A ticket to glide: Alberta's natural luge track 'fantastic for kids' — and grown-ups, too
'All the kids love getting on the sled and going fast'
Daniella Burke sails around a corner on her luge as she heads towards the finish line.
"You need speed to get around the corners, but if you have too much you could skip out right into the snow bank," says the outdoor-education student upon reaching the bottom.
Burke, 24, who attends the University of Alberta's Augustana Campus in Camrose, has earned a university credit in luge and now teaches others, including local kids, how to take the outdoor track with speed and style.
"All the kids just love getting on the sled and going fast, but once you get a little older, like me, you start to get the technique down," Burke says.
The technique involves never looking back and using your body to steer around the 450-metre track.
"The biggest thing we tell everyone, as soon as they're starting, is the elbow. As long as the elbow is up you're going to be turning.
"The other thing is just putting friction on the ice so having your hand back, having your foot down on the ice. That also turns the sled."
This natural track is one of the only permanent tracks in North America, says luge coach David Larson, a retired Augustana professor.
The track was built when Camrose, one hour southeast of Edmonton, hosted the Alberta Winter Games in 1990.
"This fellow who was outdoor sports director for that games told me that I was to run luge," Larson, 76, recalls. "I didn't know anything about luge at all and went to a sport encyclopedia to find out what it was that I said I would do."
Natural luge, popular in Europe, is run on hilly roads that have been iced over. It's different from Olympic luge which is more of an "artificial track banked in a tube," Larson says.
In the artificial setting, there are fewer variables to contend with compared to outdoors, Burke says.
"I find it more exciting because you have different bumps and lumps that you have to get over," she said. "It's not a perfectly precise, measured track with fake ice."
As Burke slides down the track, Gerhard Lotz looks on smiling.
The president of the Camrose Ski Club sees the track as a way to get Albertans out and into a different kind of winter pastime.
"It's fantastic for kids," Lotz says. "It's immediately fun. Some of the other activities, you have to build up your skills a little bit before you really start enjoying them."
Luge is just one of the many activities offered by the club alongside cross-country skiing, fat biking and running.
Established in 1911 by Scandinavian immigrants the Camrose Ski Club is one of the oldest in the country, according to Lotz.