Sledding is probably the most popular family winter activity. It requires no great skills or expensive equipment,yet it’s invigorating and gets all ages outdoors to enjoy nature and healthy, physical activity.
Once upon a time sleds—now used for slip-sliding away—were vital tools for Native American survival. Starting with the indigenous residents of North America, mainly aboriginal tribes in Canada, the snow sled was used to transport heavy loads over long distances in areas covered by snow for many months.
However, the snow sled as we know it started as the toboggan, a snow sled made from two or three thin hardwood boards curved around at the front end using heat, steam, or hot water. With the addition of wooden crossbars holding the boards together, the sled was left for two days to dry. Once dried, a rope was attached to the toboggan front to be pulled by a dog team or even humans. Variations of the toboggan were created over time for different uses, such as a “cariole” for carrying fur traders—developed in and around the beginning of the 17th century. This design featured enclosed sides, a back, and a partly covered top.
“Snow sled” was a commonly used synonym for any sliding device that provided snow transportation, however the term was actually different from the wood toboggan. Snow sleds had long narrow runners to decrease surface friction to enable larger loads to be carried. One sled with this characteristic was called a “komatik”—ladder-shaped with boards set as runners on the edges.
In the late 19th century, sled designs improved, starting with the Swiss bobsled. This led to our modern sled, used primarily for fun and recreation.
Many official sledding areas no longer allow metal runner-type sleds for safety reasons. But don’t throw them out! They’re great for porch and yard Yuletide décor, fancied up with all kinds of accoutrements.
There are five basic materials used in sled construction: vinyl, plastic, foam, metal, and wood. One thing to keep in mind is to choose a sled that is not only safe, age-appropriate, and easily transported, but also provides easy hauling on the climb back up the hill.
The most popular snow sleds are the fast and furious saucer sleds of lightweight plastic or foam. However, saucer sledding is wild and uncontrollable and best left for daredevils and older children, not for children needing hands-on guidance. Toddler or baby sleds are designed with safety belts and ropes that keep the little tikes buckled up while you pull the sled around.
Inflatable toboggans have also become the rage— they’re affordable, safe, and provide easy storage and transport. But remember they are best used on smooth hills sans rocks or objects that could cause a blow-out.
There are also plastic snow-mats—but remember there’s not much control and be aware you’re headed for a very butt-bumping ride with these. And of course, there’s always “old reliable,” the inner tubes—from car size to giant multiple-rider truck sizes. If you like to spin as you slide, this may be an inexpensive alternative for you.
By, Rochelle Riservato
Local Public Sledding Places In The Hudson Valley
Burger Hill in Rhinebeck
A spectacular sledding spot in the Scenic Hudson park system. Sled atop a 550-foot hill that rises up to boast a panoramic vista of the Hudson River Valley, Open 9am from fall to winter. From intersection of Route 9 and Route 9G, take Route 9G south for 2.5 miles. Parking area on right. 845-473-4440.
Clarence Fahnestock State Park
Fahnestock Winter Park includes an area for sledding within the 14,086-acre park. Open December 1 to March 18 (weather permitting); Weekdays 10am to 4pm and weekends 9am to 4:30pm. Bring your own snow tubes, toboggans, and sleds, or rentals available. No sleds with metal runners. 1498 Route 301, Carmel. 845-225-7207. ColdSpringonHudson.com.
Hudson Valley Resort & Spa
This fun hill is set amongst the rolling hills of the resort’s snowy golf course. A snow-making machine ensures more fun, more often, and a T-bar lift whisks riders right up to the top after each run. $6 per session. Sessions on Saturdays and Sundays 10am-12pm & 2-4pm.
Pine Grove Ranch
Get a day pass at the ranch to enjoy tubing, ice skating, skiing and all the rest of the amenities offered to overnight guests. 30 Cherrytown Rd. Kerhonkson. 845-626-7345, pinegroveranch.com
Rocking Horse Ranch Resort
Bring your own sleds or snow tubes, but snow tubes are available for rent. Handicapped accessible. 600 Route 44/55, Highland. 800-647-2624; 845-691-2927. rockinghorseranch.com/
Sawkill Family Ski Center
Featuring a special snow-tubing run, however one must rent tubes and cannot bring personal tubes. Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from 10am to 4pm from December to March.167 Hill Road, Kingston. 845-336-6977. Sawkillski.com
Staatsburgh State Historic Site:
This 192-acre estate offers a snow-covered, sweeping, descending hill as its back lawn provides wintertime sledding and tobogganing. The grounds of Mills Mansion are open daily until dusk from Jan-March. Old Post Road, Staatsburgh. 845-889-8851. staatsburgh.org