While all of the winter sliding sports require gumption, people perceive skeleton as being particularly extreme. Unlike luge or bobsled, skeleton athletes, called sliders, are positioned with their heads pointed toward the front of their sleds, a particularly bold move for someone about to experience forces up to 5G.
Despite the way this “scary” head-first position looks, skeleton pros say that it makes the sport safer than other sliding sports, because athletes can actually see where they are going. Curious about this gravity-defying sport but not sure where to start? Here’s what you need to know to give skeleton a try.
Scout a Location
To try skeleton, you’ll need access to a track—easier said than done, as there are only sixteen tracks available worldwide.The best way to locate a track is to pin down the past Winter Olympics host closest to you. Lake Placid, Park City, Whistler, Calgary, St. Moritz, La Plagne, Nagano and Lillehammer are a few options. Contact a track directly to learn about opportunities to try the sport. Most offer some sort of intro clinic, though expect to pay upwards of $150 to give the sport a shot.
Time it Right
Most tracks operate seasonally, so don’t plan your skeleton trial in the middle of summer!
Your skeleton experience will be limited to the winter months. Do a little research before booking your trip: since there are relatively few skeleton tracks around the world, they are often booked for competitions and training, especially in the months leading up to the Winter Olympics.
Assess Your Condition
The best skeleton athletes are good sprinters with the ability to think and act quickly. A little extra weight helps, since heavier objects will fly down the track faster, but weight in the form of lean muscle is more beneficial than fat. Many professional skeleton athletes have a background in track and field or in luge. Training for the sport involves a combination of sprints, weight training and plyometrics.Not sure that you quite measure up? Don’t worry—you don’t have to be in pro shape to give the sport a try. In fact, your first time on a skeleton will require very little action on your end—no sprint starts needed. Check with your track to ensure you meet their safety requirements. Some have height and weight restrictions. The sport is also not recommended for those who are pregnant, who suffer from heart conditions or have had previous neck or back injuries.
The track that you choose for your lesson will provide you with a properly fitted helmet and will loan you a sled.You should wear slim fitting winter clothing and shoes with good tread, like winter boots or running shoes. Some people like to wear speed suits to get the full experience, but many lessons involve some downtime waiting outside in the cold, so you’ll want to keep that in mind if you plan on wearing only a thin layer of spandex.If you have long hair, tie it back so that it stays out of the way. Loose jewelry should be left at home for the same reason.
Master the Pose
Your lesson will involve a session to familiarize you with the sled and to teach you the proper positioning techniques. The goal is to lie on your stomach, head facing forward. Your toes should be kept back and slightly up, though you shouldn’t bend your knees to have you feet flying up in the air. Your chin should be up—think of a pencil placed along the back of your neck, and you have to tilt you head to keep the pencil in place.
Now remember this as you careen 80 mph down the ice!
Professional skeleton athletes (or at least those who make it beyond their first lesson) will learn proper steering technique, but beginners are advised to do nothing at all. Don’t lift your shoulders. Don’t lean. Don’t drag your feet. Just. Lie. Still. Believe it or not, this can be incredibly hard for a beginner to do! The sensation of sliding down the track with incredible G-forces is totally new to most people, and the instinctual response is to react. Resist!
And that’s all it takes to experience the thrill firsthand! The ride will be over in less than a minute, but the memory will be embedded in your mind forever. Who knows… maybe you’ll find yourself standing on the Olympic podium one day!