2004-12-18
Fast track offers scouts an icy slide


 

Jocelyn Ruark, 13, cruises down the luge track in the Ridgefield yard of Brett West.
John P. Lawson  

Jocelyn Ruark, 13, cruises down the luge track in the Ridgefield yard of Brett West.

RIDGEFIELD — Brett West is going to have to do something about parking if he expects to host the next Winter Olympics.
But for now, the 38-year-old entrepreneur and Cub Scout leader will be satisfied with operating one of only four luge courses in the United States, a distinction that places Ridgefield in an elite group of communities along with Lake Placid, N.Y., Salt Lake City, Utah, and "someplace in upper Michigan” whose name escaped him.
The luge track, complete with an automatic icing system and lights for night-time riding, was erected on his West Mountain Road property for Cub Scout Pack 124’s first Winter Carnival on Saturday.
"This is just another one of his crazy ideas,” said West’s son, 8-year-old Tucker, shaking off the chill of another exhilarating trip down the 363-foot run.
Tucker West, 8, speeds down the luge track at his Ridgefield home.
John P. Lawson  

Tucker West, 8, speeds down the luge track at his Ridgefield home.



Some 110 scouts and their families, altogether an estimated 350 people, will descend on the site for the day-long carnival.
Although teams from the various dens will compete in a number of events, such as broomball and ice sculpting, it’s a safe bet that a ride on the luge will be the highlight of the carnival for most of the youngsters.
Joan Ruark, Pack 124’s publicity chairwoman, admitted she thought the idea "very ambitious, but a bit crazy” when West raised it some time ago.
In previous years, West, who was born near Lake Placid and moved to Ridgefield in 1991, built sled runs through his property for his family, including 6-year-old daughter Tatum and wife Pam, to enjoy.
But after too many days of shoveling and packing the snow into curves, banks and straightaways that were undone by sudden thaws, he opted for something more durable.
He took a trip back to Lake Placid to study the design of the course and brought those ideas back to Ridgefield.
With help from other parents and the Scouts, construction on the run began Labor Day weekend and was completed by Thanksgiving.
Built from pressure-treated lumber, which West said should provide four to five years of service, the course is basically a narrow wooden trench, sheathed in ice, through which the competitors ride on their backs on one-man plastic toboggans.
Tucker West was the first human to complete a trip through the course, after extensive tests involving a bowling ball and 50-pound sandbag. He called it "the ride of my life.”
A skilled rider can complete the course in a shade more than 15 seconds. All the riders wear helmets, and so far, no one has plunged off the course, largely because of the attention paid to the design.
Non-skid carpet material attached to the front of the sleds serves as a brake.
"You put your weight on the back if you want to go faster and put your weight on the front if you want to slow down,” said Patrick Maguire, 8, another member of the Cub Scout pack.
The icing system consists of misting sprinklers set atop 6-foot wooden towers and fed by garden hoses. A blast of compressed air clears the lines after each use, avoiding freeze-ups. The system is unique among luge courses. Even the Olympic runs in New York and Salt Lake City are watered by hand, and only Lake Placid’s also has lights, West said.
The run also breaks down into 8-foot sections for storage during warm weather months.
West is already considering some alterations to the course for next year’s carnival.
He wants to make it even longer and improve the finish area, which now consists of a stack of hay bales.
"You have to have some winter activities to make it through the cold weather,” West said. "I was ready to move south before this.”

 

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