The Art of Sledding

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About: Perhaps I am the heretical harbinger of the New Archaic, perhaps I just like wood.

Intro: The Art of Sledding

Anyone can put their legs through a trash bag or sit on a cafeteria tray and slide downhill. However, advanced sledding is an art. Like many other Alaskans sledding has always been my passion. Before I could walk my father would pull me behind him as he cross country skied. Nine months a year, every morning, for ten years I sled to the bus stop. Although I have gone faster, in a controlled road test I was clocked at over 45 mph.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 1: Choosing a Sled

The fastest, most reliable, versatile sleds on the market are formed plastic sleds like the one pictured. Paris and Torpedo are the leading brands and each carry models that cost under $15. A good sled will last several months (as long as there isn’t too much gravel on the roads).

Old timers are partial to metal runner sleds such as Flexible Flyers. Although these sleds may be slightly faster on glare ice they are easily out performed in all other conditions. Runner sleds are also considerably more dangerous: sharp runners, wood slats crack under stress, runners bend and can buckle when stopping abruptly, runner sleds spark and jerk when they encounter rocks, they require upkeep and are expensive.

First timers are often attracted to sleds with plastic runners and toy steering wheels. Despite the illusion of control, these sleds have little to no steering capability, are prone to flipping, and are therefore very dangerous at speeds greater than 10 mph.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 2: Hand Protection

It is important that your hands are well protected. My favorites are insulated thick leather gloves. Although gloves are not as warm as mittens they offer more dexterity. Sorry vegans, but synthetic materials are rarely (if ever) as durable as old-fashioned cowhide. Leather gloves wear out first at the seams, these gloves one large piece of leather across the palm and are likely to last longer than a divided palm. Also the fabric below the cuff allows for the glove to be tucked into the sleeve of a jacket, conserving warmth.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 3: Cleaning

Brush off the snow and ice that has collected on the bottom of your sled before you start sledding. Removing buildup reduces friction.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 4: Running Start

Although frowned upon in some races the running start is undoubtedly the fastest way to start moving. Angle the sled across your body so that you can sprint. Once you are at full tilt straighten the sled out in front of you and gracefully belly flop onto it.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 5: Pump

Once you have landed, use your arms to pull you along and garner more speed. The motion is similar to breast stroke, and will make you look something like a turtle crawling across the beach.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 6: The Full Tuck

There is no faster sledding position than the full tuck; belly down in the sled, feet off the ground, arms tucked in the small of your back. Many people prefer to sit on their knees or bottom, but both positions are aerodynamically inferior. Although going head first may appear more dangerous, I find that I have excellent control.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 7: Turning

To turn drag your hand in the snow. In this image I am simply dragging my palm. A more aggressive turn can be made by putting all of your body weight on one fist. Note that my hands are to my sides and not in front of my face. This allows me to switch rapidly from the full tuck to turning. Additionally, if my hands were in front of my head they would shoot snow into my eyes and could get pulled under the sled.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 8: Brace for Impact.

When sledding over rough terrain, or going off jumps, brace for impact. I am arching my back so that my weight is on my hands and knees. This offers some protection to head, chest and waist. Additionally, I am gripping the sled with both hands to prevent it from slipping out from underneath me.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 9: Simple Stop

Simply turn off the trail into deeper snow.

Note: this stop is most useful at slow speeds in familiar terrain. It can also be combined with dragging both hands and feet to stop faster. This method can be very useful when avoiding traffic.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 10: The Hockey Stop

A very aggressive turn can be turned into a hockey stop. By immediately turning your body perpendicular to the slope you can stop rapidly. The hand that is not creating the turn can be used to hold the sled, this will keep the sled from coming out from underneath you, and may prevent flipping. The hockey stop takes some practice.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 11: The Flip Stop

Simply roll over on to your back.

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

Step 12: Night Sledding

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

1. Walk or dive up the trail before going down. Make sure there are no downed trees or hazards. Mentally chart the turns.

2. Block both the bottom and top of the run. Always watch for head lights, always give cars the right of way.

3. Do not use artificial illumination! Bright lights will dull your senses and keep you from seeing anything farther than a few feet in front of you. Let your eyes adjust to the light and if you have good vision, and eat lots of carrots you shouldn't have any problems. Snow does a good job of reflecting ambient light. (Artificial illumination was required to take the photographs.)

4. Because of perspective you should perceive the path narrowing in front of you. The snowy trail usually appears like a long pale triangle pointing down hill, aim for the middle of the triangle. Be aware of the trees which should appear to be a black stripe to either side of the trail, as well as the sky which will also form a long luminous triangle pointing downhill.
When the tip of the triangle curves out of sight, be prepared for a turn. If the triangle disappears or there seems to be a wall of trees in front of you, turn abruptly.

5. Feel the trail, use your hands to feel the depth of the snow. The snow will be shallowest in the center of the trail (or the ruts in the road), and deeper on the edges. As long as the snow is shallow you should be fine.

6. Listen to the sled. The sled will rattle less in the deep snow, and will make quite a bit of noise on hard pack and ice. If the sled suddenly goes silent you are probably veering off the trail and headed for disaster.

7. Feel your speed, the sled will move fastest in the ruts, and slowest on the trails edges. As long as you are accelerating you should be fine, worry if you start to decelerate rapidly.

8. Be prudent: It is better to loose the race and live to race another day. Although I do not personally know anyone who has died sledding, I know several people who have broken their arms and legs.

9. HAVE FUN!

SLEDDING IS DANGEROUS! EXERCISE CAUTION!

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    121 Discussions

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    jesse.hensel

    4 years ago on Step 1

    These sleds are available locally in Fairbanks, Alaska, at hardware and general stores. http://www.amazon.com/Paricon-Winter-Lightning-Sled-3-Pack/dp/B000XB7UA4

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    heetaw

    4 years ago on Step 1

    Where did you get this sled? I've been looking for another one for awhile, but I haven't been able to find one.

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    lmb1982

    6 years ago on Introduction

    checkk this guys out....


    http://youtu.be/n9BJkXnYngY


    home made sled

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    tobogganist

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Nice. You can check out http://tobogganhills.com/ for a map of local hills, and also add hills to the map for others to locate and enjoy as well. Many sleds will thank you! :)

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    then

    9 years ago on Introduction

    a fun thing to do is to use an old plastic kiddy pool (like the one shown), put a lot of freinds in it and then push it down the hill

    kp.jpg
    5 replies
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    andreblueled235

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    they have this nice winter park in quebec with a kiddie pool like design hill but safer and u spin round and round and round

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    homebowyerboy

    10 years ago on Step 6

    there is also no better way to have the wind knocked out of you if you go over a bump bigger than about 2 inches high at any considerable speed...

    3 replies
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    clayball97homebowyerboy

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 6

    not true i have a 2 foot ramp that i go over like that and not once got the wind knocked out of me

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    clax1227

    6 years ago on Introduction

    You should definitely use this method with the zipfy mini sled, i saw a video where someone achieved 80 mph after they sprayed packed snow with a fine mist so they got a layer of ice, hope this helps ~ Clax