It snowed a few days ago, just enough to enable kids to go sledding. So, naturally, granddaughters Dylan and Carson bundled up, and we headed out. Tryouts were on a five-foot hill on our side yard, but soon I towed then down the street to a neighbor’s yard, with a much better hill. Trudging down Bridle Path Lane got me thinking about the joy of the slope.
My earliest memories of sledding were on the big hill at the Edina Country Club, about three blocks from our house. Minnesota winters were reliable in the 1950s, so there was never a shortage of snow from about the first week in December through the end of February or perhaps even to mid-March.
Getting to the hill required crossing some busy streets, so it was too far to go on our own when we were really young. Because our father was a traveling salesman, gone Monday to Friday most weeks of the year, sledding was a weekend affair. So on Saturdays or Sundays (or if we were lucky both), dad, brother Jim, and I would drag the toboggan, Jim’s Flexible Flyer sled, and my Silver Streak sled down 50th St. toward the big hill. My dad wanted to instill a certain bravery, and never believed in coddling, so we would take the toboggan down all together, at what seemed like breakneck speeds.
By the time we were nine or 10, we could go to the hill by ourselves, but about that time I also started playing fair bit of hockey, at the rink at the end of Arden Avenue, a few blocks from home. And a few years later, we took up a different version of down-the-hill, when we began to ski.
Not long after skiing began, we returned to the sled, discovering an even more thrilling — and certainly more dangerous — form, when we would rope Ward Brehm’s toboggan to the back of his mother’s Dodge station wagon. It was the year before Ward got his drivers license, but no matter! There were some thrilling sorties on that motor-driven toboggan. The one I most vividly remember was when we reached a high speed of 46 miles an hour (velocity later reported by Ward) on Woodcrest Drive. It was a typical suburban street, meaning that it was not straight, and as the toboggan arced further away from a straight line behind the car (not unlike the waterskier pulled outward and over the boat wake), Ward’s younger brother Stephen, who was captaining the sled, barked “Bailout, bailout.” We rolled off the toboggan, along the icy street like human hockey pucks. And just in time: two seconds later the toboggan rammed a fire hydrant, and was instantly reduced to splinters. Almost 50 years later, I can remember that episode like it was yesterday.
A couple of years after that, the 1968 Winter Olympics inspired us to build a crude version of a luge run, not coincidentally on a 40-foot hill above the Arden hockey rink mentioned above — “not coincidentally” because Ward (are you seeing a pattern here?) had a fire-hydrant wrench and access to the hoses used to flood the rinks. The run became instantly popular, and was the site of countless injuries over its two- or three-week life, including the last concussion sustained by your scribe.
Between then and now, there really hasn’t been much sledding. Going down a hill on snow meant skiing. I do clearly remember, about 20 years ago, a fun afternoon spent on inner tubes, sailing downhill with friend Mark Miller in Egan Minnesota. Tubing on snow is a wonderful experience, because the ride is so smooth. So we fast forward to two days of sledding with Carson and Dylan, who likes it way more than her younger sister. And the like is so elemental: the joy of gravity.
We’re hoping for more snow this winter!