Here in the Midwest we are smack in the middle of the gray days of winter. These are the days when a single snowflake drifting toward the ground inspires a child's mind to dreams of speeding down the nearest hill with wanton disregard for personal safety. Fantasies of ruby cheeked glee while narrowly missing a wide array of obstacles spring to mind with every ominous weather report. Sledding is quite possibly the greatest thing that Old Man Winter has to offer. At least that's how I remember it.
I remember two distinct sledding hills from when I was growing up. There were others, but these were the best.
The first one I remember was the front yard of the house next door to mine. I lived in that house for seven years and in that time there were two owners. Both of them were very nice about letting the neighborhood kids use their awesome hill. On the left side of the hill there was a row of huge juniper bushes that, when covered with snow, made deep and mysterious forts where we plotted various campaigns and stored the necessary ammo to pull off the most daring of maneuvers. On the right stood the house itself. At the bottom of the hill stood a line of enormous Poplar trees, ready to receive the unworthy sledder in their painfully unforgiving embrace. There was a three-foot opening between the trees, which would afford us another few seconds to eject before colliding with a fence that ran the length of the hill. All in all there was perhaps forty feet of sledding glory to be obtained with each run. Long before snowboarding became popular I remember standing upright on my toboggan and braving the slopes. I hear that today the pros strap themselves to their boards. Bunch of sissies, the lot of them.
The next was in the same neighborhood, about a half mile away from my house. This was where the neighborhood kids would congregate to risk our collective skins for a few moments of pure adrenaline. It was an empty lot between two houses, behind which was an open common area. The hill was wide and steep and free of perilous obstacles, which meant we had to make our own. A few logs stolen from some poor sap's woodpile can be covered in hard-packed snow and makes for an excellent ramp. With superb aim, an expert could catch a foot or two of air, but it felt like yards when you hit it and miles when you reacquainted yourself with the hard, hard ground. There number of children using the slope could always be figured by adding a dozen or so to the maximum number of kids the hill could safely accommodate, so if we were unable to build our obstacles, we could always be them.
I hope that someday my children will have as much fun sledding as I did when I was growing up. My daughter is already beginning to show interest in the activity, but right now she lacks a certain disregard for her own safety. We have a gentle slope in our backyard that she practices on from time to time, and she seems to enjoy it and is starting to seek greater thrills while on the slopes. Despite his young age, my son already appears to have a taste for adventure. So I imagine in a few years I will be trying to pull him back from the brink of self-injury rather than egg him on as I do with my daughter. Either way, my days of downhill glory may be behind me, but I can still pass on some tips and tricks to my little ones.
Just don't tell their mother.