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The Apprentice – The Four Man Bob

The Apprentice Retiree – The Four Man Bob.

My two brothers, John and Chris, and I had decided to go skiing with the lads in the French Alps. As you can imagine, fourteen men together had a really great time lots of skiing, and lots of drinking.

There were some real enthusiasts with us who liked to ski hard from dawn to dusk, eat a big meal at night, drink a load of beer and then fall into bed in the early hours. This was very tiring, so on the third day my two brothers and I decided we would have a day off skiing and do something else.

We were looking for an experience that we would never forget; something to remember when chatting with our grandchildren. Little did we know what was to come!

We looked around, and found that for the equivalent of £50 each we could ride a four-man bob sleigh down a racing track. For some strange reason, we thought this would be great fun, so off we went.

The starting house was deserted, except for a little, wizened, jockey-like man, who was to be our pilot on the way down. Looking down the icy chute, we all began to have reservations. It was solid ice, and looked bumpy and rutted – and the angle was very steep. The four man bob had no pretensions of comfort and nothing much to hold on to. I began to wish that I had not had that last cup of coffee!

Our pilot directed us to the loo – and insisted that we use it. He was about 5’6” tall, and joked that he had been 6’2” when he started. We soon found out what he meant.

We all pretended that we weren’t frightened as we squeezed in to the narrow shell. Our pilot sized us up and placed us to balance the weight. The sled, on four slim, steel runners, shaped like a bullet, was pointing down a track so steep I would not have liked to walk down it. The ice was shiny and looked very slippery indeed.

We were asked to remove glasses, false teeth and anything loose. We were told in no uncertain terms to keep our arms inside the sleigh. We were told that it “might be a bit bumpy”. Helmets were passed around, tried on and discarded, until we found a good fit. Our pilot tightened our chin straps as tightly as they would go.

At this stage we had begun to realise that this was going to be very different from riding a Christmas sleigh down a snowy slope. For a start, the sled was lodged at an angle of forty-five degrees, on a sheet of solid ice. The track was actually built of concrete, and water is simply poured down it and sprayed on it. The cold does the rest.

John sat in the front, I sat in the middle, and Chris sat behind me. John was squashing my legs against the metal sides of the sleigh, and I was squashing Chris’s legs in the same way. The sled was obviously built for much smaller men. The seat, such as it was, was very hard, with only a little padding, to save weight. My ski suit felt tight and I was intensely uncomfortable. I don’t remember exactly how we started, but there was a shout from somewhere behind us, and the sled took off.

Like an F1 car jumping the lights, we shot down the chute, and immediately the ride felt so bumpy it started to hurt. The first bend looked like a wall of ice, and at the speed we were already going, I could not believe that we would make the turn. I was already braced against the sides of the sled, and my gloves were clamped tight on my brother in front of me.

The front of the sled hit the wall and crashed violently to the right. We slid up the side of the curve like the puck in an ice hockey game, then back down again. By now, after perhaps ten seconds, I could not believe we could go round a bend any faster – but I was again proved wrong. We doubled our speed and headed for another wall of ice – another bend in the icy chute. Again we crashed to the side and again we doubled our speed. The bumps were making my eyeballs rattle in their sockets, and my vision became blurred. It was like riding on corrugated iron. There was nothing to grip so I held on to John in front of me, and I could feel Chris’s vice-like grip on my shoulders. John was squashing my legs into the steel sides of the Bob. The bruises on my legs and shoulders lasted a week.

I tried to grit my teeth but my jaw was being rattled around so I had to keep my mouth slightly open, and the icy blast was chilling my throat. I watched the wall of ice passing my shoulders, and felt the sled violently rocking from side to side, as we bounced off the walls of the icy chute. Another bend, and another, incredibly violent crashing bend, then at last we started to go up hill and the ice brakes were applied. There was silence for a long moment as we all relaxed.

We were told that the racing teams on the same track had posted the same time as us but that we had started one third of the way down. So they had travelled thirty per cent faster! Even so, we had reached a speed of 85mph.

The experience had been something I wouldn’t have missed and one I will certainly never forget. But would I do it again? No I would not.

Stripey x