ERIC SONDHEIMER

She's got a ticket to ride

Kate Hansen, 15, is an up-and-coming American luge competitor.

Go figure

Kate Hansen, 15, is a promising luge competitor despite living in sunny Southern California. (Genaro Molina / LAT)

If Ryan Sheckler, the skateboarding MTV heartthrob from San Clemente, ever needs a companion with X Games-like fearlessness, 15-year-old Kate Hansen of La Cañada could be the perfect match.

She owns five skateboards, loves roller coasters, has gone surfing at midnight in Malibu and -- the coolest thing of all -- she's the only teenage luge competitor in the United States based in Southern California, according to USA Luge.

Her specialty is riding a sled while on her back at speeds up to 70 mph.

"It's you, the sled and the ice, and it's like magic," she said.

On Nov. 8, Hansen left to compete on the World Cup circuit in Europe as a member of the U.S. junior national luge team. She has luge races scheduled in Germany and Austria before returning home in the middle of December, when she'll resume playing for the La Cañada girls' basketball team.

How she has been able to become a promising luge competitor while still living in sunny Southern California is a story of perseverance, family dedication and unconventional thinking.

"It's been bizarre," her father, John, said.

Out of 102 USA Luge competitors, only two live in California -- the other is a male who lives in Northern California. From November to February, Hansen travels to Park City, Utah, twice a month to train. Then there are trips to Lake Placid, N.Y., for national competitions. Lake Placid and Park City feature the only fully refrigerated, Olympic-level luge tracks in the U.S.

"She does have a certain toughness where she'll leave a palm tree to come to where it's 10 degrees below zero to train," said Jon Owen, western regional coach for USA Luge.

When friends ask Hansen, "What did you do this weekend?" her answers are beyond strange.

"It's like two different worlds," she said of her homes away from home. "They all live in cold, snowy climates. At the last camp, we were talking about all the trees we have in front of our houses.

"A girl from the East Coast has a redwood. A girl from Utah has a cactus. Well, I have palm trees. They were laughing, 'You're so lucky to live in California.' "

So far, her luge coaches have accommodated Hansen by allowing her to make up practices while maintaining a residence where snow falls about once every 50 years.

"One of her skills is she's just a great kid with a positive attitude," Owen said. "She's a naturally gifted athlete. Every sport she touches she excels at. We're all fighting for a piece of her."

Hansen is 5 feet 8, has braces on her teeth and puts her blond hair in a ponytail when she races. She played junior varsity volleyball this fall at La Cañada and used to play soccer and softball. She's the youngest of four children. Her older brothers played water polo at La Cañada and a sister was a cheerleader.

She's a true daredevil in every sense. As a 10-year-old, she used to lie on her back to ride her skateboard down a winding street near her house.

"Well, I was young and didn't know what I was doing," she said. "And the street was just paved."

As for riding roller coasters, she said, "I love losing my stomach when you can't breathe and take those big drops."

About the only things that frighten her are spiders and confined spaces.

BLOGS

Jump to a blog