Sleigh Riding or sledding is a common activity in wintry areas, similar to sliding, but in a prone or seated position requiring a device or vehicle generically known as a "sled". More formally it is one of three olympic sportsÃ³ the Luge, Skeleton, or bobsledding, all of which are based on sled principles and developed in the same time (1870s) and place (St. Moritz) by much the same circle of people, mainly English tourists with an interested assist from the worthy craftsmen of that Swiss village.
The generic term sledding refers to traveling down any sort of decline, typically in cold weather, on a slippery surface such as ice or snow. Flat, plastic discs can be used, or wooden flats with metal runners. The activity has been known to exist as a fringe recreational activity far into the distant murky past in toboggan type sleds which seasonally supplant the ubiquitous cart, wheelbarrow, and small hand pulled wagon for winter work needs in the agrarian societies of the day, or winter yard work even today. A sled, sleigh, or sledge, as a work vehicle, is far more efficient and easier to motivate in ice and snow covered terrain than wheeled vehicles, including even the simple wheelbarrow. Wheels simply pile up snow in front of themselves in the direction of travel and create a great deal of rolling friction which must be over come to move a load of firewood or fodder for the cattle.
Modern competetive sledding
Modern sledding began in St Moritz during the early 1870s when British visitors with more time than activities began to experiment and play around with boys delivery sleds (much like the first picture) for recreation at the dawn of winter resorting in winter climes. Soon they were brainstorming on how to steer the old fashioned flat bottomed toboggan's typical of the time and added runners whilst terrorizing the pedestrians as they used the narrow lanes and streets of the picturesque town as a run and subsequently took to racing. Soon the Bobsled, Luge, and Skeleton were developed in succession. By mid-decade, Kulm hotel owner Caspar Badrutt had the first run or course purpose built for the fledgling sports and alpine events began amongst the priviledged leisure set.
News coverage of the rich and famous inspired the invention of the flexible flyer covered hereafter, which along with toboggan's were the prosaic substitute to the nascent competitive sports aborning among the beautiful people of wealth and leisure. Unlike purpose built courses, such sleds were available to the common man and useable on any suitably snow covered nearby slope.
The first ride down a hill on a sled is the most important, but most difficult, as it determines the path of the sled for further runs down the hill. It is essential to steer the sled along the most exciting course, perhaps adding twists and turns (maybe straight into a tree) to make the run down the hill more exciting, or faster. Other techniques to improve the ride include turning around, lying on the stomach, or closing both eyes. Running up to a sled and jumping onto it can create additional momentum and improve ride speed. This technique can be referred to as "Flopping."
There are 4 types of sleds commonly used today: disks, toboggans, tubes, and runner sleds. Each type has advantages and disadvantages if one is trying to get the most out of a given slope.
With each course down the hill, the sled's path through the snow can become more icy. Sleds with a greater surface area (disks, toboggans and tubes) are able to make the first runs a great deal easier than the variety of sleds with metal runners. Runner sleds are typically faster once the snow has compacted or turned icy. In the 1880's, Samuel Leeds Allen invented the first steerable runner sled, the Flexible Flyer. Since that date, the ability to steer the sled away from obstacles has proven this type of sled to be more appropriate for the safety conscious. In addition, runner sleds force the weight of the rider onto two thin runners where the pressure causes a microscopic film of snow or ice to melt as the sled passes over it. This invisible layer of fluid reduces friction, causing the sled's speed to greatly exceed that of its flat bottomed relatives. Some people who sled sometimes use ramps or jumps to increase the danger or fun factor of sledding. In some cases, the ramp or jump may send the participant over objects such as fences, boxes, plants, benches.
Backcountry Sledding In contrast to the more common forms of sledding, backcountry sledding involves four important elements in combination: a great amount of directional control, flotation, a binding system and padding. First, backcountry sleds are made of strong plastic material, with the snow-side surface possessing various grooves and chines for directional control. Second, the plastic contruction, with a large amount of snow-side surface area keeps the sled afloat in deeper snow conditions (the same principle behind wider powder skis or snowboards). Though the original runner sleds possessed directional control, their thin runner blades bogged down in anything but icy or thin snow conditions. Disk sleds, on the other hand, possessed floation but no directional control. Third, modern backcountry sleds have a binding system, which usually consists of a simple belt strap that attaches to the sides of the sled. With the sledder in the kneeling position, the strap may go over the sledder's thighs or calves before connecting with the strap from the other side of the sled with some sort of buckling device. Finally, backcountry sleds have foam pads glued for the sledder go kneel for shock absorption.
Backcountry sledding is a closer kin to backcountry alpine skiing or snowboarding than to traditional "pile the family in the van and go to the local hill" type of sledding. The terrain for backcountry sledding includes gladed powder-filled steeps, open mountain bowls, cliff-filled ridges, and basically anywhere that one finds the powder, steeps, rocks and trees. Backcountry sleds, with the binding system and padding, may also be used for freestyle moves such as spins and flips off of jumps and rail slides. Though similarities exist between backcountry sledding and alpine skiing/snowboarding, important differences separate the disciplines. From a technical perspective, the lack of a metal edge and the lower center of gravity make it more difficult to directionally-control a backcountry sled on icy or packed snow surfaces. From an access perspective, alpine resorts do not allow sledding on the actual mountain, except for the occasional small tubing hill. And in essence, backcountry sledding is a more underground, do-it-yourself activity that will not cost you an arm and a leg to get into.k
External LinksSled Riding Locations Across North America North America's largest database of sled riding hills.
The New Sledding Tool and its community Airboard unique website
Places to sled www.sledhills.net Places to sled including winter resorts, mountain roads, trails and golf courses.