How do you get one of the largest tourist attractions in a city to yourself? In the case of Sarajevo’s 1984 Olympics Bobsled Track the answer is easy: Go at sunrise in the middle of the winter. Having just completed such a visit I cannot recommend enough NOT doing it the way I did.
Don’t get me wrong: The views were incredible. But I also spent a decent portion of my trip hoping I wouldn’t slip and break something – namely me – on the icy streets as I hiked up to the site. Once there it was more about not slipping on the snow-covered track or sinking in to the snow banks surrounding it. Needless to say, all the things I hoped to avoid happened to some extent (though no breaks!).
Owing to jet lag I was awake early on my first morning in Europe this trip and the bobsled track was high on my list of sites to see. Ideally I would’ve done it first thing after I landed on the afternoon prior but work got in the way. Instead, I mapped out the path as a brisk 5.5km trail up from town into the hillside. Sure, the elevation gain was a steep 500 meters but I had my hiking boots with me and a decent pair of gloves. I’d be fine. Google Maps estimated the trip time at 90 minutes and I figured I’d probably do it faster than that.
What I did not account for was the black ice and unplowed roads. It was slick and hard going. I often found myself sliding back down the hill, giving up precious progress. And that was before I even made it to the track. Suffice it to say, I did not beat the Google Maps time.
Most visitors either arrive at the track by private car with a guide or take the cable car up to the top. Most websites talking about the tour suggest walking down from the top if you want some extra exercise. I wanted the exercise but I also didn’t really have time to wait for the cable car to open at 10a so walking up seemed like a good idea. I’m not even sure a private taxi would have made it to the top; I got to help push one car out of the snow along the way.
Once I made it to the base of the track other fun complications set in. I wanted photos of the graffiti and my only safe way out was up and through. So I hopped in to the track and started following the single-track path in the snow uphill. Getting out was the mistake.
Inside the track the snow depth was obvious. Outside it was not. Inside there was a track where it was packed down, making the walk slightly easier. Outside were snow drifts of indeterminate size. I got out at one point, thinking it would be shorter and faster to “cut the corner” rather than walk the curves of the track. I quickly retreated to the original plan after accidentally finding myself thigh-deep in snow.
Eventually I made my way out the top of the track. I ran in to the drive who got stuck trying to make a u-turn on the snowy roads and helped push his car free. And I trudged onward to the cable car station. Even with stopping for photos along the way I made it to the top about two hours after leaving the hotel; not bad given the conditions and the 90 minute estimate. But that left me with another problem. It was still well before 10a and the cable car was not yet operating. With overcast skies and freezing temperatures I was not particularly keen on hiking the shorter trails atop the hill, though I’m sure they’re lovely in the summer.
Fortunately I was able to convince the operators of the ride to let me wait inside. It wasn’t particularly warm but there was a chair and I was protected from the wind. It was probably the warmest 50 degree (10° C) room I’ve ever been in.
It was very much a magical experience. For roughly 75 minutes, from when I passed the last houses until I found the guy stuck in the snow I saw no one else. I heard nothing but animals and the breeze rustling through the trees. I had great views of the city and valley below. And also of buildings shot up during the war, still showing their pockmarked, bullet hole scars.
I will happily call it a great mistake. And you should definitely go visit the track if you’re in town. It is close by and easy to get to when the weather cooperates. Just don’t do it like I did.