OGDEN — Last winter, there wasn’t much snow to speak of along the Wasatch Front all winter long.
So far, this winter is obviously a different story after a large post-Christmas storm blanketed the hills and valleys, and local kids have been taking full advantage.
For eight-year-old Jace Larsen, the timing of the storm was perfect for him to try out the new sled he found under the tree on Christmas morning.
“Last year, we had to drive up to the mountains to find enough snow,” said Larsen, who was trying out his new toy at Romrell Park in Ogden last week. “Now we don’t have to go so far.”
He is just one of many enjoying the time-honored tradition of sledding, a pastime that grew out of the more practical applications of using sleds or sleighs for winter work and transportation needs. In addition to being a highly affordable form of entertainment, sledding also can act as a gateway to involvement in other winter sports, such as snowboarding.
For many children, sledding provides their first experience playing in the snow, and leads to a lifetime of outdoor winter activity.
Becky Morrison has been skiing for more than 20 years. She isn’t planning on introducing her two-year-old son to the sport for another year or two, but is getting him used to the feeling of speeding down a snow-covered mountain by taking him sledding whenever possible.
“I think it will help with some of that initial anxiety when he gets off that ski lift for the first time,” Morrison said.
Chris Martinez, of Ogden, said sledding is a fun and relatively inexpensive way to get his two young daughters outdoors and active. He’s been in and out of work over the past couple of years, and said keeping his kids entertained on a shoestring budget has been a challenge that sledding has helped him meet.
“It gets them out and away from the TV, and they love it,” Martinez said. “It’s good for me, too, because I don’t have to spend a lot of money on equipment.”
Sledding equipment comes in a variety of forms and sizes. Older folks will remember the flexible flyer, comprised of wooden slats on top of metal runners with a steering mechanism in the front.
Today, the vehicle of preference is generally made of plastic in various shapes. Inflatable tubes are also a popular choice, and offer more padding for rougher rides.
The Ogden area is full of prime sledding hills for snow lovers of all ages. Romrell Park offers a good starter hill for smaller children, and Mount Ogden Golf Course offers some longer and steeper options.
Another popular sledding area is along Trapper’s Loop road between Huntsville and Snowbasin. On just about any given weekend or holiday, cars can be seen parked along the side of the road and families sliding down open hillsides at several stops along the way. However, this option can be hazardous because of its close proximity to a busy road with fast-moving traffic, and is not recommended for beginners.
For those who are willing and able to spend more money, and don’t want to trudge up the hill after every ride, many ski areas offer lift-served tubing parks. For guests who don’t know how or don’t want to ski, Snowbasin has a four-lane tubing hill served by a handle-tow lift. It’s also less expensive than skiing, with a full-day ticket going for $30.
Sledding isn’t generally seen as an extreme sport, although some take it to that level in the mountainous backcountry. The terrain for backcountry sledding includes gladed powder-filled steeps, open mountain bowls, cliff-filled ridges, and basically anywhere that one finds powder, steeps, rocks and trees. Backcountry sleds, with binding systems and padding, may also be used for freestyle moves such as spins and flips off jumps and rail slides.
The origins of sledding as entertainment can be traced to late 19th-century Europe, when tourists to winter destinations began experimenting with delivery sleds on streets. This is also considered the root of the Olympic sports of bobsledding, luge and skeleton.
Some modern models are blurring the line between sledding and snowboarding, as they are designed for the rider to sled in a standing position. Ten-year-old Braden Bailey got a stand-up sled last year, and has been practicing with it while he works odd jobs for his parents and neighbors to save up for a snowboard.
“I really want a snowboard, but the good ones are expensive,” he said. “I think (stand-up sledding) will make it easier to learn when I finally have enough money.”