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Luge Year-Round in Michigan!
A Once in a Lifetime Thrill!
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Luge in Muskegon , Michigan:
Only 16 other (man-made) luge tracks operate in the world. Only 2 others in the US, both competition tracks at Olympic facilities (Lake Placid, NY & Park City, Utah). But, the luge in Muskegon , Michigan is for you! The only one open to (and designed for) the public to experience lugeing on their own. Less than an hour from Grand Rapids, a little over 3 from Chicago, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex is an incredible find. One that few in the world will ever get to experience.
Though the luge is outdoors, nestled in woods, they operate it year round. In the summer, they use wheeled luge sleds on a fiberglass track- the only wheeled track in North America. The wheels come off and a longer, icy track is used in winter. A great area for all seasons, Muskegon sits on the shores of Lake Michigan with nearby beaches, dunes, lighthouses, a WWII submarine- USS Silversides, the USS LST 393– 1 of 2 originals surviving from the WWII Invasion of Normandy, & other unique attractions. The complex also has archery, kayaking, paddle-boarding & soon zip-lining in summer. US President Ford’s Presidential Library & Museum and grave in Grand Rapids is less than an hour away. In winter, the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex also has 2 acres of ice skating available- a 1/4 mile ice trail, skating & hockey rinks, sledding hill and cross-country ski & snow-shoeing trails. Extreme snow sledding is available on sand dunes, nearby!
White Castle & USA Luge sponsor the Slider Search– a nationwide recruiting tour for USA Luge’s Junior National Team, a feeder group for the Olympic team. They provide a clinic to young athletes, ages 9-13, showing them how to luge & assess their natural ability & potential.
Luge (French for ‘sledge’ or ‘sled’)
You’ve seen the luge event at the Winter Olympics. An Olympian lies on their back on a tiny sled, feet first. They hold handles by their hips and hang on for the screamin’ ride down an icy, winding track. A bit like snow sledding, but pulling 5 G-forces and banking up the sides of hairpin turns. The doubles version stacks the partners on the same sled! Muskegon is not that- thank goodness! It’s not the intensity, speed, or danger of an Olympic track. It’s shorter (winter track- 850 meters; summer is 335 feet) and a 1/3 of the speed, but it’s a good taste of real lugeing & a lot of fun! You bank 6 turns, reach close to 30 miles per hour, and finish the full summer track in just 9 seconds. You build speed as you go and it feels faster than it looks! The luge in Muskegon was even the start & training for 5 time Olympic luger & champion Mark Grimmette, as a kid.
But the course was designed for average mortals like us. It was designed by pro & 3 time Olympic luger, Frank Masley. It was created to give you the feel and thrill and teach you lugeing in a safer, more controlled capacity than what the pros tackle. They use authentic Austrian luge sleds. The tracks were made with beginners & kids in mind, but are still enough to get your heart pumping!
People have had sledding races since as early as medieval Europe in the 15th century (I bet you never thought of knights sledding!). It became an international sport in the late 1800s after Swiss hoteliers started using it for thrill-seeking guests and it caught on. It didn’t become an Olympic sport until 1964. The 1st US Olympic Luge team members were mainly soldiers who’d been stationed in Europe. There was no formal lugeing program here and it took until 1998 for USA Luge team to win a medal!
As a mom of 4 with kids as young as 8, at the time, I was concerned about the same thing you are. Safety. For kids & 1st timers.
- The minimum age is 8 for the winter track, 5 for the summer one- though I’d say that 7 or so is about right for it. The sleds are a little heavy and you have to lug them back up on your own. It’s not a steep hill, or long, but it’s some work. Also, at 7, they’ll be coordinated and agile enough and have the independence to handle the track on their own.
- Ride alone– The luge sleds are for singles (Olympics also pile on 2 for doubles; bobsleds are slightly different- with an enclosed bullet-shaped ‘sled’ that holds teams of up to 4). So kids will ride on their own, though they have smaller, kid-friendly sleds for them.
- Training- They give you a 15 minute session on land before you luge, which is plenty for the basics & short enough for kids.
- Safety equipment– They provide the elbow pads and sturdy helmet.
- Speed- You can reach speeds of close to 30 miles per hour, compared to the Olympians who reach 90 mph. The track is embedded in the ground. It’s short enough and the curves well designed & controlled, so you are not going to fly out of there. It feels fast, but there’s nothing crazy.
- Weight restrictions apply
- What to wear– Regardless of season, you’ll want to wear tennies, pants & consider long sleeves or a jacket and gloves to protect your skin. You’ll bank the curves on your side, which weren’t a problem for all but 1 of us (see story below!) and are super fun! Wear clothes that are ok to get holes in. At those speeds, you can get a nasty fiberglass rub burn if your arm rubs the side or you fall off. It’s unlikely, 5 of the 6 of us remained unscathed, but it could potentially rub a hole and better your clothes than skin.
So who do you think was the unlucky 6th who received the rub burn??? Daddy, of course! Bill zigged when he should have zagged (ie leaned wrong) and rolled his sled, much like you do when you ‘crash’ and roll off a sled in snow. It was very minor with just a rub burn on his arm. In fact, our guide said he’s the only crash on the track she’d ever heard of in her years there! So, to my knowledge, Bill Wheat’s Muskegon fame is being the only person to ever crash the luge track- at least the summer one! I think he’s actually a little proud of that 🙂 Leave it to the hubs! He’s a thrill seeker, was a daredevil as a kid, and probably leaned with way too much zest. The kids and I never felt in danger of crashing & had no rub burns. As long as you lie flat on your sled and hold the handles, your body tends to naturally lean into the curves, like you would on a bike, roller coaster, or even a car turning corners. The sleds weigh enough & the track is designed for the novice so rolling the sleds is not easy to do, so don’t overthink it. Kids have so much fun, they just go with it, like they do snow sledding.
The Luge in Muskegon Experience
The summer luge takes a little over an hour, which includes 15 minutes of training + signing waivers, before. You get 4 rides in your time. The winter version is a longer, faster track that takes about 2 1/2 hours. After training & 3-5 runs, they have a playful competition, then an ‘Olympic’ medals ceremony. They have local programs & leagues, and season passes are available. The track can be rented for private luge experiences, group outings, and costs can be combined with their other activities.
We did the summer luge, but it’s on our bucket list to get back in winter. If you live in or travel to the Midwest, particularly, if you have at least average health, strength & fitness, this should be on yours, too! You’ll get a little bit of a workout using your core muscles to ‘steer’ and carrying your weighty sled back up the hill after rides. And you’ll make family memories that few ever have the chance. If you’ve always lived in warm weather and have never experienced the awesomeness of snow sledding, you are in for a special thrill!
To try out a natural luge- a hilly trail iced over in winter, the only one in the US is in the Upper Peninsula in Negaunee, Michigan. An 810 meter ‘track’, they have some events open to the public and competitions. The Olympic tracks in Lake Placid, NY & Park City, Utah offer experiences to ride in a sled with professionals steering/ braking a bobsled.
- Check out more of our Active Travel Posts.
- Our Muskegon Luge Video which includes video of our day are at Learn to Luge (Year Round) in Michigan!
Good to Know:
462 Scenic Drive, Muskegon, Michigan
- Each sporting event is at an additional cost; combo tickets are available.
- All participants are required to sign a waiver & must bring proof of medical health insurance (insurance cards for all lugers). Don’t forget them!
- Open to the public Saturdays & Sundays only from 10a- 2p.
- Tickets are 1st come, 1st serve. It gets more crowded towards lunch-time, so go early.
- $10 for 4 runs; $15 for an archery add on, per person
- Entrance to the state park is $9 for non-residents of Michigan. Residents must have a Michigan DNR Recreation Passport.
- Prime Times for Learn to Luge are Saturdays at 11:30a, 2:00p, and 4:30p
- The cost is $55 per person during ‘prime’ time & $49 during other hours.
- Weekends only- Friday, Saturday & Sundays
- Lucy Tries Luge kids book!
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