Lillehammer bobsleigh weekend

Situated at the tip of Norway’s largest lake, Mjøsa, and two hours from Oslo, Lillehammer is one of the most popular winter sports destinations in Scandinavia. With a cluster of traditional wooden houses at its centre, the town is most famous for hosting the 1994 Winter Olympics, but it’s also among the only places in Europe where you can ride as a passenger in a bobsleigh commanded by a professional pilot.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re just going to step into a sled and get going. Nor is a weekend in Lillehammer only about the bobsledding. Your adventure begins at the world renowned Hunderfosser Olympic Park, where you’ll get used to the track, and get some idea for how fast you’ll actually be travelling down it, aboard a bob raft. These basic, box-shaped sleds carry up to five passengers and use slower wooden runners than the standard sled, but they still hurtle over the ice at speeds of up to 80km per hour. You can also look into having a ride on a skeleton board here – how to explain this? Essentially, you’ll be whipping downhill on your own, with your nose around one centimetre from the ice. Yikes.

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Gravity does (most of) the work

Bobsledding began in the late 19th century, and became an Olympic sport in 1924. While there’s a lot of skill involved in on the part of the pilot, and the weight and aerodynamics of the sled play a big part too, arguably the most important part of any race is the very start. Riders need a burst of explosive strength to get going as quickly as possible, and then to leap into the sled with precision. And if you’re wondering where the name ‘bobsleigh’ originates, it’s because of the bobbing movement the riders’ heads make as they rock back and forth to make the sled go faster.

Lillehammer activities

With a qualified pilot on the brakes, you’ll step into a taxi bob, the same kind you see on the Olympics, and zoom through the twists and turns of the track at up to 120km per hour, with acceleration up to 5G. If you’re not left open mouthed with amazement at the end of this run, you must have had your eyes closed (and who could blame you?).
After your bobsledding experience everything else is probably going to seem a little tame. But there’s plenty of time left in this long weekend to make the most of Lillehammer. You can try your hand at another classic Winter Olympic sport, curling, or get some more thrills with a session of airboarding. This is a fairly new sport, where you slide downhill on an inflated mattress, using your body weight to change direction. If you can handle bobsledding, this should be a cakewalk.
You can also indulge in a morning of downhill skiing if you want, tour the wooden architecture for which Lillehammer is well known (the Garmo stave church being a particularly fine example), or browse the exhibits at the Norwegian Olympic Museum, with a section devoted to the 1994 Winter Olympics.
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Lillehammer bobsled practicalities

This is a winter trip, so you can expect it to be pretty darn chilly. Lillehammer temperatures in January can fall as low as -8°C. Beyond your weather-appropriate clothing though, you don’t need anything special for this four-day trip. Experience in bobsledding is not a requirement, though the minimum age is 16 and you’ll want to be physically fit. A worrying attitude towards personal safety probably won’t hurt, either.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Lake Placid Region] [Top box: Michael Eriksson] [Garmo Stave church: Stig Anderson] [Bobsleigh: Vegar Samestad Hansen]
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