STRANGE SLED-FELLOWS: My story's kind of corny. Two years ago, I was watching snow fall and started thinking about when I was a kid. I grew up near a golf course with a mile-long hill; sledding was so fun. But we'd have problems with different types of sleds -- you couldn't steer, or they were big and heavy. At the time, I was working as a naval architect, and it suddenly struck me that the principles for designing sleds are similar to those of building boats. Something just clicked. I began imagining the ultimate sled. I had some stuff lying around from a renovation project -- some PVC pipe, pieces of wood -- and I started fiddling. Next thing I knew, Reindeer Sleds (www.reindeersleds.com) was born.
SNOW BOATS: Traditionally, there were two types of sleds. The old-fashioned sleigh with metal runners is best at slicing through powder; it's like a warship cutting through water. Toboggans -- the traditional wooden sled, the saucer or that college favorite, the always-affordable cafeteria tray -- have a flat bottom, skim across surfaces and go really fast on packed snow, like a speedboat does on water. Both types need to move quickly, but also need to be safe.
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BUILDING BLOCKS: Remember the lightweight sheet everyone had in the '80s? It went fast, but it cracked and broke. Design has changed a lot since then. Now, manufacturers are using polyethylene, the stuff Tupperware is made of, because it's durable and lightweight. And they've started melding sleighs and toboggans into hybrids -- toboggans built from a surfboard-type foam and inflatable inner tubes, that sort of thing.
ON THIN ICE: The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (www.aaos.org) offers recommendations on safe sledding. Sledders should be in an obstacle-free area, be face forward and be able to steer. You need to be able to dodge your friends as you go downhill. If you can't steer, either you bail or your friend gets taken out.
DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW: It's a really difficult art to make a sled fast. It has to do with its shape and how much rests on the ground, how fast you take off, your weight, and the snow conditions. The snow is probably the most important. A good sled has to work on hard snow, icy, deep powder, and various combinations. But the best conditions are when the ground is good and hard, there's a firm snow base on that, and then a fresh snow leaves a soft powder on top.
TRAIL MIX: You can sled on any steep hill, as long as you have space to slide out at the bottom. You want as much space at the bottom as the hill is long. If you can't make it that far, you need a new sled. As told to Kelly DiNardo