Staying Young At Heart

I think I have found the secret of the Fountain of Youth – and it’s not in the middle of a swamp in Florida, but on a snow-covered hill in Western New York.

Dressed in warm clothes, armed with a couple of snow tubes and accompanied by a 4-year-old, one ride down the hill and you will feel like a kid again! You will be laughing so hard, you’ll forget to feel old!

What is it about sledding that makes it so much fun? Is it because you don’t have to have any special skills or expensive equipment? Is it the thrill of flying down the hill while bouncing and twirling around? Is it the snow blowing in your face, blinding you, or the tumbling off at the end of the ride? I think it’s all of these, plus the giggling.

I’ve read that the first sleds or toboggans were used by the Native Americans in the U.S. and Canada to pull heavy loads on the snow (“http://www.livestrong.com”>www.livestrong.com). Then, someone must have decided to take the sled for a spin down the hill, and the rest is history.

The sport of downhill sledding reportedly started in the Alps, in Davos, Switzerland, in 1883. Wooden sleds with metal runners were the hit back then. Riders sat upright on a raised platform and raced down a 4-kilometer stretch. A man by the name of George Robertson won the first international sled race and the term “Davoser” was used to describe the traditional wooden sled. Soon there were different types of sleds, and different techniques were tried. There was Luge racing, where racers laid on their backs, and “Cresta” racing where you headed down the hill head first. Then, they tied sleds together and invented bobsledding (www.alpinesleds.com). Sounds like too much fun to me.

I can remember the days of the old wooden sleds with the metal runners and the steering mechanism in the front. You had to have just the right snow, a packed trail and hopes for freezing rain to slick things up. I’d trudge up the hill behind the house, bundled up in a wool coat with three scarves wound around my head wearing huge clunky boots, while trying to pull that heavy sled through fresh snow 3 feet deep. Then, when you finally made it to the top, an hour later, you’d hop on that sled, ready for the ride of a lifetime – only to go 2 feet.

The front end of the sled would sink down, and you would end up head first in the snow. If you were persistent enough, you might have a nicely packed trail by the time your mom called you in for supper. Then it would snow another foot during the night, and you’d have to start all over again. I am so thankful for plastic sleds and snow tubes!

My boys and I always sledded when they were little, so it was a joy to see the fun passed on to my granddaughter. Allie was so psyched when she found out we had snow at Christmastime, and after a little begging, my son Kevin and I loaded her and the sleds into the car and headed up to Southwestern High School. I like the hill by the softball field. It’s not too steep or too long. I was a little scared, but Allie’s dad set her on the tube and away she went! Giggling and smiling all the way down. At the bottom, she’d hop off and head for the top again. We had a wonderful time, and I’m sure she’ll remember that day for ages.

Sledding with children can be fun, but always remember to put safety first. Make sure that you don’t sled into any roadways and that your path is obstacle free. That Fountain of Youth is attainable – are you ready to give it a whirl?

Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a private, nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. Its present focus is to conserve and enhance the natural shores and banks of Chautauqua County’s lakes and streams, which provide fish and wildlife habitat and pollution-filtering functions. The conservancy is funded primarily through membership donations, and its 2013 annual membership campaign is currently under way.