It’s as inevitable as day turning to night turning to dawn: After 30 minutes of Winter Olympics coverage, we ask ourselves: But … could I?
For all of us armchair Olympians with Whitney Houston singing somewhere, quietly, in the back of our minds —plus anyone who just wants to get super-good at figure skating — there are options across Northern California. Biathlon? You’re heading to Donner Pass. Ice hockey? There’s a fantastic program in San Jose, even for newbies. And if you want to try out some of the more exotic sports — like luge and skeleton — we have options, but you’re going to need a couple tanks of gas/a plane ticket.
We personally know more than one (read: two) people who went through adult hockey instruction in San Jose, and they’re both playing on teams now, after beginning from pre-scratch — if they can do it, trust, literally anyone can. (San Jose might be a haul, but they have a rep for being more beginner-friendly than some rinks in SF and Oakland.) If you’re nervous on the ice, you’ll want the Adult Beginner Hockey classes; those with more experience can opt for Adult Intermediate lessons. Both programs will get you ready to play with the Sharks Ice Adult Hockey League.
It is entirely possible to fit in training sessions (for your new life, as America’s next top figure skater) around working anywhere in the Financial District, thanks to private coaching at Yerba Buena’s ice rink on Folsom between 3rd and 4th streets. Paige Scott, general manager and vice president for Yerba Buena ice skating and bowling center, says newcomers are welcome: “We’re the best place to start, and we have both class instruction and private lessons available for anybody’s schedule.” Eight-week, 45-minute group classes start up regularly; registration for the popular Monday night classes next opens on March 1, with the session kicking off a week later.
IN THE MOUNTAINS
The Auburn Ski Club Training Center on Donner Summit offers two-hour group clinics ($85) on the art of the biathlon, with time divided between instruction and shooting time on the range. Your fee includes use of the center’s rifles and ammunition, as well as a day pass to their cross-country ski trails. If it turns out you’ve got the gift for these two seemingly disparate disciplines, the ASC runs a top-notch Masters-level training program for athletes over 30 — age is less of a disadvantage in the biathlon than, say, in figure skating: “In the United States, most masters competitors come to biathlon later in life,” Brian Halligan, ASC’s biathlon program director, says. His advice: get good at cross-country skiing first. “Biathlon is a two-part sport, and in my experience, trying to learn to shoot, learn to ski and build endurance all at the same time, in the cold, at altitude, is a recipe for disaster — most people who show up with no ski background get frustrated and quit within the month,” he says. “Having coached athletes of all sorts of backgrounds, I find those who have lived a life of running, biking and cross-country skiing pick up the shooting aspect way faster than shooters pick up the skiing.” You know who you are.
Cross-country skiing is freaking awesome, especially in that it requires neither exceptional balance nor finesse nor courage, just a certain slog-to-the-death spirit. We’re spoiled for choice here, but one reliably excellent option is Kirkwood, 45 minutes south of South Lake Tahoe — though some of its system is closed, post-Caldor Fire, the magnificent, high-altitude Kirkwood Meadow is open, with 15 kilometers of daily-groomed, utterly picturesque trails. If you’re new to the sport, sign up for a tour, group clinic or private coaching. (BTW if you’re there, consider adding on a couple days at the Wylder, just up 88.)
SLIGHTLY FARTHER AFIELD
If you’re dead-set on trying the luge, pack your bags and go Google Map your way to the Loup Loup Ski Bowl, in Okanogan, WA. (It’s 15 hours, but there’s a luge track at the end of it!) Here, you’ll be able to sample European-style leisure luge sledding — definitely less likely to break your head than the Olympic style, and more likely to charm your kids, with a five-kilometer track and 1,200 meters of elevation gain.
SKELETON & BOBSLED
You know, we’re all for trying new stuff, but we’re going to pass on skeleton — read: hurtling down a track head first. (It’s the “head first” part for us, though also, if we’re honest, the hurtling.) The only skeleton track in the Western U.S. is at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, which offers clinics and training for young athletes. Curious adults, unfortunately, are out of luck.
It’s easier to get a taste of bobsledding. The Park offers a Winter Bobsled Experience ($195) through early April, a 75-minute “experience” including a roughly one-minute ride down the Olympic track. Couple notes: They’re sold out through late February, and participants need to be over 16 and more than 100 pounds — also, no moon boots or high heels, for those with some unrealistic shoe expectations of what bobsledding is all about.