Winter has arrived and Muskoka is decked out for a great season of snow-sliding and tobogganing. There are some amazing new sled designs on the market now, that go far beyond the old-fashioned toboggans and inner tubes of our youth.
Serious sliders know that choosing the right sled is an impossible task: the conditions vary as much as the riders, and the perfect sled depends entirely on the people and the day. You really want to have a few different designs so that all the options are covered. To get you started, here’s a roundup of some of the best types.
Those first few runs of the season can be a blast, but they can also be a tad slow until you’ve got the run packed down. This is where the old-fashioned wooden toboggan really comes into its own. The longer the sled, the better – it distributes the weight over a larger surface area, so that you can get a decent speed up on even the first run.
The old sleds also do double-duty as excellent freight haulers – that’s what they were designed for, after all – so once the fun is over, you can use your sled to haul in a pile of firewood, or pull your picnic supplies when you go snowshoeing out into the bush for a fun winter campfire.
Yes, these throwbacks to the ‘60s are still as popular as ever, and why not? Sure, they’re impossible to steer, and they offer no cushioning for your rear end, but the thrill of spinning and sliding at the same time is irresistible.
The better quality ones are virtually indestructible and lightweight to carry back up the hill. Save these until the run is packed down a bit, though, as they’re not especially effective in powder.
All the uncontrollable spins of a flying saucer, but with a bit of bounce to cushion the ride, these are also the only sliders to have a summer function as well. In fact, the tube that you tow behind your boat in summer may just work on the hill in winter.
The better quality tubes are wrapped in a fabric skin, like the summer tubes, but the best winter ones have a slick polyeurethane bottom that really lets you fly down the hills.
These are probably the best choice for really young children, who can sit inside the tube and be cushioned in case of collision with trees or other riders. The little ones will need help bringing a tube back up the hill, though, as they can be awkward to carry.
Sleds with runners
These are really divided into two broad classes: the classic wooden sled like Rosebud, and their modern daredevil equivalents made from aluminum, polyurethane, polycarbonate and even carbon fibre.
The wooden sleds can look amazing, and they still work beautifully once the run has been packed down. There are some small manufacturers that take these sleds seriously, turning out pieces of art that just happen to work extremely well as snow toys. They’re highly steerable, giving you fantastic control of your ride. The only downside is that all that wood and metal can be a heavy pull back up the hill.
Enter the modern equivalent, designed for maximum speed and minimum weight. These are about as high tech as you can get this side of an Olympic luge sled – one New Zealand firm even made a nine pound sled crafted entirely of carbon fibre that retailed for around $3,000. (The firm seems to have gone out of business, so perhaps the market for super-high-end sleds isn’t quite as robust as they hoped.)
Some of these sleds require a bit of practice, but once you know how to control them they are really a back-country alternative to skis or snowboards, reaching speeds of 60 kph or more on a decent slope. Helmets are definitely a must for this kind of sled!
Think of these as a straightened-out flying saucer, offering all the speed of plastic-on-snow with the added advantage of steerability. The garden variety models are cheap, light and fun, although they’re not renowned for their durability.
For more serious sliding, check out the Mad River Rocket, which takes this same design and adds knee straps that let you turn your entire body into a steering mechanism.
Whatever you choose to use, be aware of other riders and obstacles. And remember that the ride gets faster and goes further as the day goes on and the run gets packed down – you don’t want to find yourself shooting out onto a not-fully-frozen lake or into a tree.