Sledding Plummer’s Hollow

My sledding video from last winter was such a success, I thought I’d try it again this year. The conditions were pretty icy and scary last winter, so I stopped at the half-way point, not wanting to risk the video camera any farther. (I hold it in my right hand as I ride — this isn’t a helmet cam.) But this winter, given all the wonderful cold weather and regular snow, sledding conditions have been exceptional, and with the January thaw imminent, yesterday afternoon I went ahead and shot this video of a sled ride clear to the bottom, a mile-and-a-half-long run. It isn’t quite non-stop, as you’ll see: there are two places, slight uphills on the way down, where I had to get out and walk for a few yards. (The first is the half-way spot where I stopped in last winter’s video.)

Since I was on hard-packed snow rather than ice this time, the ride was relatively quiet. It’s the quiet that I love about sledding, as much as the speed, so I decided to dispense with rousing music on the soundtrack and go for straight realism. (Actually, a little less realism might’ve been nice, but unfortunately my camera doesn’t have image stabilization. I also apologize for all the sniffing — but that too is the sound of winter, isn’t it?)

I’ve been sledding for a long time — since at least the age of four, I think. My mother remembers watching me sled the hill below our farmhouse in Maine, trudging up and flying down over and over at zero degrees Fahrenheit. We moved to Plummer’s Hollow in 1971, when I was five. We did a lot of sledding as a family in the early 70s; my mother’s back still permitted her to go down a gentle slope sitting up. I remember sledding by moonlight, the five of us, taking turns on a shifting assortment of runner sleds and wooden toboggans, our whoops strangely not out of place in the silvered landscape. We never had anything plastic, nor even an aluminum saucer. We were arch traditionalists.

Winters were serious business back then, boys and girls. I remember our first brown Christmas, sometime in the late 70s, because it was such an exception. This winter so far has been like a trip into a time-machine (and given the option of going anywhere back in time, how many of us from happy families wouldn’t choose our own childhoods over the most stirring periods of human history?). January was always the best month for sledding because it was the coldest.

February, by contrast, was always the serious snow month, which brought its own excitement — snow forts, long walks on snowshoes — but it also meant we had to do a lot of tromping in order to keep the sled runs open. Dad showed us how to shuffle slowly along in a straight line, making several passes. But I don’t think anyone else had the patience for it but him and me, and after a few years it was all me. I was an inveterate day-dreamer, so it didn’t much matter what I was doing — I was always somewhere else, deep in a story. And you know, maybe that explains the attraction of sledding to someone like me, who never got into sports otherwise: going down a hill on a sled is one time I am fully alive to the present and nothing else.

After Mom’s back got too bad to permit any more sledding, Dad stopped too, and from the mid-70s on, his main contribution was to mow a sledding trail through the field with his tractor and brushhog each fall. Oddly enough, we didn’t otherwise keep walking trails through the fields mowed back them. We were still raising chickens and ducks and cutting hay, so I guess we viewed them more as hayfields than meadows for wildlife watching. We didn’t, for example, have the trail down through what we call the amphitheatre, where I start my sled ride in the video. The sledding trail Dad mowed every year went straight down from the upper edge of the field opposite the barn. We’d sometimes shovel snow into a bump at the bottom to make group toboggan rides more exciting: airborne!

It’s funny the way people look at me now, as an almost 44-year-old man, when I mention I like to go sledding. As I noted in last year’s post, even though lots of adults enjoy skiing and snowboarding, somehow sledding is for children. But is it? About a week before Christmas, I was joined by a couple of kids — my four-year-old niece Elanor and an older boy of around nine, I think, and the boy’s father, who’s my age, joined in as well. We had a blast sledding and tobogganing down through the field. But I couldn’t help noticing that both children seemed to regard the walk back up the hill as something onerous. Well, to be fair, their legs were a lot shorter than mine, but on the other hand, they were in way better shape than me. The walk up the hill is how you build up the warmth that makes the ride down tolerable, I told them, but they weren’t buying it. So maybe you have to be a grown-up to truly appreciate sledding.

One of the other things besides sledding that signals my permanent adolescence to most people, of course, is the fact that I don’t own a car and barely know how to drive. I am not a big fan of the internal combustion engine. But I’m not sure I’d enjoy sledding nearly as much if I weren’t so accustomed, as we all are, to the contrasting experience of riding in a car. It makes sledding feel like a magic carpet ride.

It helps that these days I invariably sled in a sitting position, which is a bit slower than lying down because of the way the weight’s distributed — the runners tend to bite in toward the back and it can slow forward momentum considerably, depending on the conditions. But it feels faster and more dangerous, especially the sharp turns when you risk tipping over. About ten years ago I started to notice dangerous twinges in my lower back whenever I went over a bump while sledding prone, so much as loved sledding that way I was forced to switch. Our neighbor Paula threw her back out a couple weeks ago while sledding with her grandchildren in front of their house (the third residence in Plummer’s Hollow). And she’s just a year older than me.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s the real reason most adults prefer to leave sledding to the kids. But I hear there are an increasing number of publicly designated sledding hills, for example in Pennsylvania state parks, and given the tendencies of people in my generation to try and prolong childhood indefinitely if possible, I suspect I might even be part of a trend. But even if all the downhill skiers decide to switch tomorrow, forgo their lazy-ass ski lifts, and take up something truly physically demanding, I think I’ll still stick to the quiet and solitude of a Plummer’s Hollow sled ride.

37 Replies to “Sledding Plummer’s Hollow”

  1. I love the sled — looks well used. But I’ll admit the ride looks scary. I used to sled quite a bit when I was growing up in Northern KY where there are hills. I’ll admit that one of the disappointments of raising children in the Bluegrass is a serious lack of hills.

  2. When I edited the video last night, I didn’t notice just how gloomy it was — the snow played hob with the camera’s light levels, I guess. I’ll replace the current video with a lighter, more contrast-y version, but it will be several hours before it’s done processing and uploading, given the size of the file (70 MB before Vimeo’s compression).

    1. Hey, any time you want to stop out and try it in person, feel free. Unfortunately, though, this thaw is going to turn it to ice. Hopefully we’ll get more snow on top of it (and enough for snowshoeing come February).

  3. Whoa! That is so cool, Dave! I wanna go sledding too (but wouldn’t want to try this one on a toboggan.)I’m really glad to finally see what your road and “hollow” look like (a lot like Vermont, actually. And extra glad I don’t have to hike back up!

    1. It’s only a 35-minute walk. But I’ll admit I got a ride most of the way with my parents yesterday, who were coming back from their weekly trip to town. (I had called first to make sure they wouldn’t be starting up before I got down.)

  4. Whoa, I felt almost seasick during the bumpy fast parts! If it were me, a bit fitter than I am right now, I’d be using my cross-country skis. Now THAT would quite a climb back uphill, so maybe not… :-)

    1. Yeah, that is a little motion-sickness-inducing, isn’t it? I think last year’s video was a little less shakey, and I’m not sure why — somehow I had more stable way of holding the camera.

      It can be a good cross-country ski run, I guess. I borrowed a pair from a friend a couple years back, but I just never got into it, for the simple reason that my glasses would fog up from the exertion and then freeze, rendering me unable to enjoy the scenery.

  5. What fun! Felt like actually being on the sled, minus the cold air.
    I love the quiet crunchy sounds and the glimpses of your feet and the patches of pink on the snow. How lucky you are to have such a long path to sled down. But, oh! going the other way, pulling the sled, would be more than I could manage, I think.

    1. The sled’s not that heavy! Less than ten pounds, I think. It’s a nice hike. Some people even pay us to lead them on walks up the hollow, I’ll have you know. Anyway, I’m glad you liked the video.

  6. Wheeeee. Brings back memories of our sledding days. My dad still has all of our runner sleds. I should get one out and oil up the runners. We always went “belly grinders,” as my grandmother called it, taking a running start then throwing our bodies prone onto the moving sled. I recall sledding down “our mountain” once at night with flashlights. Sledding seems to elicit the most pure joy of any winter sport. Our neighbor kids have a tiny slope next to their house. We hear them screaming and laughing as they slide down their 15-foot hill. Look forward to some fresh snow, although a warming trend may dampen the sledding conditions.

    1. Belly flopping onto a sled: ouch! I love your grandmother’s term for it, though. Sledding with flashlights sounds like something worth trying once, just for the novelty of it. I would get the most powerful flashlight I could find and duct-tape it to the “bumper.”

  7. Dave,

    That was fun – and wonderful. I haven’t been on a sled in decades, until this morning with you. It’s still early but I’m betting this is the high point of today. I haven’t felt the need to hook the computer up to the flat panel TV, but now I do.

    No need to apologize for the production or to change the lighting. It’s better than Hollywood would do it. It is real – at least as I remember it. Leaving music and narration out is genius. It is visual poetry and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. Thank you for taking time to share it. Made my day.

    (Clearfield, PA native now in Texas)

    1. Hi Joe – Thanks for commenting. I’m glad the bare-bones style works for you, and it’s good to know it helped connect you with your Western Pennsylvania roots. Makes me feel good I took the time to record, edit and upload it. I guess there isn’t much sledding in Texas.

  8. What a fun way to get a sense of what the Hollow is. Thrilling for a flatlander (our island-city is a pancake).

    I started thinking how tiring the walk back would be.

    1. Well, I guess it might be sort of tiring for a flatlander. When my brother was living in Wisconsin, he found himself getting out of breath when he visited here.

  9. Hahaaaaaa! What fun! Made me want to get out there right now and shoot down a hill! Actually I’ve been thinking of getting an AirBoard so that I can start sledding in the mountains rather than do all the routine skiing stuff. Cheaper, too.

    Just glad you didn’t also video the walk back up! (oh, wait, you got a ride, right?)

    1. Yeah, but their Honda CRV was so packed with groceries and such that we had to tie the sled onto the bumper and toe it up. It survived O.K. — my dad never drives faster than 10 MPH on our road.

      Do they allow sledding on ski slopes in Japan? I can hear the mutters of “hen na gaijin” now!

  10. Awesome Dave, I can’t wait to show it to Travis who is forever sliding with his friends, even down the 15 foot bank by the house. How far is that run? My video would have been a lot noisier because I would have had Leah following me on the Snowmobile to take me back up. No sense in carrying this exercise thing too far.

    1. It’s a mile and a half, Clare.

      I must admit that on this particular ride I was grateful for the ride back up the hill. But I didn’t plan it that way. I never mind the hike.

  11. Dave,

    That was awesome! Sure brought back memories of my childhood. Funny thing about sledding and playing in snow. I never felt cold until I got back inside. My dad had a special hill he would take us to once or twice a winter, and it was scarier than all get out, but so exhilarating to fly down that hill, taking your breath away in more ways than one.
    Nicely done ol’ chap !

    Seeing Plummer’s Hollow for the first time , it was exactly what I expected, and I could have been riding down Guernsey Hollow, which is 1/4 a mile up the hill from me, and just as steep and curvy. When the camera would turn and show the hill dropping away to your right, the scene was so much like the view looking out my window here in front of my desk.
    No wonder your Morning Porch writings resonate so well with me.
    Thanks – you made my day!

    1. Hi Barbara – Thanks for the comment. Sounds like you had a great dad! Depending on the conditions here, sometimes I go sledding on slopes much steeper than any in this video. Once in a rare while, a deep layer of snow will thaw, freeze solid, ice over, and get a thin layer on snow — enough for traction. Then the entire field becomes a sled run, and if I can claw my way to the top of the powerline right-of-way on the higher of the two ridges that form the hollow, I can try going down that, too. Probably not a terribly swift idea without a crash helmet.

  12. Wonderful! I really enjoyed it, sniffing sounds and all. (Sounds like me when I’m out in the cold.) I can see why you didn’t continue past that one point last year; the slope was noticeably steeper!

    A funny note: as I was watching this, the cat’s been on my lap. Normally she is uninterested in anything that comes up on the screen, but she woke up for this video and stared at it for a while, entranced. (Since this human was also rapt, I can’t blame her.)

    1. Hey, all right! Making something even a cat feels compelled to watch surely counts as one of my signal achievements in six years of blogging.

  13. Well, that was terrific! Brought back some sledding memories for me. Five stars for this year’s video. Very exciting, especially after about 4:00 minute mark. Gets downright scary in a couple of places on the turns. Watching it is making me think of what a gas it would be to sled down from this place up on the mountainside, down the road in my canyon, and on into town when there has been snow and ice (bet last winter’s little storm would have been perfect). However, I probably couldn’t find a sled for love or money within at least a couple of hundred miles of here 0 maybe more. Perhaps I should bring one down with me next year and hope for a bit of snow!

    1. It was actually scarier to watch it than it was to make it. There was no point during the ride when I felt in danger of going off the road (though I did once, a couple years ago), but watching the video I was like, “Jesus! Quit leaning! Look out!”

      If you do that canyon sled ride you will become a local legend, I’m sure. You should definitely stash a sled there just in case.

  14. Man, I loved this. But you made barely a sound, even when the hill got really steep and you were flying. I would have been squealing the whole way down. How did you stay so quiet? Also, how did you steer the thing. I remember when I was a kid we used to put a big rope through the front of our wooden sled and we could steer a bit that way. I am sorely tempted to try a hill here soon. I miss sledding a lot. Last time I went was about 15 years ago with my teenage son and his friend.

    1. Well, as I say in the essay, I do like the silence of a sled run — no sense ruining it by screaming! Stearing is with the feet. The steering bar on my sled is so loose, it can turn on a dime. For the one sharp bend near the beginning, I drag my left foot on the ground briefly, both to slow down and help pivot around the turn.

  15. Great sound effects, and the camera angles were scary here and there… Watching it, I realized that I will never, ever be a Yankee, no matter how long I live up here.

    At this very moment, my youngest is flying down the big hill at Glimmerglass State Park (or maybe complaining about walking back up.)

    1. So you are raising Yankees, at least! But don’t worry, this winter is an abberation, I’m sure. In the future, I think we can expect very occasional sledding conditions as our winters resemble more and more what you grew up with.

    1. You guys should come out and try it sometime! I don’t know if we’ll have any more good sledding conditions this winter, but it’s possible.

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