Like Riding a Bike
The common consensus is that riding a sled is a sport for men. It’s often a weekend away for the guys. However, more women are getting involved in the sport. This is partly because we are seeing stronger female role models and we are discovering that proper riding techniques make sledding easy, like riding a bike. While not everyone has figured this out yet, I will continue to say this because an investment of time to learn about body position, counter-steering and momentum will change how you ride.
Sleds are heavy, like 500 +lbs. I’m an average-sized woman, and at first this seemed daunting. That was, until I learned a few things that helped me control these large machines. Proper body positioning is essential. It is easy to relate to two wheels under you, like on a bike. So it makes sense that if you’re too far forward on your bike you would be spinning wheels and if you’re too far back you’ll be popping wheelies down the trails. When you’re standing on a sled, you want to align your centre mass over the centreline of the sled. We call this the ‘ready position’ in biking. Position yourself in a similar stance, as you would on your bike, not too far forward not too far back. This is the first step to make your sled feel more natural and comfortable to ride.
Side hilling is the manoeuvre that gets you from one side of a hill to another, traversing really. Most people are either too hard on the throttle in order to get from A to B quickly, or they’re constantly getting sucked down the hill. Both of these result in you losing control of your sled. You should be able to go slow across the hill, even stopping if need be to reassess and ride safely. Imagine riding your bike across a hill, your bike starts to lean downhill. What is your first reaction? Naturally it’s to turn downhill and regain balance. This is what you need to do on your sled too, except we call it counter-steering. This feels unnatural on a sled because your downhill ski will be up in the air, but that’s okay. If you can think of your uphill ski and your track just the same as your front and back tire on your bike, everything you know about biking applies. Counter-steering leans your sled on edge into the hill, making it so you don’t have to rely on your body weight or throttle to stay balanced.
Momentum is the tricky one, and it took me some time to master. It seems simple, you’re sledding, you add some throttle and you have momentum. However speed is not always momentum. When riding in the mountains the terrain is always changing, requiring a need to adjust your momentum to achieve smooth, continuous riding. Imagine on your bike, there’s a small downhill and an immediate uphill, if you want to ride it smooth you must have enough momentum to get to the top on the other side. So you make sure you have enough pedal strokes in before you enter the downhill. This way you have enough momentum to coast up. If you came into it with too much speed, you would fly off the downhill, landing on the uphill and lose you’re momentum that would carry you through. In sledding it’s the same thing, if you don’t have enough momentum before climbing a hill, you’ll need to use throttle.
Throttle makes the sled harder to control and more likely to get stuck. So we master the skill of carrying momentum through obstacles, whether it is fast or slow, to remain in control.
Males once dominated both biking and sledding, but now these sports are for everyone. If you’re able to see the similarities between biking and sledding and develop the proper technique, you will find your sled can feel effortless and light, just like riding your bike. I look forward to watching the culture of sledding change, as more women get involved and continuing to encourage camaraderie and a safe comfortable learning environment to support all riders to learn what they are capable of.