Thursday, March 6, 2014

Inside The Moments - Winter Hiking: Sledding The 4000 Footers

If you are out and about on the 4000-footers during a busy winter hiking weekend, you may have come across other hikers with plastic butt-sleds dangling from their pack.  Or...maybe it was me with my larger Wham-O Snow Boogie GT42 strapped to my back.  I saw it often last year, and after searching the web for help with this post, you'd be surprised of the age of some people still enjoying the thrill of a fast sled ride down a hill, but doing so from the tops of summits at elevations of 3,000-4,000 feet.  I too enjoy enjoy some mountain sledding on the trails, and have some tips for you to consider, but first, lets take a look at some sleds.

Round Plastic Butt Sled (Google Image Search Results Link) - The yellow sleds seen on the link are called Airhead Plastic Spoon Sleds.  Pretty much round plastic butt-sleds. These are the type with the loop as a handle, with only enough plastic for just your butt cheeks.  However, as you can see from the search result, there are tons of varieties to choose from in the "round plastic butt sled category", and you can find many of these at a wide range of stores (discount stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and up to big name stores).
Wham-O Snow Boogie GT42 and Mt. Piece Summit
Wham-O Snow Boogie GT42 - You can buy these online at Dick's Sporting Goods, Walmart, and Kittery Trading Post.  I bought mine from EMS, but have seem them less often than when I bought this one.  It's 42" long, with small grooves that allow you to grip the side, by your hips. I've had a lot of fun on this as you'll see in my videos. As of this post, this sled has been retired, and I have picked up a similar one, but with handles.

Mad River Rocket - (Picture / Video) I came across this sled while searching. It's like a water-sport knee-board but for sledding. WOW! This looks fun on the open terrain they show it used on (In VT I think), but I would never use this in the White Mountains or on trails.  Although going on the knees can be good for steering purposes, but in my opinion, I'd rather have my legs available.

Merikan Missile - (Product Link) Sold by for $40, but made in the USA, the missile sled is like a chair with handles that acts similar to the round plastic butt-sleds.  These seem like they would work well on the trails, but I have not tried one.  My other concern that it is more of a hard object, that could hit someone if you need to bail, whereas a Styrofoam sled like my Wham-O Snow Boogie won't potentially hurt someone unless it crashes into a person's face or something, which wouldn't happen.

Now lets get into some other nitty gritty tips about sledding on the 4000 footers.  People have done a heck of a lot more sledding, butt-sliding, butt-sledding than I have in my 3 years of hiking, I'm sure.  My list of sled descents from 4000-footers include Tecumseh (3x), Pierce, Field, and Waumbek (Starr King).  I've also sledded the John Shurburne Ski Trail (AKA The Sherbie) on Mt. Washington.  Not every 4000 footer is made for sledding, and even on the peaks I've sledded, the trails are not sled-able 100% of the way, although Tecumseh and Field are pretty darn close!  On the 4000 footers, there are two options for descent on sled...1) the trails or 2) back country or off-piste where possible.  So unless you're heading off to Tuckerman Ravine, Gulf of Slides, or some other wide open area (such as shown in the MadRiverRocket video), the rest of this post pertains to sledding on the hiking trails of the 4000 footers.

As they say, its all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Sledding, butt-sliding, glissading, or even walking down a snowy icy trail with trees off to the side can get you seriously hurt.  So just as much as any other hiker using the trail is doing, you need to look out for yourself and other fellow hikers using the trail at all times.  Some may say that sledding ruins the trails for whatever reason.  At least it doesn't cause post-holes, and microspikes should be carried almost always in winter.  Everyone has the same right to enjoy the trail in whatever way they please, including me and me sled.  Like me, if you choose to descend on sled, then it should only be done in a way that does not adversely affect anyone else's right to enjoy the trail.

This means that if I'm heading down the trail, the immediate moment I see another person in front of me, I'll hop off the sled, say hi, and make sure I pass them on my feet, just like I would at any other time.  If I should be raging down a steep slope with limited control, just know that I am going to dive off and do everything in my power, risking myself, to make sure that no one else's enjoyment is affected or that in the worst case scenario of no control, I've aborted, and my Styrofoam sled bounces off a shin or something.  In the last couple of years, most hikers I've passed whilst my sled strapped to my back have embraced the fact that I appear to be having fun.  It was either that, or I got a strange silent look as if I was some type of mountain maniac.
Mt. Tecumseh summit, my first time sledding down from the summit
Here are a few other points that I consider when I bring my sled to a 4000-footer:

Helmet - while its not always easy to carry a helmet, I would certainly recommend it on Tecumseh and Field as these trails are fast and pretty dangerous.  If you're bringing your round plastic butt-sled to use on short sections, you probably don't need one, but why wouldn't you at least consider it?

Traction - If there is ice on the trail, or the trail is packed hard, it should be OK to wear micro spikes on the descent, as they are useful to help slow you down on hard surfaces.  On softer snow pack, it not really necessary.  Just know that if you choose to leave your traction on, you need to consider the safety of others and be more ready to abort.

Time of Day - The time of day and the frequency of use on the trail which you are sledding must be considered before you plan to set out for a raging sled ride down the trails.  The were two times I've sledded Tecumseh, where I was up and down by the time the first lift opened.  A third time, most recently, I descended after sunrise, in the dark.  On Crawford Path from Pierce, I came down in the late afternoon, after doing a hike of Jackson separately a few hours earlier.  Waumbek, this winter, was also done at night.  The only sled descent I did during a high-use time was Field several weeks ago. I passed about five groups on the way down, all on my feet, and I seemingly had no adverse affect on anyone, in fact I conversed with each group.  Everyone seemed to be having a great day, and was probably jealous, as I hopped on and took off in front!  If at all possible though, a sled descent should be done when you think there is the least activity on the trail.  Yes, this means the early morning, late afternoon, or evening is the best time to sled, but still thinking safety, you should put your headlamp at twilight, and before darkness approaches if you want to sled at night.

So just remember, safety first, and safety of the others on the trail and most importantly live it up and have fun whenever you can. Sledding is also a great way to help make it possible to do more than one winter hike in a day =)

Except for Waumbek, for which I have no video, here are all of my sledding videos 2012-2014!

And....don't forget to read my many other Inside the Moment's Episodes HERE

Disclaimer: Anyone choosing to partake in the activities shown and described in this post should understand that any mountain activity, including sledding, can result in significant personal injury or death, and you are always on the mountain at your own risk. Happy Sledding!


  1. Grow up Dan! Ha ha, only kidding...That looks like fun, I want to try it sometime. I got nervous when you went flying through those two trees close together...That could have been painful!

  2. Butt-sliding is a blast and if you've hiked up, I feel you've earned it. The Ammo is absolutely great, had so much fun there on Friday, after bagging Monroe. East Osceola and the Hancocks are real fun ones, too.

    Safety, of course, is the main concern! I have a good hiking and family friend, Bill Schor, a super experienced hiker, who has to live daily with the consequences of one poor decision involving butt sliding. In snap decision, he decided to slide down boilerplate on the top section of Sabbaday Falls Trail one Feb. day in 2010. He slid 600 feet in a matter of seconds and hit a tree. Thankfully, he hit it with his leg, not his head. His ankle immediately shattered and he also tore up his shoulder. He had to wait 9 hours for a rescue and said it was hell on earth being carried out. He was in the hospital for 3 weeks, had multiple surgeries and was told he'd never hike again. Well, Bill is a tough guy, recovered and finished a grid and an over 60 grid. He is in pain with every step he takes, every day, and will never be quite right again. He even admits it was a stupid decision and warns others to be careful with the ground conditions. All that to say, butt sliding is a lot of fun, but assessing the conditions and being careful is super important - as with all mountains pursuits! Your disclaimer says it all.

    1. Hi Summerset, thanks for sharing Bill's experience, as its valuable to this post so that others can see what risks are involved when butt-sliding or sledding. You're exactly right about the assessment of the ground conditions. Being able to control yourself when your sledding is key, and for butt-sliding there needs to be a way to stop, so icy conditions are always questionable. However, perhaps in a scenario such as Bill's, we may not know until its too late, and that is a risk we do take, I guess, trying to gain some time down the mountain and have a little fun. Hope you're having a great winter.

  3. Yes, assessing ground conditions is key. In Bill's case, he knew it was boilerplate, something you should never elect to slide on. Just a spur of the moment thing. You're also right - we don't know that 50 feet or whatever down the slope there isn't a nasty patch of ice. Some of that is mitigated if you've actually hiked up the same trail hours earlier and are paying attention to the ground conditions. On a loop, you're taking a bit bigger of risk. Everything is a risk, though, just driving down the street to your house can be a risk! Having a great winter - finished the winter list, working on the grid, just getting out when I can! Looks like you've had some fantastic winter treks yourself, judging by your posts!

  4. I can vouch for the Merikan Missile. It offers a comfy ride, and the handles and groves really help with steering/fighting the fall line and keeping you on the sled. You can steer with your feet too, so you have a lot of control. You offer some good advice - especially the time of day (and night sledding is a surreal experience). I'd add a few:

    1.) Never sled with crampons (and only use spikes if you plan to go slow).
    2.) Try to hike up the route you plan to sled that day (or at least have hiked it sometime before).
    3.) Consider conditions ahead of time - steep and icy is no good, but flat and powdery is also not going to be fun.

    Some other great sleds I've done not mentioned above include: Glencliff, Moosilauke Carriage Road, Gorge Brook, North Twin, Liberty Spring, Lonesome Lake, Jewell, and the Crawford Path. There are many more to try in the future too - Happy Sledding!