A wild twist on winter sports

Matt DeYoung • Feb 6, 2017 at 8:00 AM

Lyndsey Smeyers readily admitted that her heart was pounding as she climbed atop a small sled and sat poised to rocket down the 700-foot-long luge track at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex Friday afternoon.

But, by the end of her 20-second-long ride, Smeyers was all smiles, the result of an exhilarating run down the only publicly accessible luge track in the United States.

“I was scared and completely unready to do it, but hey, it’s a life experience,” said Smeyers, one of several hundred Lakeshore Middle School eighth graders who visited the complex last week. “It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. You basically just have to lie down on the sled.

“The best part was going down at the very beginning,” she said. “You’re so nervous, but you just went and it’s a lot of fun.”

Theo Moleski’s ride was equally fun – and a bit wilder. Coming off a sweeping left-hand curve, Moleski’s sled banged into the left wall of the track, then bounced off and into the right-side wall, causing him to spin out mid-ride.

“I wiped out,” he said with a grin. “I hit one side, then I turned and hit the other side and just kind of spun around. It didn’t hurt – just a little scary. I’d do it again, just not today.”

The students were treated to four wintertime activities at the complex, a hidden gem tucked back in the woods just north of Muskegon State Park.

The students tried their hand at cross country skiing, ice skating, broom ball and the luge. For each activity, they received instruction from staff members at the complex.

Many had never skied before, so even the simplest trail proved to be a challenge – especially with the icy conditions on the trail.

Bill Bailey, who works at the Winter Sports Complex, explained that the park has cross country ski and snowshoe trails to meet all experience levels.

“We have 15 kilometers of groomed ski trails that are all lit up at night ... so you can ski from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” he said. “Our 2 1/2 kilometer trail is good for beginning skiers because the trail is a little shorter and will take you about 45 minutes to ski it, and there are only some real small bunny hills that can be bypassed if you’re not comfortable with hills.

Bailey said that If you want something a little more challenging, there is a 5K trail that offers some bigger hills, and skiers will be out on the trail a little longer.

“And of course, we also have advanced trails for the avid skier who wants to get out and try some trickier stuff,” he added.

Bailey said on the weekends, the complex will rent out nearly all of its several hundred pairs of cross country skis.

“But with 15 kilometers of trails, it never gets busy out there,” he said. “We’ve also got some of the most phenomenal snowshoe trails around. We have a really large 5K trail that has diverse terrain, so if you want to make a three-hour adventure out of it, you can do that. If you want a shorter walk down to the beach, you can do that, too.”

The park features a 2-acre family ice skating rink, as well as a hockey rink and a unique feature that draws skaters from across the Midwest – a quarter-mile long skating trail that snakes through the woods.

The luge track is also quite a draw for the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex.

“We have really the only publicly accessible luge track anywhere in the country,” Bailey said. “Our luge is an 850-foot-long track. We start our public section a little lower, so it’s about 700 feet. You can do 30 miles an hour.”

Learn to Luge sessions are held on the weekends. The 2 1/2-hour sessions are designed for the first-time luger.

“We teach them everything they need to know, and they have professional coaches by their side,” Bailey said.

The luge gained nationwide notoriety in 1998 when Muskegon native Mark Grimmette earned a bronze medal in the Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan.

The complex also features an expansive warming hut, complete with a crackling fire to provide warmth after a frigid day on the trails or the rink. Skates and skies are available for rent, and the Snowshoe Cafe offers various food and drink options.

Bailey noted that the complex’s website, www.msports.org, offers up-to-the-minute condition reports for all of the park’s different activities.

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