So many sleds: A pros and cons analysis

Alas, the snow has arrived and January suddenly looks a little more beautiful!  It’s my philosophy that if it’s going to be cold, it might as well come with snow because it’s more fun that way.  Working in higher education, I often encounter people who have moved to Montana from other states that do not have the kind of winters we have.  Being a Montana girl, I usually respond to their questions about how to survive the Montana winters with excitement.  I explain that you just have to get out in the crazy cold and embrace it.  There are many ways to do this:  skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and—if you are looking to take it easy on the wallet and not have to travel too far for some fun—sledding!  We have a variety of sled types to keep it interesting at our house, and not one fresh snow gets by us without a bunch of sledding tracks!  Here are some different types of sleds and my analysis of their pros and cons.

Yamaha Snowmobile Sled

The aesthetic appeal of these alone will have your kids grinning from ear to ear.  I don’t imagine they work well for a child more than 100 pounds, however.  Similarly, they won’t work well for the littlest of littles who are just barely old enough to be getting out in the snow because it requires the kiddos to hang onto the handle bars.  You can have two riders on one of these little sleds if they are both fairly small but they typically work best with one rider. One of the things I really like about these sleds is that the seat sits up off the ground so the kids’ bums stay warm longer.  If you are lucky enough to find a good sledding hill, one of the great things about these sleds is that you can actually steer them. We purchased ours a few years ago from Sam’s Club but there are also a number of places online you can find these including some that work for bigger kids.

Deep-Sided Otter Sled

These sleds are those deep side sleds that are insanely durable.  My dad uses one for packing elk out of the mountains. There are brands other than Otter that work well so be on the lookout. These can range in price from $45-$250!  The higher priced sleds are reflective of a stronger material, larger sled, and lifetime manufacturer warranty.  I cannot say enough good things about these sleds.  They work well for shallow snow without cracking on rocks and just as well for deep snow.  You can fit at least two kids in these and depending on the size of the sled and the kids, you may be able to fit four kids in one.  These sleds are also fun for adults to ride!  These can typically be found at sporting stores like Cabela’s or Scheel’s and of course, at a variety of online stores. 

Saucer Sled

Many local stores keep these kinds of sleds in stock because they are relatively small and cheap. You will find these sleds at Walmart and other stores. One of the perks of these sleds is that they are cheap, but they are difficult to maneuver, and it seems kids (and adults) fall off of them fairly easy. If you find the right hill, they can work well and if you are crunched for time, they are better than nothing!

Flexible Flyer Steel Runner Sled

These are classic—they look cool and we actually have an old one that my husband fixed up that makes a great antique decoration for our home.  BUT, unless I’m just pulling the kids around with this one, I don’t care for it and to be entirely honest, I also don’t care to be the carriage horse - I already function as their chauffeur, maid, cook, etc. Can I also just say that these have metal blades which is not only slightly terrifying, but it seems like these will just sink in deep, powdery snow.  Perhaps I need to give this sled a chance but there are so many other good ones out there including other types made by Flexible Flyer (e.g. toboggan and/or foam sleds).

Inflatable Sled

Want to sled on a flamingo?  Unicorn?  Donut?  You can get inflatable sleds in many varieties like this.  The inflatable sleds tend to glide across the snow pretty quickly and you can usually fit a couple of people on these depending on the exact inflatable.  You need a good hill for these ones because they are more difficult for a person to pull and pulling behind an ATV doesn’t work quite as well, either.  There are usually no steering mechanisms or sides to prevent falling off/out so prepare for anything!

Toboggan Sled

This is what I envision when I think of sledding as a child… it’s one of the classic sleds that was first made of wood but can now be found in stores everywhere made out of plastic, foam, etc.  I tend to like the plastic ones that have sides to keep some of the snow out and humans in.  These are one of the best all-around sleds—they go well down hills despite no steering because there is a “front” and they allow a person or ATV to pull them easily.  They are typically easy on the wallet although you may have to buy a new one every so often because the plastic can crack easily if you hit a rock.

Chair Sled

These sleds, like the snowmobile sleds, are great because they keep the kiddos bums warmer by having them sit up off the ground/snow.  I really only like this one for younger kids and if I am pulling them myself (and you know how I feel about that) because they tip fairly easy, and unlike the snowmobile sled, they have no steering.  With that said, sending a kid down a hill on them or pulling this one behind the ATV just does not work as well.

If nothing else, you really can’t go wrong with a large tire tube from a tire shop (read: inflatable sled + saucer sled).  We used them as kids for sledding and floating the river.  Okay, there is actually plenty that can go wrong with this but at least there are no metal blades involved.  Happy sledding!

about the author…Ashlynn is wife, mom of three littles, and Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Rocky Mountain College.  She is an introvert who is uncharacteristically social and loves family, learning, travel, animals, and all things Montana.