Negaunee luge hill open for public use

sarah.oneill

Marquette is home to some of the most unique records in the United States: The Superior Dome is the world’s largest man-made wooden dome, Lake Superior is the second largest freshwater lake and the city itself is the second snowiest city in the contiguous United States. But no more than 15 minutes away, in the nearby town of Negaunee, is another notable attraction that is often overlooked: the only certified natural luge track in the United States.

Unlike the artificially iced, or Kuntsbahn style of lugeing used in the Olympics, Lucy Hill Naturbahn Luge Track winds down a natural, unrefrigerated hill, bordered by boards and snow banks. Lucy Hill is one of only five lit natural tracks in the world, and is 812.8 meters long, containing 29 curves, and an 88-meter vertical drop.

While the hill is home to many professional international lugeing events, including a World Cup in 1995, it is open to the public during the winter months for recreational sliding and luge instruction. The bottom one-sixth of the full track is available for first time sliders to give lugeing a try.

Kuntsbahn style luge tracks are man-made and iced by hand. The athletes lay flat on their backs while racing down the tracks, which are composed of high bank turns and a slicker surface, creating speeds of up to 90 mph. Naturbahn tracks are naturally icy and usually wind through a forested or wooded area. The track is flatter than a Kuntsbahn track, and athletes use movements that can be seen by spectators.

Lucy Hill track is maintained and operated by the Upper Peninsula Luge Club, which has been in operation since 1985. Fred Anderson, current president of the club, said getting the track to its current state was not an easy feat.

“When we first started building a track (in ’85), we didn’t even know Naturbahn style of luge existed. It wasn’t until officials came from Lake Placid for a training session and told us about it that we knew,” Anderson said.

Before then, the club had been building an artificial track in Marquette which consisted of railroad ties stacked together and iced by hand, Anderson said. This proved to be a daunting task, because every time a slightly warm day occurred the icing process would have to start over.

“We had no artificial refrigeration on the track . we would work at icing it all through the winter months but all it took was a few nice days to ruin the ice.”

Marquette Mountain Ski Hill offered the club unused runs to utilize as tracks. But in 1990, when the Ski Hill switched ownership, the club lost the property and began looking for other locations.

That was when the City of Negaunee stepped in, Anderson said. With the help of local politicians, the city awarded the club a $100,000 grant, and thus Lucy Hill was born. Although the hill has become hard to keep up over the past few years due to weather issues, Anderson said the track is still running as smoothly as ever.

“These last few years have been all about rebuilding,” Anderson said. “We’ve had some bad winters . in terms of amount of snow fall and some unusually warm patches.”

While the track is undoubtedly an unusual and fun-filled attraction for the public, Anderson said the main purpose of Lucy Hill, and focus of the U.P. Luge Club, is to build young “sliders,” which is the appropriate title for professional lugers. The club has a program dedicated to training young sliders in hopes they will someday travel to the Olympic training centers in Utah or New York.

“When they are four or five years old, it’s all about fun,” Anderson said. “When they get older we start working on their skills, and when we feel they are ready we ask them to make a decision: stay with natural track or try Olympic style.”

Julien Schultz, a senior Outdoor Recreation and Leadership Management major, is one example of an accomplished slider who began his training at Lucy Hill. The 22-year-old has been lugeing for 17 years, starting at Lucy Hill when he was five years old.

“I had a lot of fun (at Lucy Hill). It was the first time I really excelled at a sport,” Schultz said. “I was doing four or five sports at the same time.when I started beating people lugeing, I was like ‘This is fun.'”

In 2004, Schultz travelled to Europe for the first time to luge with the USA team at the World Cup races and has gone every year since. In 2007 he won the U.S. Nationals, and last year was rated among the top 20 sliders in the world, coming in at number 20. Although he has also trained in Lake Placid where Olympic sliders train, he has never strayed from the Naturbahn style.

“I’m completely 100 percent natural track,” Schultz said.

Although the best way for Olympic hopefuls to train for luge requires travelling to facilities out of the states, the United States Olympic Education Center (USOEC) has supported the U.P. Luge Club in a lot of ways.

Jeff Kleinschmidt, director of the USOEC sports training centers, said the center has worked with the U.S. Luge Association for many years, especially when a new coach was brought to Marquette. Many times the coaches brought in are European, and during their stay, the USOEC makes sure they feel at home by providing room and board as well as use of an office area. The USOEC also offers their weight room and other training facilities to the athletes.

When it comes to the actual track, Kleinschmidt said Lucy Hill is a great developmental hill for local youth as well as an excellent boost to the business community.

“It’s a great opportunity for local kids looking to luge. There’s not many places in the country for them to do so,” he said. “Also the events they hold at the hill bring in people from all around the U.S. and the world. It’s great for the local economy.”

When it comes to the public, Schultz said lugeing is a great way to spend a winter afternoon. With the winter season shortly coming to a close, those wanting to try lugeing should seize the opportunity.

“It’s a really fun activity to try, especially the first time,” Schultz said. “All the equipment is offered, you just need to bring warm stuff and have fun.”

While the track is usually only open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m., with exceptions made for race days, groups wanting to luge at night under the lights can call (906)475-LUGE to reserve a time.