Sledding — rocketing down a hill as steep as a wall with the wind in your face and your heart in your mouth — is the quintessential winter activity. Whether you prefer a padded toboggan, a high-tech four-runner sled, a plastic flying saucer, a rubber inner tube or even a large piece of cardboard, all you need is a hill and something to slide down on.
Sledding goes way back — all the way back to Roman soldiers who used their shields to slide down hillsides in battle — perhaps the ancient precursor of the flying saucer sleds that became a hit when newspaper headlines were filled with stories of presumed alien visitors. History does not record who was the first adventurer to take a sled made for hauling wood for a run down a local hill, but by the 1840s sleds weren’t just for work, they were for fun.
Lyndeborough Road Agent and antique enthusiast Kent Perry says up until the 1950s, unlike now when roads are plowed almost as soon as the first snowflake hits the ground, it might take up to three or four days to plow. In the interim, he says, “giant, horse-drawn, wooden snow rollers would pack down the snow so they could be used by horse-drawn sleighs, toboggans or whatever sled someone would have at their house. It was an important means of transportation as well as recreation.”
In fact, an antique snow roller is on display in front of the state office buildings in Concord on Hazen Drive or visitors to the Lakes Region can stop at the Quimby Barn Transportation Museum in Sandwich to see another example of this obsolete technology that was once so important during long New Hampshire winters.
As a kid growing up in town, Perry says he would sled on a big hill in his own back yard but that many towns maintained sled runs for the community. “Around here there was a great town-maintained hill on Route 101 on the way to Nashua, and at Carnival Hill in Wilton they built this great wooden toboggan and sled run that would launch your sled like a rocket. But that closed after World War II.”
Alas, says Perry, the high cost of insurance and fear of liability has closed down a lot of municipal sledding areas, but that doesn’t mean the thrill of slipping down a giant, snowy hill on anything from a piece of plastic to a high-tech sled has gone the way of the horse-drawn snow plow.
Here in New Hampshire, we’re all about the cool slide. Here’s how to get started.
Finding a Hill
Gone are the days when you could go sledding nearly anywhere a slippery slope would beckon. Development, liability issues and privacy concerns have seen to that. Today, prime sled runs, like swimming holes, are prized by locals and often kept secret from outsiders. Some are open to the public, others not so much. Here’s some we’ve located. Use at your own risk, and don’t tell anybody how you found them.
Wagon Hill — This 12-acre town park looms about 400 feet over Rte. 4 in Durham. It’s a large hill with an iconic wagon on its summit. Great place for picnicking and après sled. Plenty of parking too.
Garrison Hill — Looms almost 300 feet above off Abbey Sawyer Memorial Drive in Dover. The hill is steep and fast, with a smaller trail good for the little ones. There is a 76-foot-tall observation tower at the top of the hill that provides an overview from the coast to the White Mountains.
Bragdon Farm — A big run with steep and not-so-steep sections at former ski area on Rte. 101 in Amherst. Parking is on the other side of the highway and you have to pass through a short tunnel under the road to get there. It’s right beside LaBelle Winery, where you can get warm and grab a gourmet lunch or dinner at the bistro.
Stratham Hill Park — Good family run at park on Rte. 33, home of the Stratham Fair.
Jady Hill — Another family favorite is on the grounds of the Exeter Country Club on Jady Hill Avenue.
Robin Hood Park — This 300-to-400-foot run is pitched at a 25-degree angle in a municipal park off Reservoir Street in Keene. Sledding not enough winter sport for you? Robin Hood also has a skating rink.
Derryfield Country Club — The rolling golf course off Mammoth Road in Manchester is often filled with neighborhood kids as well as fun-loving adults. You might want to carb up before the slide at Derryfield Restaurant on site. Their Derryfield Breakfast is only $6.45.
Roby Park — When the softball fields are frozen in the park off Spit Brook Road in Nashua, locals take to the slope in the city’s south end.
Alexander Carr Park — With a concession stand as well as indoor TV and table, this municipal park next to Parkland Medical Center in Derry is practically a destination resort. Sleds with metal runners and toboggans are not allowed.
Benedictine Park — A 30-acre recreational area park off Rte. 101 in Bedford.
Mack’s Apples — Another beauty on Mammoth Road in Londonderry. The farm is known for its apples and pumpkins. Presidential candidate Barack Obama also gave a speech there. But in the winter, locals know the spot is great for sledding. You can pick up some cider and some apples, of course, at the farm stand that is open year-round.
Enfield Shaker Village Hill — Members of the crafty religious group probably once took advantage of the 300-foot-wide, 1,800-foot run that is about 300 feet above Mascoma Lake on Rte. 4A.
Miller State Park — The auto road up 2,290-foot Pack Monadnock mountain attracts daredevils in the off season when the park is closed. You can check out the action on YouTube. youtube.com/watch?v=nefEx2WYKGA
Morningside Hang Glider Park — The hill in Charlestown where hang gliders loft up toward the sun is also a popular sledding site.
Tilton School Hill — The hill at the prep school at the corner of Prospect and Academy streets is popular with townies as well as students.
Laconia Sledding Hill — The city provides lighting at the steep slope at the end of South Street so you can sled up until 9 p.m.
Remich Park — The 15-acre park in Littleton also has a skating rink.
The Kanc Recreation Center — Not far from the Kancamagus Highway, the town of Lincoln oversees a great run. It’s behind the Common Man restaurant near the entrance to the Forest Ridge development. Après-ski hungry? Turn around and head to the Common Man for warm white chocolate bread pudding and a cup of white ginger pear tea.
Hawthorne Town Forest — You can get to this spot in Hopkinton by taking Briar Hill Road to Rollins Road and Hawthorne Town Forest will be located on the right. Plenty of parking is available.
White Park — From ice skating to sledding to groomed trails, you can find tons of winter fun at White Park located on White Street in Concord. Make sure you come back in the warmer months too for athletic fields, playground area, outdoor pool and a roller skating rink.
Selecting a Sled
Wooden sleds with elongated runners in back and a seat in front that allow a standing driver to push a passenger. They are great for transporting children and can even be pushed uphill.
American/Yankee clippers and cutters
Both were first made in Maine in the mid-19th century using a horse-drawn sled as a model. They both have metal runners and a wooden deck. The clipper is built low to the ground with upturned runners at the front and meant to be ridden on the stomach. The cutter is similar, but taller and is designed for sitting down. Rosebud, arguably the most famous sled of all, belongs in this category. But alas, it wasn’t the real thing. The wooden prop that figured prominently in the classic film, “Citizen Kane” was actually a balsa wood copy. Nonetheless, Stephen Spielberg bought it for $60,000.
Toboggans have been around since Native Americans used flat-bottomed boards for transport. They can carry quite a load; some are built for as many as four riders. But they’re notoriously difficult to steer.
Bill Herrick of Wilmot wasn’t happy with that so he created the “Sleboggan.”
It’s an invention inspired by necessity. “My grandson was visiting in 2009 and I wanted to take him tobogganing,” he says. “I made a test run and I was surprised how little control you have over the sled.”
Inspired to take action, he went into his workshop where he found an old surfboard and got down to business. He cut off the front third and fashioned three steel runners from construction strapping and attached them to the bottom of the surfboard and two handles from sheetrock trowels to the top.
It works like this: You lay down on your sled while holding the Sleboggan out in front of you, which allows you steering control. Herrick has since perfected the design and still makes them in his shop. Check it out here. (Thanks to Bill Herrick for this correction – a pervious version of the story stated you attach the Sleboggan directly to the sled).
A colorful disc sled shaped like a dinner plate. They seemed to have arrived on the scene in the late 1950s when UFO sightings were regularly publicized. They’re difficult to steer, but some love to spin them around for a dizzying descent. They’re great on small slopes, but tough to control on steep hills. Lest we forget the iconic scene in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” with Clark Griswald’s experimental wax catapulting his saucer sled into film history as well as a Wal-Mart parking lot.
High-tech, high-performance sleds with forerunners made with daredevil hill “shredders” in mind.
The prototypical metal runner sled has a wooden deck and a crossbar at the front that allows you to steer with your hands or your feet depending on whether you’re on your stomach or sitting. Six Flyers were used in Admiral Richard E. Byrd’s expedition to the North Pole in 1928.
Nothing beats an air-cushioned ride down a manicured trail at a ski area. But they’re difficult to control on an unmanicured slope. Modern models made specifically for the sport have handles and other amenities. Some people have been reported using a giant truck tire tube that doubled as a river craft on the Pemigewasset in the summer.
Cardboard or a piece of plastic
They may be primitive, but they’re sure cheap and effective and used by almost every child at one time or another.
Nowadays antique sleds are coveted by decorators more than outdoor sport enthusiasts. A Victorian sled can fetch anywhere from $200 to $2,000, depending on condition, according to Lyndeborough Road Agent Kent Perry, who also collects and sells antiques.
Recently, Perry bought five antique sleds from a barn sale, including an early wooden toboggan and several children’s sleds dating back to the mid to late 1800s when wealthier families could afford to push or pull their children who were perched on velvet-covered seats.
“They all sold right away,” says Perry. “There’s a big market because they’re so rare. But I love these sleds and kept one — a child’s pull sled from the 1850s that is now in my house, filled with Teddy bears. The others were bought by decorators and two from antique dealers who was going to hang them from a ceiling as display.”
Perhaps the hottest trend in the coldest months is this buoyant, bagel-shaped mode of recreational transportation.
“Our winters are long and dark, and the beauty of tubing is that it lifts your spirits,” says Fred Baybutt, co-owner of Granite Gorge Ski Area on the Keene/Roxbury line.
Baybutt explains that Granite Gorge has a long run-out that allows tubers to decelerate gradually at the bottom of the hill: “The run-out is key. It means unlike other parks we allow tubers to link together in groups. Because of the physics involved, groups go downhill faster. Our attendants help groups link together and spin them when they start. We call them our ‘spin doctors.’”
The Gorge also has tandem tubes and a Wonder Carpet Lift, a moving sidewalk-like conveyance. It also offers night tubing — “when the runs are colder and faster,” says Baybutt.
The Thrill Hill Tubing Park at Gunstock Mountain resort in Gilford has four chutes serviced by a handle-tow lift.
Great Glen Trail in Pinkham Notch has a groomed tubing hill, but you have to walk up the slope.
McIntyre Ski Area in Manchester offers eight lanes and a 600-foot run.
- The rules are obvious but bear repeating
- Keep an eye out for sledders coming toward you. You never know if they’re paying attention.
- Stay off to the side as much as possible when climbing a hill so you stay out of the line of travel.
- Don’t walk across the sledding trail. Footprints create bumps for your fellow sledders.
- Avoid all obstacles when running downhill, including other sledders, even if it means rolling off your sled and sending it into the brush.
The Syntax of the Slide
A little less ubiquitous than the which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg question, there are those who wonder is it called “sledding” or “sliding.” There’s definitely a regional preference. In places like Minnesota and many parts of New Hampshire, many refer to this winter fun as “sliding,” but in other places, like Pennsylvania, it’s definitely “sledding.”
In terms of the official etymology, the word sled comes from the Middle English, sledde, which itself has the origins in the old Dutch word, slee, meaning, you guessed it, “sliding.” Still confused? Who cares? As they old saying goes, “Listen children, take my advice. Sit on the ground, and slide on the ice.”
- South-facing hillsides are soft in the daytime, icy at night. Slopes facing north hold snow the longest but they’re the hardest to pack down. A little fresh snow over a hard-packed surface is probably the best.
- Daredevils are looking for a steep hill; kids maybe not so much. Make sure there’s a run out at the bottom of the hill so a sled can decelerate on its own.
- Public sledding hills are often bumpy from overuse.