As my wife and I took a leisurely drive to the winter farmer’s market in Cooperstown, N.Y. my mind was flush with nostalgia and wonder as the sun cascaded over the perfect winter day. As we traveled through hill n dale, a realization came to me that I hadn’t seen one sledder/slider enjoying the ideal conditions. No toboggans, no saucers, no neon plastic, nothing. Did the video game goblins capture all the kids and their families or is sledding just out of favor in this day and age?
Do you want to feel young again and say goodbye to the devices and stress? Take a child sliding and enjoy the warmth of exercise and fond memories. If you’re like me, with grandchildren, it’s almost a rite of passage to lead the next generation up to the summit of our dormant, grassy farm hills and release them for the ride of their lives, unabated by boundaries. The snowy sojourn gives them confidence, independence and joyful screaming – traits you need in life.
Their little legs, lungs and hearts get stronger as they trudge or crawl back to the top. It’s also good, albeit tiring, for the grandfather too who may be tasked to be the tow rope at times. This humbling exercise teaches “intestinal fortitude”, resiliency, teamwork and the art of adaptation. You see, sliding without a partner(s) is, well, not much fun. It’s this collaboration of minds and might that help develop the slope dynamics, whether its whittling the snowball jump or creating the slalom through the thicket to creating the banked curve or putting down some water to get more speed.
I have to credit my brother Scott, the neighborhood gang, and my forefathers for this perspective who bought a hill farm for some awesome sledding adventures down suicide hill, the bowl and the infamous tractor path gauntlet that gave me “the scar” on my shin after careening off into a fence post. The Olympics had nothing on these local venues made by, at times, sadistic teenagers. Was it really ever fast or high enough?
Some of my earliest recollections of quality sledding time was when my Grandfather Steele would hook up the wooden toboggan to his Farmall A and haul us kids back up on the hill while we practiced snow-surfing and angling just enough to hit the best air. Later on, my dad would equal this feat with his old Polaris Colt snowmobile, when and if, the man and his two boys could ever get the motor started.
The art of good sledding and a meaningful ride was also dependent on having a cornucopia of sled types for all sorts of conditions and personal styles. Our arsenal included the wooden toboggan for multi-player, metal saucers for the spinners, the roll-up plastic carpet ride, sided hard-plastic sleds with or without braking systems, tractor tubes and the quintessential runner sled where you could be an amateur luger. For my 4-year-old granddaughter, we have found the sided, flat-bottom, hard plastic, neon-colored ones work best for long straight rides in most conditions. It’s funny to remember back 40 years ago – these are the exact ones we and our fellow snow kings used too, for death-defying jumps, sliding roller-derby and snow surfing.
As I remember there was a certain code of ethics and “laissez-faire” team approach to the path grooming and snow quality assessment. Next came the individual medley where we would watch our fellow snow kings showcase their skills on speed, length of slide and awesome wipeouts before each slider would release. We would then reconvene at the top and discuss ways to refine the track conditions and defy gravity to get more of the above until typically someone got hurt or the wind knocked out of them. Cool!!
At this juncture, it usually moved on to group sledding and mastering the roller derby concept where having a chance to have a dual dog-pile while one team member makes it to the bottom unscathed was the goal. The wrecks as I remember were epic. As if this wasn’t fun enough, we would have an after dinner matinee by the light of the moon for anyone who could handle it. It separated the men from the boys so to speak. In later times we even hosted sliding hill parties complete with bonfires, beers and girls which led to a whole other level of winter fun!
I have to say the most memorable ride of my sledding career was when my brother and I hoofed up to our majestic pinnacle overlooking the Mohawk Valley (1030’ above sea level) and with the perfect ice encrusted snow, we slid on those well-waxed runner sleds on a record ½ mile descent to our dooryard at 800 feet. We did that 4 times before our legs gave out. Wish I had a wool hat “cam” back then.
The snowy hill represents another necessary opportunity to the human genome nowadays probably more important than ever – physical fitness. In researching the health benefits of wintertime activities, CalorieLab attributed sledding/skiing to using over 400 calories per hour. I’m not sure how much added energy is also expelled in making snow angels, eating copious amounts of snow, laughing and taking side trips into the hedgerows. In addition, add the nutritional benefits of enjoying a good soup or stew after hanging up the mittens and the positive endorphin release from having fun with the family and you’ve got to consider dusting off that ole sled.
Ya know what’s really epic and super important? Sharing smiles, laughter and creating lasting memories with a child. Winter can have beauty in the eyes of a granddaughter but you have to take the time to see it. As February 2019 continues to lay down a blanket of white, it’s an opportunity to shut off all the devices, dispense with politics and hit the slopes to play, no matter the age. Happiness is just a hill away. As American Novelist, Stephen Chbosky said, “But for now, sledding is enough.”