Winter has always been my favourite season. I love everything about it, from the absence of mosquitoes, to the frigid temperatures, to the activities that only winter facilitates. Winter activities are the best, far better than anything spring, summer, or autumn has to offer. Who in their right mind would prefer to go swimming over things like making snowmen and snow forts and snow angels, having snowball fights and snowmobiling, skiing and skating, and of course, sliding?
Sliding (or tobogganing for those more sophisticated) is the single greatest winter activity known to my pre-teenage mind. The adrenaline rush of flying down a hill at a million miles per hour is just the thing for a thrill-seeker like me.
Choose your Weapon
Sitting at the top of the hill, I see other patrons both going down and trudging up the slope. They have different sliding apparatuses. Some have “flying saucers”, circular sheets of plastic that dance over the packed white surface with impressive speed. There are two primary methods of attack when using the flying saucer (aside from the obvious method of just sliding straight down the hill).
I see someone getting a running start with his saucer. He runs across the flat summit of the hill and when he reaches the slope, he dives into the air. For a moment, time seems to slow to a crawl, and he remains suspended in the air as the sun glistens on the snow beneath him. Then he hits the slope and begin gathering speed. The next step in achieving an excellent run is crucial. The rider carefully extends his right arm straight ahead, and stretches his left arm out to the side. Then, in perfect synchronization, two palms touch down to the snow, and with a powerful thrust, the left arm is pushed to the front and the right arm pushes to the right. I watch from my vantage point as the plastic disc careens down the hill, spinning at a good 60 rpm at least.
The second method for using a flying saucer requires two riders, two saucers, and usually someone to push. The two riders sit on their discs and extend their feet past the edge of the saucer, locking them with the feet of the other rider. Then, they are pushed forward and when they reach the slope, one rider is given an extra shove. I watch as this dumbbell shaped design spins down the hill.
Now there is a group of kids with an inner tube, probably the most unorthodox and entertaining mode of sliding. There is no real strategy or mastery to this style of riding. One or two riders give the tube a running start and jump on at the last second. Everyone else jumps on as it travels down the hill.
There are a total of seven riders as I watch them get the tube ready. Five of them line up at the lip of the hill, while the other two start running. As the tube slides by, the five jump for the tube; two of them don’t make it. They are left halfway down the hill as the pile heads down the hill, heads toward the mound of snow at the bottom, the ‘jump’. This is truly the best part. Rubber compresses as it hits the packed pile of snow, and when it decompresses, all there is to see are ten legs and ten arms flying through the air. I applaud the wonderful show and prepare to take my turn on the hill.
My weapon of choice is arguably the most advanced machine on the hill, the GT Snowracer®. Two long, black skis, attached to a flat, black seat, with a steering wheel and ski for extra manoeuverability. There is also a braking system attached, but no one really cares about or uses it. I push off and begin my descent down the hill.
Wind rushes by my scarfed face as I continue to pick up speed. Not far down the hill, a young child on a Crazy Carpet loses control and spins to a stop. Not surprising though. It’s truly a wonder that these lethal sheets of plastic haven’t been condemned by someone with the power to do so.
Using lightning quick reflexes, I swerve my sled to the side and avoid catastrophe while losing minimal speed. At the bottom of the hill the jump beckons to me. It taunts me and challenges me to throw caution to the wind and hit it. I accept the challenge.
I crouch down to minimize wind resistance, and as the jump goes beneath me I take to the air. Sailing through the skies, I perform a double can-can into a superman. Well, not exactly; I really just sort of fall, and as the sled hits the ground and my head bounces off the steering wheel, I see my life flash before my eyes.
I was only a little bit younger then, maybe a year or two. It was supposed to be just another day sliding at the hill. But that day was different; it was special; that day we had a race. Races at the hill aren’t like normal races where sportsmanship and fair play are expected. They are no-holds-barred-in-your-face-death-races. The basic format is that everyone pairs up into driver and passenger groups and gets on a GT Snowracer. We all start at the top of the hill, and the object is to be the first to the bottom, by any means necessary. Granted, being little kids, we didn’t have a whole lot of tricks at our disposal, but the passengers could push other racers off the track or even jump over and commandeer the enemy sled. It was especially cool if you managed to get back on your own sled before the finish line, but that was rare.
I kissed a tree. Not in the literal sense, but in the cool guy sort of lingo, like funky, groovy, bodacious, gnarly, and far-out. I was sliding through a narrow trail (if it can even be called a trail, more like weaving my way through dense trees), when I lost all traction in an attempt to avoid a tree. No such luck. The initial impact of tree and sled succeeded in halting the sled; unfortunately, inertia wasn’t so kind that day. I was propelled forward into the tree. Fortunately, I was not broken, I just suffered minor scrapes and bruises, but it still qualified as a “bad ride”.
Another time there was a large group of us that decided to go down the hill at the same time. My GT got caught up at the start with another patron, and so I was a little ways behind the pack. Ahead of me, a boy who was a couple of years older than I was riding on his stomach on a Crazy Carpet. It wasn’t long before he lost control and ended up on his back, with his head pointed downhill and his limbs all outstretched, spread-eagle. I was headed straight for him, and could not turn in time. Surprisingly, his crotch made an admirable ramp, which launched me up and over the rest of his body. I suppose it is a good thing that I didn’t land on his face or any other body part, but I’m sure it still hurt.
Then there was a time when I was very young, maybe only six or seven. I had my sled (not a GT at the time, just a little orange plastic number) and was going to go sliding at the usual hill, but a boy who was a year older convinced me to go sliding with him on the snowbank in front of his house. It wasn’t as big as the hill, but that was okay, it meant less energy spent climbing. At first we would slide into his front yard, but that got boring rather quickly. It never occurred to me that it was dangerous to slide out into the road. After all, it wasn’t a busy part of town. I remember sitting on top of the snowbank. I watched him as he started down the steep incline to the road. He hit the road with a small jolt due to the sharp angle at which it touched the bank.
Then there was the car.
It seemingly came out of nowhere, probably because of the row of trees that blocked the view of oncoming traffic. By the time the sled reached the car, the vehicle was already halfway past us, so the sled and rider were swallowed between the two passenger side tires. For a moment, I could not see my sled. Then it and the rider were ejected from the back of the car, between the two rear wheels.
When my mother saw me I was fighting back tears. She asked me what was wrong and then I couldn’t hold it any longer. Between sobs and sniffles I managed to point at my sled and say, “He broke my sled!”