DAMARISCOTTA – The luge run in this midcoast town wasn’t built to train Olympians, but the nearly 100-yard run the Russ family built four years ago has a big-games way about it.

“We’re excited for winter, to play outside on it,” said Andy Russ. “I’d love to get it where you don’t have to steer. We’re almost there. It’s a work in progress.”

In 2007 Andy and Angela Russ decided to make the most of the steep hill that extends from their house down to an inlet of the Great Salt Bay, where Damariscotta Lake flows into the Damariscotta River.

Little by little, the family built up the trail that slips between pines and birch trees, winding down through the woods toward the shallow inlet.

In the summer, and even through this winter’s abundant snow piles, the wood crates and piled-up Christmas trees can be seen beneath the snow, forming the banks around turns.

It started with an idea and — with the steep pitch and this family’s penchant for outdoor sports — just took off, quite literally.

“Andy and Sam were out last night with head lamps on,” says Angela, who’s a little worried about safety — but is still luging after tearing a leg tendon on the run last year.

It’s not for everyone.

“We actually have a lot of friends who won’t do it,” said Angela.

But when the snow is soft and the temperatures mild, all the Russes are in: Sam, 9; Maddy, 7; and Nick, 5, luge with their parents like a team trying to improve its game.

The Russes have rules. Children are not allowed to luge without an adult. And everyone must stick to the tube, the toboggan or highly maneuverable Jet Sled.

“When it’s too icy, we close it. And the saucer is not allowed. You can’t control it,” Angela said.

There are other environmental hazards.

When the tide is in, the inlet fills with water that eventually overflows up through the thick ice.

“You have to be ready to get wet,” said Andy Russ.

But at low tide it is an ice-covered mud flat and apparently a perfect luge landing.

The pitch grows steep after the second bank and just as the run shoots through a set of pine trees, it hits a small jump that throws the sled up onto the ice.

All five Russes love catching air. They luge before work, before school and always on the weekends. Andy, a doctor, is planning a work party around the luge run.

The three children sometimes spend hours sliding it.

“The ramp was Sam’s fort. It helps give it a boost,” says Maddy.

On one recent run, the Jet Sled she piloted ran up a bank and flipped. With snow on her face, the small athlete climbed back into the sled without comment — only to be thrown at the next bank.

Maddy looked up, got up and started the steep walk back up the hill, behavior that begs the question: Does sliding make you tougher?

While this is uncertain, it definitely makes the Russes happier.

“It’s open most of the winter. This is entering the peak time. We always take a few runs in the morning, before school. You’ve got to do it,” said Angela.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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