Growing up in the northeast sledding was a common winter activity. We would sled after school and on weekends often coming home with our cheeks rosey and our fingers and toes numb from the cold. The weather was different then. It seemed - better.
While recently in Le Massif in the Charlevoix region of Quebec I was offered the opportunity to go on a luge ride. My mind immediately jumped to visions of Olympic lugers sliding down a massive a refrigerated high banked course of ice and snow. The run would be over in a fast minute I thought and I would shake from the experience.
I opted for the luge since I thought it would be a brief and exhilarating experience after which I could put my skis and boots on and hit the ski slopes of La Massif. I ski 20 to 30 times each year, but to luge in Quebec only happens a few times in a lifetime. We were told that the luge course was 7.4 km so it seemed like it might not be over so quickly if I made it all the way to the bottom.
The luge, or sled, used at La Massif was nothing like I had planned for- it was much better. One usually sits on it but we were told that you could also ride it in a prone position. There were two types of luges, or sleds, available. One was made mostly of metal tubing with plastic runners. The wooden luges at La Massif were made in Quebec of Canadian oak. They have web seats and Teflon runners. Teflon runners I thought - Teflon, non-stick, speed, oh gosh.
On the excursion was Kristen Lummis (BraveSkiMom.com) from Grand Junction, Colorado and Greg Snow (www.allwaysoutdoors.com) from Minneapolis, Minnesota. The three of us are outdoor types and sledded as kids so I knew this would be fun regardless. Also along were about 20 others would spoke predominately French.
As in skiing and snowboarding we started luging on the bunny hill, which was about 50 feet long and had a mild grade. We pulled our luges to the top just as we did in our childhood and sat down on it. We picked up our feet and were off. We were told that to stop we could put our feet down or for a quicker stop pull up on the front of the luge while sitting shifting the weight to backs of the Teflon runners. I recalled seeing luge racers do this at the end of the run.
Okay, two bunny hill runs under our belts. Where is the high banked track of ice I wondered? It was nowhere to be found. Then around the corner came a snow cat with a large metal box on the front large enough to hold 20 luges pulling a huge trailer on skis for us lugers to ride in. Up until this point I thought we were at the top of the track, but we were at the bottom.
Everyone stacked their luges in the box and piled into the sleigh. The snow cat started up the mountain. Jessica and Jerome were our two guides. After explaining what was going to happen to the rest of the lugers in French we were giving a, what seemed to be, abbreviated synopsis. We were shown a trail map and told where there were steep spots and tight turns.
The ride to the top took about 30 minutes. Along the way we stopped for a few minutes. We were later told that there was a moose on the cat track that was slow to move. Moose have the right of way in Quebec.
Once at the top, we retrieved our luges. I was still looking for the high banks of ice but instead we were at the top mountain looking down what looked very familiar to me. Instead of high banked turns of ice I saw what looked to be a wide trail of groomed packed snow. It was certainly not too steep to start.
We met up with another guide, Matthieu, aka Mattluge, who gave us more instruction. He told us we could steer by putting our feet down. However, experienced lugers, shift their weight and manipulate the runners with their legs.
So off we went down the trail. We were all tentative at first but got the hang of it rather quickly. It was a different experience all together. It brought back memories of my childhood, screaming down sleigh trails on my flexible flyer.
As with most snow sports the laws of physics come into play quickly. We picked up speed and I found myself continually checking my speed. While it was generally quiet I heard a luger with more mass than mine scream past me only to succumb to the centrifugal force exerted going around a turn. He slid and flipped only to be caught by the many safety nets that lined the trail in spots where lugers are prone to go off the track.
The guides, who were very concerned about safety would often stop the group and bunch us up and ask “êtes-vous bien”, are you alright? They would explain the parts of the trail that were next and offered advise on how to best navigate it.
It wasn’t until half way down that it started to click on how to steer. Up until that time I had been dragging my feet slow down one side and turning. I learned as I shifted my weight, specifically my butt, from one side to the other I could turn. Shifting my weight to my right cheek made me go to the left and vise versa. This made for a whole lot more fun. It was less tiring and safer too. It was at that point that Greg said "the addiction phase of the day has started, I feel the need for speed".
We stopped at a warming hut which had a roaring wood stove and water to drink. There were moose antlers on the wall that were found along the trail and a wolf pelt that was donated from a road kill. Matthieu explained that there are several moose in the area around the luge run. The guides were knowledgeable about the local history and terrain and were eager to talk about it.
Back down the trail we went. Not all of the trail was flat and we needed to cross newly constructed bridges over some streams. Any uphill treks we had to make were minimal and the luges were light enough that pulling them along was not problematic.
As we were almost at the bottom we were really getting the hang of it. We gathered speed, made the turns and even caught a little air on a few little bumps.
Then, like too many things it was over. The 7.4 km had gone by in a flash. We were giddy and exhilarated, boasting how good we were. "C'était magnifique", that was magnificent, I thought.
The luge at La Massif popular. According to Matthieu, weekends and holidays are often booked over a month in advance. Weekdays are busy too so making plans and reservations well in advance is a good idea.
When in Quebec in the winter the luge is a truly unique experience.
For more information see: http://mountain.lemassif.com/mountain/sledding/