Saturday, May 10, 2008


The German Alps rose in front of me, and I eyed the snakelike steel track winding its way down the hill before me. Schloss Neuschwanstein, (you can read my article on it here) was a picturesque accent on the slope behind me. Then I pushed the stick on my black plastic sled forward, releasing the brakes, and practically flew down the mountain.

The sled vibrated beneath me, and I was going so fast that I was riding up on the sides of the curves, but I wasn't about to slow down. My sister was in front of me, and as I steadily closed the gap, I shouted, "Schnell! Schnell!" Knowing I would sooner rear-end her than slow down, she sped up, and we reached the end giddy with excitement.

I'd heard similar metal luge courses were once coupled with the ski resorts in the Sierra Nevadas, 90 minutes from my home, but they were long gone by the time I was old enough to ride them. The Germans and Austrians, thankfully, have held on to the rides. The tracks are heated to melt snow, making them a year-round attraction. They are the perfect way to spend a quick half-hour after seeing one of the nearby monuments.

At slightly less than two dollars per ride, the thrill is well worth it. My first run was marked with timidity, but that wore off quickly. On my subsequent downhill dashes, I pushed the limit. When the inevitable happened and I went too fast for the track, I found myself sprawled sideways, with two of the sled's four wheels off the track and my knee and elbow taking their place. My jacket and pants had gray patches from the metal, and my knee was raw.

I could have spent all day there, but time was limited, so I settled for three rides, followed by a bratwurst and a beer at the adjoining food counter before heading North to Munich. I was delighted, therefore, to find an identical attraction a week later while visiting Salzburg's Lake District. I repeated my experiences from Germany, minus the skin removal, and found that it was one of the rare things in life that can live up to expectations the second time.

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