The casual sport of sledding has changed since those days. Cheap, plastic saucer sleds are still easily available, as are the two-person canoes. But so are "inner tubes" that have no distinguishable tubes. There are rolled-up plastic "carpet sleds" in lieu of toboggans. Flat foam pads with grips galore. Not even sporting goods stores commonly offer old-fashioned sleds with metal runners.
So just how did these nu-sleds compare with the plastic saucers of my youth? I went to Mount Hood with whatever I could find at the local Fred Meyer: a saucer, a spade-shaped inner tube, a carpet sled, a flat foam generi-sled, a garbage bag and a flask of brandy. These were the results.
("Flying Saucer," Flexible Flyer, $10.99)
The ride: A disc shaped like a dinner plate, the saucer sled is a memorable throwback to the sledding of yesteryear. It was modeled after the trash-can lids used by countless improvisational sledders in the past. The saucer carves shallow, half-moon tracks through the snow, crafting paths also usable by other types of sleds. The design also allows the sledder to stay on without holding on to grips. The hands are free to be used as an e-brake.
("Big Air," Flexible Flyer, $21.99)
The ride: This is not your daddy's inner tube, son. It's an inflatable, spade-shaped device of massive speed. The speed might be due to the running start that the sled encourages—the inflated padding softens the blow as one leaps onto it—but it also seems to glide effortlessly over powder. The tracks left behind are not conducive to other sleds, not that this one needs to go on any pre-existing track. There are two drawbacks, however: (1) You must have both hands on the grips at all times to stay on and (2) snow gets in your knickers if you wear a short jacket.
("Snow Skimmer," Flexible Flyer, $6.99)
The ride: Bearing a similar shape to the aforementioned tube, this sled nearly matched its speed. Indeed, it bears nearly the same strengths and weaknesses of the tube sled at a fraction of the price. The most significant difference lies in the lack of cushioning. Running starts are a bit harder on the sternum with this ride, which made my flask of brandy very important to the process. The flat bottom works best on existing sled tracks.
(Fred Meyer, about 25 cents)
The ride: The garbage bag, the everyman's skid, was first employed on a long-ago snowy day when an ill-prepared, foul-mouthed child said, "Fuck it, I wanna speed down this hill." All that's required is a standard-issue plastic garbage bag. (Note: Be shorter than 6 feet tall, please.) Step inside the bag, lie down and pull the bag up around you—any exposed clothing is going to slow you down. A pre-existing track is required, especially since a running start is nigh on impossible. The whole thing almost functions, but in reality garbage bags should be employed only in last-resort or drunken-bet situations. Booze will increase the comfort of the ride. Being an actual child also helps, if you're not drunk. WW nonetheless does not recommend that small children or drunk people play inside of plastic bags.
("Flying Carpet," Flexible Flyer, $5.99)
The ride: This was the most baffling new sled I encountered. While it rolls up into a wonderfully compact and portable shape, it doesn't unroll quite as easily. The Herculean feat of keeping the sled unrolled long enough to mount it killed any chance at starting a hill run with any forward momentum. My efforts on the sled left the tracks of a frustrated tall man trying to sled down a hill on an uncomfortable, narrow strip of plastic. Making turns was out of the question, as any change of direction ended with me falling off the slow-moving sled.
Overall winner, and still champion: The old-fashioned saucer sled.