In the Winter Olympics luge event, the athlete reclines on a light toboggan that he or she pilots down the hillside in a twisting, snaking ice gutter.
There wasn’t much prospect of creating an ice gutter on Mount Ngongotahā, just outside Rotorua, as it only snows here about once every winter.
But why, some can-do kiwi reasoned, should that stop us, when we can overcome the lack of a suitable climate as Kiwis have surmounted all manner of problems down through the ages – with concrete?
You ride the Rotorua luge on three-wheeled plastic trolleys, which have a clever gravity-operated braking system and remarkably responsive steering.
The first track was a screamer. It began gently enough, but through a tunnel, round a corner and you suddenly encountered a change in gradient that would have the unwary – or the intrepid – airborne.
Down the steep pitch you went and at the bottom, you were confronted with a choice: the great, sweeping, sharply cambered ‘fast lane’, or the rather more sedate ‘slow lane’.
Everyone took the fast lane, of course. It was a matter of holding your nerve, letting the laws of physics hold you into the turn. Trouble was, right after you exited the elbow of the fast lane, you were confronted with a tight left-hander and a convergence with the slow lane. It wasn’t pretty at this point, especially in those early days before the national mania for occupational health and safety issues set in. No safety gear, not even bicycle helmets, was issued back then.
Now, though, the operators have cottoned on to the simple business logic that says customers who survive the experience you’re offering them without dying or being seriously injured are not only more capable of coming back for more, but also more inclined to.
These days, there are three tracks you can choose. The ‘Advanced’, which is a kilometre long, slightly tweaked version of that first, Charles Manson-designed route; the 1.5-km ‘Intermediate’, where you can take things a bit more quietly, and the ‘Scenic’, which winds its sedate way down through the mighty redwoods, offering spectacular views of the wider Rotorua district on the way, and is even suitable for small children. The Intermediate and Scenic routes are lit for night-time descents. Between rides, you get to enjoy the views from the chairlift which gives access to the top of Mount Ngongotahā.
Millions of people have ridden the luge since it opened, and the vast majority of them have survived. They’ll swear by it...