Photographs by Jenn Ackerman and
My sledding memories were formed in a 360-acre county park in Wisconsin, on a menacingly steep, icy hill lined by forest.
Every winter weekend, my sisters and I would trudge up the hill carrying round aluminum saucers, each equipped with two floppy canvas handles. We sat cross-legged, the saucers spinning in dizzying circles as we whooshed down the slope and hoped to avoid flying into the trees. There was no steering mechanism. It was the ’80s.
The most cherished winter pastime of the Upper Midwest still endures, and still lacks any real frills or pesky safety features.
This winter has been a good one for sledding in Minnesota, where its biggest city, Minneapolis, has seen a particularly generous 42.9 inches of snow, almost three inches higher than the average, according to the National Weather Service.
Meteorologists have their own seasonal definitions, and their winter ends on Feb. 29. But the Midwestern winter — which often throws in a snowstorm in April — could endure for many more weeks.
At these sledding hills in Minnesota, most families stuck with the classic equipment, wooden Radio Flyers, rectangular toboggans and brightly colored plastic sleds.
A few ventured into more flashy territory, bringing inflatable tubes shaped like reindeer.
Sledding is deeply embedded in the culture of the Midwest, even during the school day. Children who attend elementary schools are allowed to sled at recess all winter long. Schools routinely issue “sledding guidelines” that are sent home to parents in their children’s backpacks.
Among the reminders: Things like standing up on a sled or hurtling down a hill backward are not allowed.
Sledding has plenty of competition from other winter sports, particularly snow tubing, an increasingly popular pursuit. Dozens of ski hills and resorts in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota have created groomed runs with lanes for tubing, sometimes with lighting and Top 40 music blaring from speakers for nighttime runs.
No such perks are offered at the traditional neighborhood sledding hills, which still require of participants the character-building chore of towing their own sleds.
On Tuesday, the Midwest braced for a walloping winter storm that was expected to bring eight inches of snow in some areas. Sledders eager for a few late-season runs were thrilled.