I got a new sled at the beginning of the season, which I named Newt (short for Neutrino, the “fastest particle” in the universe). It arrived too late for selections at the beginning of the season, and needed some tweaking, so I wasn’t able to get on it until the last month of sliding. I figured 3 weeks of sliding daily, including one week in Whistler, would be enough time to get used to it well enough to slide on it for both Provincials and Canadians.
Learning a new type of sled after sliding on the same make of sled for the past four years (and most formative years of my sliding) was interesting. It felt very foreign to me, but also exciting as it could do things my other sled couldn’t. I trained on it for the aforementioned 3 weeks, and although I struggled with it in Whistler (it tried to eject me in corner 11 a few times!), I decided it to give it a try in a race, Alberta Skeleton Association Provincials. The week of official training went surprisingly well, and I was hopeful for a good outcome on race day. However, the weather was erratic, as usual for Calgary, and race day brought about a chinook which effectively started melting the ice at the beginning of the race. I drew a relatively late start in the women’s side and could see times slowing down as each slider went down. Normally, I wouldn’t really worry too much, I am very confident on Moe, my normal sled, and can adapt to most conditions. But I had no idea what Newt would do.
On the line I was focused on good push technique (I struggled with a back injury the previous two weeks and wasn’t confident I could muster any speed). I loaded comfortably on the sled and hunkered down into race mode. However, very early in the run, on the entry to corner one, things started to go wrong. I got stuck in a slush pile on the left wall and had a very strange sled angle on the entrance. Somehow I got off my balance point and started to skid this way and that through the top 4 corners. I did the best I could to shift around on my sled, but with limited experience on the new sled I just couldn’t seem to get it together. I hit about 6 times on the way down, on a track I have literally done hundreds of runs on! As I crossed the finished line I knew it was a disaster. At that point I pretty much knew I had no chance of winning the race, so I decided to make the most of the situation and focus on learning from the unusual conditions and new sled.
My second run was a little better, although again the conditions on the track deteriorated significantly. Inside the corners felt normal, but the small straights between corners and any sun exposed areas were extremely soft. The straight between 8 and 9 had the consistency of a margarita. Although I moved up a few spots from the first run, I ended up fifth in the final standings.
For the next week I had an internal battle on my hands. Canadian Championships was the next weekend and I had to decide if I should keep on trying with the new sled, or go back to the old one. It wasn’t an easy decision, with a number of pros and cons on each side. In the end, for me it boiled down to if I knew whether or not I would race on it for selections next year. After my time in Whistler, and my experience in Provincials I decided probably not. The sled is not ready for primetime yet. I don’t consider the three weeks of training on it a waste though as I learned a few new skills that I could take back to my old sled, plus it could have been better than my old sled, the only way to know was to try. I haven’t decided what I will do with Newt yet, but I don’t believe our time together has ended. With a few more modifications here and there it could be brilliant, who knows?