Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sledding Tips for Snowy Winter Days

Some of my buddies and I got together the other day to watch some football and enjoy a few brews at a local pub when the topic came up that there hasn't been much snow on the ground to allow our kids to go sledding so far this year (sorry if that jinxed our friends impacted by Winter Storm Jonas).  So than it was pondered amongst our group what are the best conditions to enjoy sledding down a snowy hill?  We put the combined brain power of a television weatherman, high school science teacher, automotive engineer, architect, and attorney to the test and here's the consensus on the best sledding conditions for a snowy winter day.


You'd think it would be best to have the weather as cold as possible so that your sledding surface is icy and slick but that is not necessarily the case.  Actually the best temperature to break out the sled is about 29 or 30 degrees Fahrenheit.where it is cold enough that the snow isn't all wet and mushy yet warm enough that the sled's pressure sliding down the hill will melt the flakes underneath it creating a thin film of water to slide down upon.

Our engineering buddy, who also plays rec league hockey, explained that building up speed on a sled is similar to being able to ice skate really fast.  I hadn't realized that when skating people are skimming over water rather than ice.  It was explained to me that a person's weight pushing down against the metal blade of his or her skate creates enough pressure to briefly melt the ice below them. So you are actually sliding over a thin layer of water rather than ice when skating.  This allows people to move quickly while skating because the water they are sliding across is smoother than the surface of ice.  So the goal for picking up speed when sledding to get the best experience rushing down a snow covered hill should be to create enough pressure with your weight against a sled's surface to create a sheen of water to slide on.

The Type of Snow Matters:

It's not just the temperature that can impact the quality of the snow you sled down.  Your sledding experience can be impacted from the point when the snow first starts falling down from the sky.   You may want to look at a thermometer when the snow first starts falling because that temperature also impacts whether or nor you'll have ideal sledding conditions.  If the weather is too cold you are going to have grainy snow flakes and if it is too warm there will be fluffy ones.  Both grainy and fluffy snow create friction against a sled slowing it down so that you won't be setting any speed records racing down a hill.  According to my meteorologist friend, what you want to look out for are the "large flakes" that form when the temperature is in the range of 25 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit.  These large flakes compact well providing a perfect surface to sled on.

Choose a Steep Hill:

Even with the best weather conditions if the hill isn't steep enough you aren't going anywhere fast.  The high school science teacher in our midst reminded us GRAVITY trumps everything else when it comes to getting the fastest speeds on a sled.  The steeper the hill someone sleds down the more gravity there is to pull them down to the bottom.

Our Perfect Sledding Thesis:

So our thesis is for the optimal sledding experience you'll want to look out for when it is snowing with the temperature at about 25 degrees Fahrenheit and find the steepest hill you can sled down after it has stopped snowing and warmed up a bit to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  That's not it or someone else needs to sled the hill a few times to compact the snow creating a defined path for your sled to skim down. Then you have reached sledding perfection!

Picking a Sled:

Oh wait...there is one more thing to consider.  The sled!  Now we've determined the perfect conditions to race down a snow covered hill what should be our vessel.  An old-fashioned rosebud sled, a taboggan, an inner tube, or a long hull plastic flyer (which are the ones my kids actually have)?  After another round of beers the consensus came down to the plastic saucer style.  These allow riders to place the most weight within the smallest area of space which increases the pressure while they are sliding to create the most heat on the snow allowing for the desired hydroplaning effect to provide the best speeds down a hill.

Now keep in mind these are just the discussions of some guys enjoying a drink at the bar but if you get the chance we'd enjoy hearing if you tested out our thesis on how to get the best sledding experience on a snow covered hill.  Remember too that sledding is a great outdoor activity to do during the winter months and you don't need the best conditions to enjoy a perfect experience having fun in the snow.


  1. Interesting. We really haven't had much snow this year at all! I've kind of been liking that, though :).

  2. We definitely have had a very unusual Michigan winter. Not great for winter sports but I'm not complaining about not having so much shoveling. Sledding brings back so many great memories. Coming inside for a warm cup of hot cocoa always topped off the day!

  3. The snow and temperature requirements sound similar to my husband's criteria for skiing (and if I'm wrong, I promise it's me - he knows what he's doing ;) ). I think we had enough snow the last two years to have earned this winter off :D

  4. My girls (5 and 3) are finally sledding on their own this year, and it has been such a joy to watch. I love going with them for exercise too ;) If it's going to be cold, I just assume there be snow on the ground, though I am not complaining about our current springtime temps!

  5. I use to love sledding. Now walking up the hill would be a killer. I know kids are missing the snow.

  6. We have never taken our kids sledding. I know living in Michigan that is a sin, but I'm not a fan of being out in the cold.

  7. I'm not a fan of being cold, but I'm looking forward to taking my son sledding when he's older :)

  8. That is so funny! I like using the air inter-tubes because it's less friction on landing. I always get hurt with the plastic sleds.

  9. Sledding in Michigan is one of the best ever. These tips can surely make it more awesome.