Choose the Right Hill for Sledding

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Choose the Right Hill for Sledding
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Young girl sledding down a snowy hill.

I wrote an article recently about usable alternatives if you don't have a real sled. There are many things you can use for sledding down a snowy, winter hillside: cardboard, plastic lids, inflatables like tubes or air mattresses, etc. But, as one friend noted when he read my piece on substitute sleds, you have to be extra cautious about where you use sleds that you cannot guide.

When my kids and I went sledding using the plastic lids from our under-the-bed storage boxes, we had a great time. But we ended up riding down the hill backward almost as much as we went forward, and really we were just hostages to the whim of our makeshift sleds, riding them whichever direction they happened to go on any particular run. The slope of the hill, the pack of the snow, the weight of the rider and perhaps a bit of chance determined where we ended up at the end of our run.

A steerable sled may be a better option, allowing you to sled more safely in a variety of settings, but they can be expensive. And many of the sleds sold in stores are no more steerable than the sled substitutes you may already own. Regardless of the type of sled you choose, and especially if you are unable to steer, you need to be careful about where you sled.

Our family chose a wide hill, steep enough for a good run but not too tall, that ended in an open pasture. There was only one tree in the vicinity, and it was near the top of the hill. There were no large rocks. It was just about the perfect sledding hill.

You may already know a place like this, perhaps in a park or in someone's field. If not, here are some things to avoid when choosing a sledding hill.

Avoid highways

Don't ever sled near highways. The steep embankments near overpasses may seem like the perfect open place to sled, but you can sail much farther than you might think when the snow pack is just right. The last thing you want to do is go sledding uncontrollably out in front of traffic at the bottom of the hill. Besides, if the hills are right for sledding, the road at the top of the embankment could be very slippery, and you never know how passing cars will handle those conditions.

Avoid roads unless blocked by the city

One of the most popular places to sled in my hometown, at least when I was growing up, was a steep hill in a residential area that was blocked off when it snowed. Because it was blocked, there was no danger of sledding into traffic. There was, however, some danger of hitting the bridge or sledding off into the creek at the bottom of the hill, which brings me to the next point.

Avoid dangers at the bottom of the hill

Even if your hill is totally clear of trees, rocks or other things you could hit, you still need to be careful to avoid obstacles at the bottom, even 20 yards or more beyond where the slope levels out. Things to watch out for could include objects that stick up from the ground, like shrubbery or playground equipment, or sudden drops into creeks or ditches. Remember, every run is different, and sleds may go unexpected distances, so err on the side of safety.

More by Tavia:

Usable Alternatives If You Don't Have a Sled

Give Ice Skating a Try at Temporary Outdoor Rinks

Safety Gear is Not Just for Children

Tavia worked as a naturalist and recreation specialist at an Oklahoma lake during her college years. She enjoys using what she learned as an outdoor educator in her work with children today.

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