Until a few minutes ago I thought a soft bob was a style of recently conditioned short hair. Here in Sigulda, Latvia, it turns out to be a high-speed ride on ice.
The soft bob I’m sitting in with three other people is about to follow the icy track of the bobsleigh and luge course used by elite athletes. Lean, Lycra-clad winter sport stars reach speeds of over 120 kilometres per hour. Casual visitors can expect to travel at around 75 kilometres an hour.
Riding the soft bob
Will this morning’s return trip to the breakfast buffet for a raisin-studded mini-Danish slow our start or give us more momentum to slide along the track? That’s the performance-related thought that occupies my mind as a member of the track’s staff explains health and safety regulations while dance music thumps through the PA system.
He stops Alan Fairfax, a Silver Travel Advisor travel journalist, from using his mobile phone on a selfie stick. Alan explains he wants to video the ride. The man is adamant — no. He makes it clear there’s a risk that the smartphone will be smashed as we hurtle down the course.
Just how safe is this ride? I wonder. After all, we’re all wearing crash helmets. All being well it should take up to 70 seconds to speed along the track’s 1,200 metres.
The padded sides of soft bob are covered with red canvas and remind me of tackle bags from rugby training sessions. The fella from the centre has seated us according to size, from smallest to largest. At 6’4” I’ve been given the back seat. Maybe that’s a good thing? I’ll be furthest from the point of impact if we do wipe out on one of the bends.
Different to the Winter Olympics
Members of bobsleigh teams in the Winter Olympics tend to be muscular sprinters who push their sled then jump aboard once it’s moving. We, by contrast, get comfy before being given a helping hand by the man who just explained we must keep our hands inside of the soft bob as we travel along the track. Grip the safety harness, he emphasises, and I nod.
“Are you ready?” he asks. Three helmets bob in unison in front of me. He pulls us towards the mouth of the inclined tunnel, beneath a giant stop clock.
There’s nothing aerodynamic about the shape of the soft bob. Ominously, it reminds me more of some open-topped sarcophagus rather that something built for speed. We hiss as we begin to slide.
16 curves at speed
As we accelerate down the track and through the first of 16 curves shrieks of elation and profanities grow ever louder. Given the soundtrack, perhaps it’s just as well that Alan did not bring his smartphone.
Velocity and gravity result in us swinging up then down the walls as we turn through bends. Despite our soft bob lacking sleek curves we’re certainly shifting. It’s sheer elation as we roll through a series of S-bends.
We sweep onto an uphill stretch of track, clearly designed to decelerate the soft bob and come to a stop. The ride, one of the highlights of my trip to Latvia, is over.
Getting to Sigulda
Sigulda is a little over 50 kilometres north-east of the Latvian capital, Riga. By road (E77) the journey between the two takes around an hour. The two urban centres are linked by regular train and bus services.
Sigulda Bobsleigh and Luge Track is open in summer as well as winter. Rides on the soft bob cost €10 for adults and €7 for children. An adult ride in a bobsleigh piloted by a professional costs €50.
Visitors who don’t fancy hurtling down the track can view the Gauja Valley from the elevated platform near the start line.
For information about other activities in the region, see the Sigulda tourism information website
The Latvia tourism information website has information about attractions across the country, which celebrates a century since Independence in 1918.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.
If you enjoyed this post why not sign up for the free Go Eat Do newsletter? It’s a hassle-free way of getting links to posts on a monthly basis.
‘Like’ the Go Eat Do Facebook page to see more photos and content.