 104-year-old design from Scottish architect Seymour Dunn has a grass hill blocking the green of one its par 3s. And you thought the bobsled run was bumpy?
Adrenalin junkies might take more to the quick-play Saranac Lake Golf Club. At nearly 3,000 yards, this 86-year-old nine-hole course is a true par 36.
Start playing golf in Lake Placid and you might conclude that bobsled is the passing fad.
"Lake Placid has always been a summer destination,'' said Whiteface Head Professional J. Peter Martin, who's written a book on Adirondack golf history. "The Winter Olympics just confused some people."
Confused? You mean bobsledding in the summer down a steep track with no snow isn't normal?
May 7, 2007