One of the most exhilarating activities one can participate in this summer is undoubtedly the Bobsled Experience at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. During summer months the specially designed, passenger-safe sleds are placed on wheels and driven down the 1932 and1980 track. Having recently experienced this thrill myself I can attest to all the sensations; the initial anticipation, the excitement of picking up speed, the panic of shooting up onto the sides of the track, the final euphoria and then wanting to do it all again. What most visitors do not realize when they are barreling down the track is that they are actually riding through history. It might be hard to tell through all the "zigging" and "zagging," but the track was originally built over 80 years ago and has many stories to tell.
Recently added to the National Register of Historic Places, the 1932 & 1980 bobsled run was the first track ever built in North America. The original track, designed by German engineer Stanislaus Zentzytzki, was 1 and a half miles long and featured 26 curves; the most famous are the hairpin turns, Whiteface and Shady Corner, and the "S" shaped Zig Zag. After years of preparation, which included a lawsuit, plans for four other runs in different locations, and four quick months of construction, the Olympic Bobrun was opened for public riding on Christmas Day in 1930. Passengers could ride from three start points on the track: the half mile, which began at Shady Corner, 1 mile, which began at Whiteface curve, and from the highest point, 1 and a half miles.
Of course, not just anyone was allowed to drive a bobsled. Much like today, special training and certifications were required for each start point. In order to obtain a permit to drive a bobsled from the 1 and a half mile start, a driver had to have 5 successful runs as a passenger, as a brakeman and a driver. He must also have already obtained a permit for both the half mile and 1 mile start points. In 1931, 48 people carried driver's permits, including two women. During its first winter of operation, local bobsledders carefully guided public riders down the track more than 4,600 times.
After the close of the Olympic Games in 1932, the ownership of the bobsled run at Mt. Van Hoevenberg was transferred from the New York State Olympic Commission to the Conservation Department. Much like today, before riding each passenger was required to sign a waiver assuming all responsibility for possible injuries and relinquishing all claims for damages. A waiver button was issued each year from 1933 to the late 1950s. The number of the button matched the number of the waiver form passengers signed. Admission to the Olympic run started at 10 cents per person. It was then an additional 50 cents for half mile rides and $1 for 1 and 1 and a half mile rides. Special booklets could be purchased for those wishing to ride multiple times, being $5 for 12 ride tickets and $10 for 28 rides.
Whether it is your first time, or you are going for a second or third time, keep in mind that when you ride down the old Olympic Bobrun, you are truly speeding through history. If you can't seem to get up the gumption for such a ride, you can learn more about the history of bobsledding at the Olympic Sports Complex where the Lake Placid Olympic Museum has on display a collection of bobsleds and at the Olympic Center you can view all of our artifacts from the early years of bobsledding. On exhibit is original equipment used by famous local drivers, an original waiver button and the accompanying waiver, and even a piece of the original track is here!
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas
and Ironman Sunday.
For more information about the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, see our Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/lake.placid.