The fossil record remains unclear as to what exactly started the trend, but approximately 240 million years ago the first winter sport was born.
As the story is told, a tiny trilobite spied the icy slope with a degree of trepidation. He began to reconsider. Then the guy holding his beer shoved him from behind and he shot down the hill on his back using the tiny armor plating on his back to navigate the world’s first sled hill. Although he was never heard from again his beer was not wasted. We may not be prehistoric bugs but the basic sledding trip crawls out of the same primordial ooze.
In my childhood memories, nothing sticks out more clearly than those cold evenings spent on the sled hill, except maybe Christmas and the Hansen twins. But reminiscing about Angie and Stephanie is for a different type of publication.
Any kid who had something to prove, (to the Hansen twins in particular) congregated daily to prove their worth by challenging the steepest lines, biggest jumps and most horrendous crashes our local hill could offer. We jousted, we wrecked, we flew, and we nearly died. Little has changed; except the availability of alcohol and the scale of the hills. The hotness of Angie and Stephanie changed too- childhood crushes do not age like whiskey.
My tool of choice has always been the saucer sled. The simple design, rugged construction and complete lack of steering always leads to adventure. My wealthier friends rode the Cadillac of sleds: GT snowracers. You could brake and steer with total impunity, it was totally pointless.
Snowracers were basically a tricycle with skis and crampon style brakes. They have an actual elevated seat and turned via a real steering wheel and the brakes were surprisingly effective- to a disappointing degree. Snowracers rarely crashed and never drew blood. It really only took one hand to operate. This is a huge advantage when trying to grasp and aim a broomstick while wearing knit mittens.
Jousting against a GT was always a challenge. Even if the broomstick missed your eyeball, the front ski was sure to impale the saucer victim. Your only hope was for a draw. If you could manage to wedge an arm and/or leg in the jaws of the brakes, the whole bundle would trundle wildly typically ending in a double dismount.
Although all of my friends eventually upgraded to snowboards and skis every few years we still return to our sliding roots. You can bet I still keep a saucer on hand, just in case.
Sometimes people refer to snowmobiles as ‘sleds’. This is a term I prefer to reserve for actual sleds. When a redneck asks you if you want to go sledding you might have to ask a few more questions. It is confusing since both involve crashes, snow, and alcohol consumption in vast quantities in order to “warm the blood”.
One of my childhood buddies asked if I wanted to go sledding 2 years ago. I failed to clarify the point further, and we ended up doing 80 miles an hour, narrowly missing death on several occasions. We also went snowmobiling.
The next day he produced a miracle- a mint condition GT Snowracer. I don’t know if his parents had been saving it in an attic or if endlessly surfing Ebay finally paid off. We dusted it off and promptly drilled a hole in the ski so it could be towed behind the other kind of sled.
The night wore on and the rope was eventually converted to a water ski handle. The tricks got flashier the speeds got higher, it becomes necessary to move at a pretty good clip to flatspin a 720. When all flasks had been emptied and the sun was closer to rising than setting we capped off the evening- with a backflip competition.
In case anyone cares- you have to be doing a hair over 40 to get all the way around. Our vintage snowmobile could do nearly 35.
Not all sledding outings involve motors, true sledding never does. Feel free to take notes, on the back of a cigarette carton if necessary.
Most successful modern adult sledding trips involve just 6 key ingredients: the cheapest sled Wal-Mart still has in stock, Levis over cotton thermals, copious amounts of beer, at least one mullet, an NFL team jacket, and blood.
When all of the kids go home and the sled hill is sufficiently iced over, you point the headlights of an 83 Buick at the hill and get ready to rumble. Blaring music is optional, but if you are going to rock it, it has to be Poison, Motley Crue, or Ratt- or an equally awesome power ballad group. Sledding to bluegrass is stupid and potentially dangerous. The Clumsy Lovers do not sled.
The actual type of sled ridden is inconsequential, the key ingredient is location. For adults to truly enjoy sledding, the hill has to be perfectly ice covered or capable of quickly becoming so. It also helps to have a large immovable object near the bottom of the hill, preferably made of angular concrete blocks or lava rock. Granite will do in a pinch.
The hill needs to be tested to make sure it’s at least as steep as an Olympic ski run. It doesn’t however, have to be as smooth as one. Ideally at the bottom you should be able to dig your heels into the ground, barely in time to avoid a collision with the immovable object, Buick, girlfriend or large trees.
The perfect sled hill also has enough loose snow to build a small jump. The jump does not have to have a smooth transition. The change from sliding to flying is best done quickly, if not violently. It is also acceptable to pile excess snow up in front of obstacles, creating the illusion of a safety barrier.
When you wreck, and you will wreck, it’s important to remember a few key points.
1- Keep you body loose, like a rag doll so nothing can break.
2- You’re wearing Levis so at least your bulge is well protected
3- Your girlfriend is watching, so when the carnage ends, you need to stand up, whoop, and thrust a lone fist in the air and declare your trick successful.
Sledding is a social event. You should not hog the hill or sled- rather encourage others to take a run occasionally. Calling your buddies a wussy is often all the encouragement they need.
There are only three acceptable ways to end a night of slednecking. One is the passout. If someone falls asleep in the snow at the base of the hill and fails to revive upon impact, it’s time for them to go home and sleep it off. Load everyone up in the car and get them back to the trailer park immediately.
The second way to end a night is with a general frostbite scare, using the rule of 10. Once 10% of the available group skin becomes a color it has never been before the- group can call it a night. A group of 10 could have one person turn completely purple, or each person’s head and left hand could turn sky blue.
The final way to get home is in an ambulance. You should never let an ambulance go to the hospital with just one victim on board; it’s inefficient. The best way to qualify for an ambulance ride is to spill blood in large quantities, audibly break a bone, or have a part of your body become unresponsive to normal nervous system stimuli.
The ambulance is the preferred method of travel because by now the Buick is either out of gas or batteries, or both. If the former driver is now a designated ambulance victim, simply fish the keys out of their pocket before the ambulance leaves. If unconsciousness allows, steal their wallet and invoke the “your car, your gas” rule. Your stop at the gas station on the way home from the hill could even involve purchasing gasoline and perhaps more beer, if the credit card company will allow it.
Everyone left standing gets a high five and a respite until next year. Never go more than once a year, that would indeed be crazy.