Two kids on a sled, winter day.

Snow Sledding: Why Let the Kids Have All the Fun?

Mountain Culture®
on
January 15, 2019

Answer honestly: When you shop for kids’ sleds at your local sporting goods store, are you purely motivated by the spirit of giving? Of course, you aren’t. If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking, “Will I fit in that?”

There’s no shame in imagining yourself blazing down a powdery slope, leaving little kids and pixie-dust snow crystals in your wake. OK, maybe a little shame if you imagine the kiddos wiping out or crying in fright, but short of that, you’re human. It’s no different than the excitement that causes us to teeter past the tipping point and spring for that new “family” game console, or the time you suggested holding your daughter’s birthday party at the paintball park… the year she turned one.

Sometimes, we use kids as cover to justify our entertainment choices.

I don’t have children, but I’m the World’s Greatest Uncle. While my sister and brother-in-law have to keep up the pretense of being responsible grown-ups, I get to wind up their kids (son, 10, and daughter, 8) on the stashed-out-of-reach holiday candy and chase them outside to shred the steep driveway berms left behind by Snowplow Guy.

Sometimes, we all pile into the SUV and head down to the public golf course, which has the best unofficial sledding hill in town. The parents all stand around at the ready to pull empty sleds to the top, or to scoop up kids who’ve yard-saled after a monumentally wicked run. Others pay just enough attention to know when to call 911; they’re too engrossed in visiting with neighbors and friends, and showing off their fancy new winter wear.

Once in a while, somebody’s dad will fold himself up and sheepishly scootch himself down the hill, his weight warping the shape of the flimsy plastic to the point the car keys in his padded snow pants pocket cause enough friction to act like a set of crampons. Heck, I’ve been that guy. And this season, while executing my annual Out-Spoil Nico and Steph shopping spree, I stumbled across a game changer: a snow sled designed for Very Large Kids, a.k.a. Grown-Ups Who Refuse To Relinquish the Fun.

Dogs pulling a sled in a snowy pinewood park.

Photo by Felix Ali.

Top three snow sleds for the big kids

I’m going to skip the old-school inner-tubes and the classic wood-and-rails sleds. There’s nothing wrong with these, really, but some of the better-quality sleds are an improvement on bone-jarring steel runners and the out-of-the-atmosphere “boing” of traditional air-filled rubber tubes. After two weeks’ hanging out with kid-infested friends and families over the holidays, the following three adult-size sleds came out on top of the (snow)pack!

Airboard Snow Bodyboards

These uber-deluxe, inflatable hybrid sleds from Switzerland earn high user reviews, and they remind me just a little of my beloved Advanced Elements kayak. They’re easy to pack and stow, lightweight, and hella fun. Airboard’s flagship model costs about $450 USD, but their seemingly more popular racing model is about $50 less. I saw no fewer than six of these while I was in Utah, which isn’t a surprise; family-friendly sporting gear comes in multi-packs in that state, after all. I also learned that if you don’t drop F-bombs when you catch air, local folk are extremely friendly and will practically beg you to try out their stuff.

Each bodyboard comes with a repair kit, carrying case, and hand leash, but body armor’s extra (and sold on their site). Given that these sleds are marketed for backcountry and “extreme” snow sports, you’re going to want the protection when you’re zinging through chutes and over cornices. They may be overkill for the suburban snow pile, but we can always dream, can’t we?

Check out Airboard’s scenic tutorial, but before you do, bet me fifty bucks that you won’t ditch the kids at Grandma’s, throw one of these inflatable sleds in your carry-on, and book a trip to the Alps.

Flexible Flyer Snow Screamer

Chances are, you’ve borrowed one of these from your kids. Flexible Flyer’s pliable, coated foam sleds are extremely popular and a staple at big-box stores this time of year. Look for the four-handled Snow Screamer (model F47) rated to carry two people for a maximum 250 pounds, and grab a few extras; they’re lightweight, easily stackable, and average about thirty bucks each. They tend to last through a season or two of moderate to enthusiastic use, certainly more than the brittle, thin plastic sleds in the same price range.

If you ARE old-school, Flexible Flyer is the granddaddy of sledding, and manufacturer of iconic steel runner sleds and wooden toboggans.

Mad River Rocket Killer B

If cold weather and too many decades conquering moguls makes your knees creak, you might want to pass on this sled. But for everyone else, the Mad River Rocket Killer B is a lot of fun for teenagers and adults. You kneel on sturdy foam pads (for both comfort and shock absorption), and secure a hook-and-loop strap over your calves to help keep you seated as you pull trick spins and flips and steer using the motion of your hips. Pretty sexy stuff, and at about $180, not the worst price for a well-crafted downhill snow sports product. My boss’ 22-year-old son has one of these, and he loves it. His 45-year-old dad does too… for about three or four long runs, at which time he cashes in his chips, and grabs a cold one. Which, in this case, means a bag of frozen peas. As for me, well, I had no issues with physical discomfort, but I realized that for me, sledding is about holding on—with your hands—for dear life. I need a little more time to get used to the configuration.

So what do you do once you’ve found your favorite?

Two sleds on a snowy path in a pinewood.

Photo by Severin D..

Bundle up!

Be a kid. Don’t be a baby. As a grownup, you have more control over your comfort level, and the right sledding outfit will keep you from bawling on the sidelines. Choose quality winter outdoor clothing that will tolerate some abuse while keeping you warm and comfortable. You’ll likely break a sweat as you scramble up those hills, and if everything goes right, you’ll be splitting the wind on your way down. Dress accordingly with wicking underlayerswaterproof and breathable outer layers, and insulated snow pants that have a little stretch to them.

Wear gloves with gauntlets to help keep the snow out of your sleeves, and choose a pair with both palm and knuckle reinforcements, especially if you pick a sled that requires you to hold onto the sides or use your hands for stabilization. Steer clear of the idyllic Norman Rockwell sledding fashion and leave the long neck scarves at home. It gives me the heebie-jeebies to see people risking the aftermath of a bad snag while they’re enjoying winter sports. Hopefully, I don’t need to explain further.

You’ve heard this before: “Back in the day, nobody wore helmets while sledding, boarding, or skiing.” Sure, but hasn’t every generation bemoaned the inconvenience or discomfort of a lifesaving innovation? You know, like car seats, and seat belts, or the polio vaccine? I’m a proponent of wearing a helmet anytime my fun involves velocity, pine trees, and snow-covered rocks, and I make a point to wear mine whenever I bring my sister’s kids along. I might be a bad example in many other ways, but with this. I nail the Good Role Model win.

Play nice, play well

If you’re heading out to a family-focused sledding hill, find the balance between fun-loving adult and inconsiderate idiot. Give little kids the right-of-way, and remember that a 170-pound sledder will do more damage in a collision than a 50-lb rugrat. Nobody (reasonable) is going to expect you to babysit other people’s children, but it doesn’t hurt to help haul a toboggan or dig a kid out of a tree well once in a while. That local hill might only be sleddable thanks to the effort the families in that neighborhood. If that’s the case, offer to help maintain it.

But if you’re headed to a special spot where it’s just going to be you, the unblemished snow, and your old college crew, it’s good manners to bring along a Thermos of warm grown-up bevvies for a responsible sip or two between runs. Some winter fun we’ll never outgrow, but we do gain the extra perks of adulthood!

Featured image by Menglong Bao.

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