With a global pandemic grounding us in 2020, our only getaway was a three-day adventure to Whistler, Canada, after the government lifted restrictions. Since we live in Vancouver, Whistler provides a nearby retreat just two hours away. We gathered a list of places to visit and some free Whistler activities. While some areas were closed, one of the gems was a self-guided tour of the Whistler Sliding Centre.
Where Is The Whistler Sliding Centre?
- Location: 4910 Glacier Lane, Whistler | Open: Daily 9 am to 5 pm | Cost: Free+
The Whistler facility is easy to find above Whistler Village. When driving, head south on Blackcomb Way and turn right onto Glacier Drive. Follow the switchback road and make another right on Glacier Lane.
While the centre operates as a training facility for aspiring athletes, visitors can enjoy free self-guided tours year-round. Many visitors travel to Whistler Blackcomb in winter for skiing and snowboarding, yet don’t know this facility exists. It’s accessible in the winter by chairlift and a place you must visit.
With a 1450-metre track, the Whistler Sliding Centre is remembered by most as hosting the bobsleigh, skeleton, and luge events for the 2010 Olympic Games. Its claim to fame is the fastest and most technical track globally. Since the Olympics, the centre continues to operate as a training centre. Here, visitors have the chance to slide down the track like an Olympian.
From November to March, the program operates on ice. So, if you’re visiting Vancouver in December, make a day trip to Whistler to enjoy this amazing facility. Choose between a passenger bobsleigh or test your wits on the solo skeleton! I don’t know about you, but racing down a track at 100 km/hr. on a human-sized skateboard with nothing to protect me sounds insane. However, during the summer, the sleds are equipped with wheels that race at high speeds on the cement track.
I visited the centre in September when the summer session had just finished, and the winter program hadn’t begun. Even though the track wasn’t in use, I thoroughly enjoy my complimentary tour of the grounds.
The Visitors Centre
We arrived at the visitors’ centre on a warm afternoon after a relaxing morning at the Scandinave Spa. Since we may have been the only people to stop by that day, the staff were eager to talk about the facility and the programs they offer. Interestingly, many of the passionate coaches are former athletes, and some competed in the Olympics.
Outside and inside the centre, we posed for selfies in bobsleighs and pretended we were at the Olympic Games.
The Self-Guided Walking Tour
Walking through a tunnel inside the track, I could imagine the area filled with people cheering on their country’s athletes. Starting at the bottom of corner 16, also known as Thunderbird Corner, I walked the track clockwise. With a 180-degree turn and the lowest point on the course, Thunderbird Corner recorded the highest speeds. So naturally, the crowds gather on Thunderbird Corner to wave their flags and cheer as the sleds raced by.
As I wandered up the hill, I passed the finish line and continued upwards toward the start. Bear in mind that while the walking tour says it’s stroller-friendly and recommended for anyone, you’ll feel the calf muscles burn on the uphill climb. At the Whistler Sliding Centre, visitors can access the lower half of the track on their self-guided tour. Even though we couldn’t see the start, the uphill trek provided enough muscle burn that I wasn’t sure I would have done the whole track, if it was allowed.
Almost halfway up, a pedestrian overpass allowed us to cross over to the track’s upper portion. Here, we continued upwards, almost reaching the starting point of the women’s and doubles luge. During the colder months, the surfaces may be slippery from ice and snow. Once we reached the top of the pedestrian area, we enjoyed the leisurely downhill stroll, continuing the clockwise walk to complete the loop.
There was something so serene about having the Olympic track to ourselves that day. Although, I’d love to have witnessed someone flying down that track as I cheered them on with my outside voice. If the summer bobsleigh was in operation, that person might have been me, haha.
The summer bobsleigh program invites all family members to participate in an exhilarating experience. No experience is necessary, but a fearless sense of adventure helps. While the thought of riding a bobsleigh might sound scary, initially, all participants complete an orientation before the run. Then, with a trained pilot, the bobsleigh starts towards the bottom of the track, preventing the sleigh from reaching Olympic speeds.
Interestingly, the introduction to luge starts as young as eight years of age. Beginners only slide on the bottom of the track’s four corners and work their way up as they gain experience. Once children become familiar with luge, they often switch over to other winter sports. Alternatively, skeleton lessons start at 14 years and bobsleigh 16 years and up. The centre also has a piloting course where participants can learn to steer the bobsleigh.
Should you decide to try the Whistler summer or winter bobsleigh, the camera mounted on the pilot’s helmet will record the sliding run. Videos are available for purchase at the visitors’ centre after the ride.
Sliding Centre Facts
It takes a staff of 10 to 15 people during the winter to maintain the ice on the track. Unlike an ice rink, there is no Zamboni machine to groom the ice and maintain smoothness and consistency. Instead, the dedicated staff sweep, shovel, and scrape every inch of the 1450-metre track by hand. It takes years of experience to learn the technique.
For the winter program, groomers maintain a maximum layer of 5 cm ice on the track. Workers must mist or “spritz” the ice to keep it smooth after every run, which achieves faster runs. While the centre refrigerates the track, once the temperatures fall below zero, refrigeration isn’t necessary.
Looking up at the track, I noticed the “shades” that they pull down to shield the track, not from the sun but from falling snow. If snow accumulates on the track, it requires additional sweeping and grooming.
As the fastest track globally, the course also creates the loudest noise. So, stand at Thunderbird Corner and listen for the loud, low rumbling thunder before the sled appears.
Safety On The Track
During a visit to the Whistler Sliding Centre, there are some safety rules to observe around the track. These are as follows:
- During the winter, walkways may be icy and slippery. Walk with caution.
- No leaning into or entering the track.
- Dispose of garbage in bear-proof bins.
- Walk only on the path walkways.
- Watch for falling snow from the roofs during the winter months.
- Obey all signage.
- No climbing on the railings.
- No flash photography.
- No smoking.
- Pets must be on a leash.
The Whistler Sliding Centre is renowned for being one of 15 international authorized sliding facilities in the world. As the fastest track, many believe that if you can slide here, you can slide anywhere. While I enjoyed my self-guided tour at the tail end of summer, I could imagine seeing the track in winter offers a totally different perspective.
Since the programs were not running during my visit, I didn’t get to cross the finish line like an Olympian. If you’ve been to this facility, have you tried one of the sliding activities? I’d love to hear about your experience.
Happy travels ~ Karen