In 1986, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reporter Dan Joling wrote about a small, homemade luge that was constructed by Fairbanks area local Bruce Cunningham in his front yard.
“I wouldn’t call Bruce Cunningham’s front yard a mountain, but he’s built more than a molehill in pursuit of fun for his 4-year-old son,” Joling wrote. “The slide complete with banked turns, now winds its way about 140 feet through the front yard.”
On Tuesday, Susan Cunningham, Bruce’s wife, brought out a cutting of the article and placed it on the kitchen table. After reading it through and examining the photograph, I asked Bruce if the new luge he had told me about over the phone was as big as the one he’d built in the 1980s.
“This one is … much more involved,” he said with a smile. “I always build something little for my grandson, but this year I decided to build a big one.”
“It just grew and grew and grew,” Susan added.
I walked out into the backyard of the house with Bruce, his son Tyler Cunningham and his grandson Myles Cunningham — and immediately saw that he wasn’t exaggerating. 34 years after his homemade ice slide was featured in the News-Miner, Bruce has built a luge that starts on one side of his home, swivels and loops around a tree in his yard, and ends on the other side of the property. It’s over 100 yards long.
Tyler and Myles climbed up the ice-block steps to the start of the luge and readied themselves in a sled. Tyler was, in fact, the young boy riding down the ice-slide in the photograph that accompanied the 1986 article. At the time he was four-years-old — the same age Myles is today.
On the count of three, the pair set off and went zooming down the slide and along the luge, drifting up to almost 90-degree angles on some of the corners. Bruce explained that after Susan went flying over the top of the sharpest bend during a test-run, he had to build up the luge’s walls in certain areas. While he’s built a number of ice slides and luges over the years, this is — by far — the largest.
“It took me about two weeks to make it. I built it in November,” he said, before pointing to some nearby wooden structures that he used to make ice blocks. “I used plywood forms and piled all the snow in and boot-packed it. I put some little side walls on it, I built a little staircase over there, so you can get up there.”
The luge is smoothed out and the surface is almost a glacial color. Bruce said that the smoothing process mainly consists of pouring water down the shute and letting it freeze. The color, he noted, is artificial.
“It’s just boot-pack it down, and then pour water on it, and rake and rake,” he said. “I’ve got a little ice scraper I use to shave things down — then I went and sprayed a little blue-colored water on it.”
While it’s not open to the public, Bruce said that he welcomes friends and their kids over to ride the luge. Based on anecdotes from the whole Cunningham family, it’s seen a lot of use over this winter.
Before I tried it out myself, Bruce told me not to lean back and to keep my weight forward, lest the sled spin-out half way down. While I heeded his advice, I didn’t make it quite to end of the run — my sled began to spin after I came speeding around the final corner. Bruce, on the other hand, glided down the entire run at a fast clip, gracefully sliding right to the end and coming to an easy stop right by the gate at the bottom of his yard.
It was hardly surprising, given that he has roughly 35 years of practice building and riding his homemade luges.
The final touch that Bruce added to the luge were some multi-colored lights, on some of the bends. To see a video of Cunningham family members sliding down the luge, both at night and during the day, visit the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner website at bit.ly/2U64Q2u.
Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.