Time for Sledding!
Well, it did snow a few inches yesterday, and that was a good enough excuse to get outside and try out the sleds for the first time this year. I spent 7 years of my childhood living in New Hampshire, skiing all the time and sledding around the neighborhood. I’ve tried every kind of sled I can get my hands on. Some work better than others. Some don’t work at all. The general rule with sleds is this: The more gimmicky they are the less fun they are. The old standbys work the best. Of course it also depends, in part, on the snow conditions – sticky or fluffy, deep or not. My boys were both born in Texas but they’ve live for the past 4 years in Minnesota, Wisconsin and now Boulder Colorado. They know to keep a lookout for snow when the weather starts getting cold and, when it comes, they make a mad dash to the hills. Which sleds work best? Well, like I said, the simple ones. Here is a list of popular models with letter grades that I’ve assigned to them:
1. Foam Sleds: A. These are probably the best all around sleds for kids. They’re soft, easily steerable and work the best over a variety of snow conditions.
2. Toboggans: B. Whoever sits in the front is responsible for everybody else on the sled. Everybody else, for their part, hangs on for dear life and hopes the guy in the front isn’t a maniac. Think Calvin and Hobbes.
3. Saucers: B –. Saucers are awesome when the snow isn’t very deep and you want go down the hill with no control at all. The metal ones are better than the plastic ones, but they’re hard to find. Chevy Chase from Christmas Vacation pretty much summed up the experience.
4. Plastic Roll up Sleds: F +. The only saving grace to these types of sleds is that they cost 5 dollars and someone is always selling them out of the back of a truck at big sledding hills. They are sheets of thin plastic, that’s it. They are not concave, have no grooves to pass snow, and there is no padding at all. If you hit a bump your ass is going to pay for it and you’ll probably crash. And forget about steering. They’re so thin and sharp edged that any small deviation in course and you’ll roll over.
5. Boat Sleds: C. They’re plastic sleds that look like dinghies and can usually hold two people. They’re cheap and often bought at hardware stores as last minute purchases. They work reasonably well in deep fluffy snow because, like a boat, they’re built for sinking into the snow and gliding. On hard pack they’re pretty terrible because of the lack of padding and no steering; you can’t easily stick your hand out to steer and, because of the high side walls, you can’t lay down to use your feet.
6. Sleds with Runners (Like a Luge): C+. If you’re into the old fashioned look then consider one of these. They don’t work well in deep fluffy snow, but they are excellent in icy hard snow. The runners dig in and keep you on course and they usually come with a steering handle in front that you can manipulate with your feet or hands (depending on how daring you are). The one downside is that the good ones are expensive and they hurt when they land on top of you after a crash. Also think Calvin and Hobbes.
7. Inner Tubes: B –. Bigger inner tubes mean more insane rides. They are best on long smooth hills where the object is to pick up speed and come to a gradual stop at the end. Any moderately sized bump along the way can cause what is equivalent to speed wobble on a skate board. The rider hits a bump and the inner tube bounces a little, but it can’t recover before the next bump so whatever bounce is left over from the first is added to the second, and huge crashes are likely. If it’s possible to have less control than a saucer inner tubes are it.
8. Sleds with Brakes: C –. They are almost always the boat variety of sleds with the addition of plastic brakes that the rider can pull up on to stop or “steer”. They never work and just make for more expensive sleds. These types of sleds are more expensive versions of whatever other kind of other sled they are attached to. Feet and hands and crashing work fine for steering and stopping. Always have.
9. Steering Wheel Sleds: F. They break easily, they’re expensive and they don’t work. Sure, the kids riding them are the envy of their friends for a while. Who wouldn’t want to ride a motorcycle down a snowy hill, right? They work about as well as that too. They are slow when they do go, but crash frequently because they keep the center of gravity too high. And, because there are moving parts, they break all the time.
10. Kick Sleds (Bicycle on snow): B. Okay, they aren’t really for downhill riding, but I thought I would include them because kids love them. These are essentially dog sleds where an operator stands in the back and kicks the sled along (but without dogs). The passenger sits in the front on a little chair. They get a B because the operator experience is a C and the passenger experience is an A.
BONUS: The Shovel: A+ for digging holes, C for riding on. They don’t work in deep snow but they’re handy. Riding one takes a certain amount of balls – you get it.
Sledding is all kinds of wintertime fun. Those of us who have spent many winters sledding have experience with most of these sleds. I have personal experience with them myself. Foam sleds are a recent introduction to the sledding world and they are a welcomed addition. They are soft and fast and easy to steer. They are the newest and best of all sleds. Toboggans are the best for a whole family and come in a variety of sizes. That reminds me of a joke. Why do Polish names end in ski? Because they can’t spell Toboggan! I can tell that joke because I’m part polish. That’s how it works with racial jokes, right? Back to sledding, keep it simple. Any sled that has some gimmick to it is probably not worth buying. Just, for God’s sake, stay away from those plastic roll up kinds.