Roger Marolt: Long johns dry eventually, but the memories last forever
Sledding is perfect just the way kids made it — no pricey equipment or advanced skill required.
Sledding requires no skill or investment in fancy gear, and it has no particular objective to it. Maybe that’s why kids love it.
We used to sled a lot, and I don’t remember getting bored. It is a mystery why we gave it up. There was never a day years ago when we took the last run, stood up, shook the snow out of our pant legs and said, “It’s been nice. Time to hang up the Mini-Boggan.” That’s not it. It was never not fun.
I suppose our tolerance for frozen fingers, toes, and wet long underwear wanes as we age and, as we acquire a taste for things like coffee, mustard and beer, hot chocolate loses some appeal. Still, I can find no great explanation for why we call it quits on sledding.
One sledding adventure stands out. We were always looking for new hills and we found a good one on the road to the Aspen water treatment plant. Those were simpler days when water maybe wasn’t quite as purified and maybe flowed more freely. At any rate, there wasn’t much traffic up to the facility on a regular basis. I believe it was a Saturday when we crawled over the gate with our sleds.
There were two switchbacks in the road. At first, we ran the straight shot along the last pitch. When we were warmed up, we piled up the snow and made a banked turn on the corner just above. After we made a few trips through that, we headed up to the next turn and made one there, too. It was a cross between an Olympic luge run and bumper cars.
We lost track of time until we heard a truck pull up to the gate below. We ditched out the back way through the brush. Gazing through the scrub oak, we spied the manager of the plant furiously spinning his truck’s wheels in vain.
The road was a sheet of ice. We had turned what was probably a quick errand for him into an extended project requiring a city snowplow. But from a sledding perspective, we had left the place better than we found it.
There was also the time we acquired an eight-man rubber raft at a garage sale and dragged it to the top of Buttermilk one New Year’s Eve, but I don’t want to scare current parents of high school kids.
With a general feeling for nostalgia, unnamed adult family members and I headed out over the Thanksgiving weekend on some cheap sheets of plastic to try our luck at reviving a bit of the past. With these sleds rolled up under our arms we met some friends out for a walk. One remarked on the minimal sliding devices: “People who bought this item also purchased trash bags”. It was probably true.
Adults likely had something to do with the downfall of sledding. Leave it to us to “improve” things that are perfect just the way kids made them. There truly is nothing better for sledding than a light sheet of plastic that’s super fast and easy to carry back up the hill.
Never mind the facts, though. Adults added to this simple design, and before long they came up with an assortment of fifty-pound contraptions standing two feet off the ground on steel frames with skis. Somebody added brakes. Another genius put on a steering wheel. Add a padded comfy seat and you have a contraption awkward enough to ensure a one-and-done hernia-inducing slog to the top before the sled crushes you in a rollover accident on the way down.
I never liked the commercial sledding operations at ski resorts, either. They make you sign a waiver for an engineered sledding event only a fraction as dangerous as something you could easily concoct out in the woods on your own. There’s no spontaneity in sledding for profit, nothing to discover. They pretty much ensure nobody gets a tailbone bruise, much less a face full of snow.
I know there are hard core athletes who would scoff at sledding. Let me point out this: There is no better winter high intensity interval training than seven or eight trips up and down your favorite sledding hill. If this isn’t enough, grab a sled with a strap and pull the kids up for your strength training. Best of all, hot cocoa afterwards is a great recovery drink.
Roger Marolt recommends sledding in wide open spaces far away from trees, lift towers, and other solid objects. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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