Did you know New Zealand has an ice luge?? Located in one of the cutest small towns, the Naseby Ice Luge is the first and only natural luge track in the Southern Hemisphere and the training grounds of New Zealand’s national luge athletes.
Natural ice luge is a slightly tamer version of the well-known Olympic luge as it takes place on a 4 meter, unbanked track enclosed by 1 meter wooden walls on either side. While in olympic luge where racers can reach speeds up to 150km/hr on an artificial track, a rider on a natural track is likely to peak at 50km/hr. A good analogy they say is Olympic luge is like Formula One racing, while natural luge is more like a rally car.
We first learned about the Naseby Ice Luge while researching winter activities for our trip to the South Island last winter. However, the late start to the winter last year meant we missed out during our 2014 trip! Booked for the end of July this time we were sure we would make it, but when winter came EARLY this year, we literally JUST made it.
Located in Naseby, about half way between Dunedin and Queenstown, the natural ice luge track is adjacent to the local indoor curling rink and outdoor skating rink. The 360m, 10 turn track was opened in 2008 through the drive and passion of Geoff Balme and a team of local volunteers, becoming the birthplace of ice luge in New Zealand.
Walking up to the luge track I felt like we could be back in Canada (with the exception is the lack of snow on the ground). A group of men dressed in kilts were curling on the outdoor rink, ice skates were hung on display for kids waiting to get on the rink next and to round it all out there were signs for a tube park.
As we walked up to check out the luge track I could see Jordan’s eyes widen in excitement. He was SOOO excited to finally be here and was reliving his childhood memories of building his own homemade luge track in his backyard. (You can check out one of his home videos circa 2004 here)
Geoff, the brains and heart behind the development of the ice luge greeted us and introduced us to the local luge team. Alex Gruber, the coach this season, is the reigning Italian Champion and races on the World Cup circuit, winning 2nd place in the World Cup and World Championships this past (northern hemisphere) winter. Jack, Olivia, and Tayla are all local New Zealanders who train here and have raced at the World Cup level as well (check out this recent Stuff article on Jack!)
Walking up to the end of the track, we grabbed a few sleds while Alex and Geoff gave us some tips on how to control the luge. The tourist sleds are wooden and don’t go as fast as the racing sleds, but believe me I don’t think any beginner would want to go any faster!
To steer the luge you lie down on your back with your feet in front of you, using the inside of your calves to flex the sleds runners. There’s also a steering strap connected to the runners to help lift your inside edge when facing into sharp corners of the track.
Let’s just say these guys made it look pretty damn easy. Our first few runs were pretty much a disaster, smashing into the boards, unable to control the sled. Luckily they provide shoes with some cool spikes on the heel to help walk on the ice (without falling head over feet) and assist in breaking as you come into a sharp turn.
We slowly honed our skills through trial and error and pro tips from Alex and we were finally starting to get the hang of it. The biggest tip for getting this right is lying down with your body weight as far forward as possible. Once I tried that BOOM! I was away!
With each successful run the confidence grew and we were able to go faster and faster and start further and further up the track. Unfortunately we couldn’t go to the VERY top as the ice just wasn’t hard enough but we got to race down through about 3/4 of the full track.
Jordan was totally in his glory. It was like watching a 5-year-old on Christmas morning he was having a ball racing down that track! It was unfortunate we couldn’t stay another day, as I’m pretty sure any longer and Jordan would be getting himself ready for the next World Cup!
Have you ever tried ice luging? Would you give it a go?
If you’re down this way in the winter be sure if check these guys out for a great day of fun!
Check out Episode 51 – New Zealand Ice Luge