RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- Residents from Fairfield and Westchester counties and as far as Nantucket found their way to the West Mountain Luge Track on Saturday for a once-in-a-lifetime thrill: to take a turn on a homemade course in Ridgefield.
A black van shuttled visitors from the parking lot up a long a winding driveway to the home of 2014 Olympian Tucker West, a 19-year-old Ridgefield native.
West, who won his first World Cup luge race three weeks ago in Lake Placid, N.Y., set a record as the youngest person to win the event on that track. But unfortunately, he was not home Saturday -- he's in Europe competing -- but that didn't dampen the crowd's enthusiasm for trying out the track where West got his start in the sport.
On Saturday, everyone felt like a winner.
West's father, Brett, who built the course in 2003, was on hand at the top of "Tucker's Tower," the course's starting area, announcing each rider like they were at an Olympic racing event.
The free luge rides were a one-time thing, according to West, to "thank people for all their support and encouragement."
"This is ridiculously fun," he said, while moving sliders out of the starting gate. "We built [the track] with Tucker, and had kids over all the time."
The track, reportedly the only "backyard" luge track in the world, hadn't been used for some time. A few years ago, West considered taking it down.
"Tucker said 'no'," Brett West said, and they instead decided to refurbish it. "Last summer and fall we did it all over," West said. "And now it's Opening Day. It doesn't get any better that this."
"It was pretty cool," said 11-year-old Henry Marvier, of Katonah, N.Y. "It would be a dream to have this in my backyard one day. It's way better than a water slide."
"It makes you want to do the luge," said Lucas Lupinacci, 12, of Katonah. "It's really fast, you don't feel the bumps ... definitely more fun than sledding."
Adults found their thrills as well. "Fantastic and exhilarating" is how Graham Wolfson, 60, of South Salem, N.Y., described the experience. "My daughter sent me the Facebook post, and said, 'This is definitely for you.' I ride motorcycles and like speed."
Eli Holland, 7, traveled all the way from Nantucket to experience the thrill ride. "It was great - fast and bumpy," Eli said. "Better than the amusement park."
West said he hopes to open the track again in March, when Tucker returns from his current luge racing tour.
"My dream is to have just one kid do it and get inspired, and one day make it to the Olympics," he said.
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