CAMANO ISLAND — Children this weekend can pretend as if they are competing in the Olympic games, sliding fast through a chute of ice.
In reality, they’ll be at a ranch on Camano Island, riding a sled attached to Rollerblade wheels down a controlled pavement course.
Kids ages 9 to 13 can learn about the sport of luge on Saturday and Sunday at Arrowhead Ranch, on Arrowhead Road. The event is one stop in USA Luge’s annual Slider Search, in partnership with White Castle restaurants.
The purpose is to find youngsters who show promise, and could someday race in the Olympics. If they’re chosen, they’ll be asked to practice with USA Luge in one of three locations — New York, Utah or Michigan.
Most kids who come to the event have never tried luge, said Aidan Kelly, a USA Luge coach.
Kelly was selected during the same event about 12 years ago. He’s now 24.
“The sport completely changed my life,” he said. “The second I got on a sled, it’s all I’ve wanted to do.”
Back then Kelly rode skateboards. That helped when it came to luge. Steering the sled felt similar to guiding a board.
Years later, he reached the ultimate goal.
“I was a national champion in 2015, as well,” he said. “That was the peak of my career. I retired a couple of years after.”
Now he’s a development coach for USA Luge and runs the yearly search.
In the past two Olympic winter games, Kelly estimates that almost 90 percent of the U.S. luge team’s athletes had been in the USA Luge program.
This weekend, children will get an extensive safety lesson before sliding down the hill. They’ll be going around 30 mph on the course. Professionals go three times as fast.
The track at Arrowhead Ranch is usually used for soapbox derbies. The center belongs to Randy Heagle and his wife, Marla Heagle. They also own the Windermere Real Estate office in Stanwood.
The Heagles bought the ranch nearly three years ago, specifically for the track.
They’ve been hosting soapbox races for more than a decade. The largest contest there is the All-American Soap Box Derby. This year it’s on June 15.
The Heagles became interested in the activity after seeing a competition in Seattle. It’s a fun way to bring families together from both Stanwood and Camano, Randy Heagle said.
The couple had no experience with luge before the organization reached out.
While the upcoming event is mostly for fun, the sport can become a big commitment pretty fast, Kelly said.
It starts when the kids are asked to travel to train with USA Luge. Those who are chosen will know by the end of summer.
One of the main points of the search is to keep luge going. There’s only a small group of people in the sport.
“To give you an idea, I know everybody in the country who does it,” Kelly said. “In order to keep the sport alive and bring people into our program, we have to show it to people by letting kids take our sleds down the hill.”
If you go
The USA Luge Slider Search is held from 9 a.m. to noon and 2 to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday at Arrowhead Ranch, 615 Arrowhead Rd., Comano Island.
Register online at www.teamusa.org/usa-luge/slider-search, or call 1-800-USA-LUGE.