I experienced my first childhood adrenaline rush hurtling downhill in Long Island's Syosett Park on a classic wooden Flexible Flyer. At the time, the snow-covered community park hill seemed taller than Mount Everest. I bombed down headfirst, trying to ride as fast and far as I could.
Forty-something years later, I found myself pulling my two kids — Manya, 4, and Ezra, 20 months — up a slippery slope at Winooski's Landry Park for their first-ever day of sledding. Halfway up the hill, as kids and parents screamed by us, I positioned my son in his older sister's lap, gave her a quick tutorial on how to steer and slow down, then aimed them downhill.
Moments after I let go, the sled veered wildly off course — straight toward a chain-link fence. For a few terrifying seconds, my blood turned to ice. But the kids reached the bottom without incident. It was the perfect metaphor for parenting.
And they both enjoyed the ride. Normally cautious Manya was uncharacteristically enthusiastic. "Let's go again!" she said.
To help you and your kids enjoy one of childhood's greatest thrills, we've put together a guide to some of Vermont's best sledding spots. While it's virtually impossible to list them all in a state where nearly any sloped pasture will suffice, we've tried to identify tried-and-true hills, as well as a few slopes off the beaten path. You'll find more online at kidsvt.com.
All slopes listed here are free and on public land unless otherwise indicated. If you try one of the few we've included on private property, please be mindful of landowners and respect all signage, fences, livestock and parking restrictions. And consider outfitting kids, and adults, in helmets so the fun never ends — for more tips, see "Fast and Furious: Sledding Safely."
568 South Prospect Street, Burlington
This hill is located on private property, but sliders of all ages flock to it when the snow flies. From the club parking lot, walk due west until you spot the obvious downhill run. Depending upon their size and appetite for adventure, kids can push off at several different access points. The terrain is wide and diverse, with a long run-out at the bottom.
The country club does not officially endorse sledding on its property, so you slide at your own risk. And be forewarned: The hill is easily accessible to students from the University of Vermont, Champlain College and much of Burlington, so it gets crowded with more than just small kids.
Locust Street, Burlington
Earl Handy, owner of Handy's Lunch Counter, grew up in Burlington's South End and has vivid memories of sledding down this hill. "My friends and I would walk over and spend hours upon hours there," he says. "For me, Calahan Park was the place to go."
The city-owned park offers gentle, small- to medium-size slopes for tots, plus steeper, high-speed runs for more experienced sledders. The best part: All of them empty into a ball field, which provides a long and flat run-out. The only obstacles to avoid are a foul-line pole and two light stanchions. Parking is free and ample, with a playground nearby.
Handy, who attended Christ the King School just across Locust Street, fondly remembers one teacher, Sister Ursula, taking her students to sled at Calahan after big snowstorms. The nun often joined in the fun — in a full habit!
Handy, now a parent, admits he hasn't taken his twins, Nicholas and Genevieve, 5, to Calahan Park yet. "Next year they'll probably be ready," he says. "Right now, we still sled on our front lawn at home. That way I don't have to carry the sleds all the way back up the hill."
68 Pleasant Valley Road, Underhill
Generations of Pleasant Valley residents have slid down this town-owned hill, which offers steep, wide runs with no obstacles or major hazards and a long run-out. "Casey's Hill goes on forever," says Mark Redmond, executive director of Spectrum Youth and Family Services. He and his 11-year-old son, Liam, are avid sledders. "It makes the Burlington Country Club look like a walk in the park. Take your kids there. They'll love it!"
592 Governor Chittenden Road, Williston
Since 1873, the McCullough family has owned this property, which includes a house built by Vermont's first governor, Thomas Chittenden. Catamount offers family-friendly sledding seven days a week, weather and conditions permitting. Sledding is free for kids 6 and under, $2 for those 7 and up. Bring your own sleds.
Pine Street, Winooski
This short but steep hill starts narrow, then opens up into a wider run-out. Parents of toddlers beware: Older kids sometimes build moguls on the left-hand side of the slope. There's one hazard at the bottom of the hill: a chain-link fence that surrounds the tennis court.
Shelburne, behind the Shelburne Post Office
"I'm 54 years old and I still go sledding there," Sarah Soule, director of admissions and college counseling at Vermont Commons School in South Burlington, says of Shelburne's reliable downhill slope. "It's phenomenal!"
The location offers several good sledding runs, depending upon your skill level. A large hill to the north is long, wide and gentle, with a run-out that stops at a small creek. A larger bowl immediately to the south, located directly behind the post office, is steeper, bumpier and eventually leads into some woods. A sign at the post office directs vehicles to park in a lot off Shelburne Avenue.
Soule, who grew up on nearby Shelburne Point, often sledded the LaPlatte hill as a child. She now mentors an 11-year-old girl named Makayla, who also loves to go sledding on the northern hill, even when the temps approach zero. "She keeps me outdoors all winter, which is great for me."
Soule says that first-time sledders shouldn't be intimidated by the size of the hill or the creek at the bottom; most sledders stop before reaching it. But for those who don't, she adds, "Sometimes you just have to ditch and dive" to avoid it.
5425 Mt Philo Rd., Charlotte
The good news is there's no entrance fee during the winter. The bad: It's a long hike up the winding mountain road. But the payoff is huge: a long, fast, challenging trip down. Mt. Philo is not recommended for very young or inexperienced sledders who are unable to stop or steer on their own.
25 Round Church Road, Richmond
Even though this hill is short, you can really get moving on it. Optional reward: On the Rise Bakery is just across the road, serving pastries and hot cocoa. Limited parking is available.
7470 Route 116, St. George
This privately owned golf club isn't far from downtown Hinesburg. From the parking lot, an east-facing slope starts steep and narrow but quickly opens up into a very wide and long downhill run that eventually banks southward. With the exception of a cluster of trees at the very top, the hill offers plenty of wide-open terrain safe for sliders of all ages. But the club does not officially endorse sledding on its property, so you slide at your own risk.
204 Cobble Hill Road, Milton
This hill runs 300 vertical feet to the landing zone. The lower portion is gentle and suitable for younger kids; the higher portion is seriously steep. According to the park owners, sliders who push off from the top can pick up speed on the steeper slope, then fly out onto the flatter, more gradual slope for a smooth ride all the way down. Snow tubes work best from the launch spot on the lower slope, 75 feet up. The park also features a packed and groomed chute carved into the hill.
Sharp Park, which is privately run, charges an entrance fee of $10 per vehicle. Two-hour snow tube rentals are $12. (The gate fee is waived if you rent two or more tubes.) Sliding is free with your own equipment, as there is no lift. A renovated barn has a warming area, restrooms, hot drinks and Vermont products for sale.
"The hill is great. It's huge!" notes longtime Milton resident Lynn Caldwell, whose 13- and 15-year-old kids grew up sledding at Cobble Hill before the park had an entrance fee. Caldwell says Cobble Hill probably isn't the best hill for preschoolers unless they start halfway down the hill.
Note: Helmets are mandatory for all children. The park has 35 children's helmets and 10 adult helmets available at no charge.
At the south end of the Middlebury College campus, adjacent to Alumni Stadium.
This college-owned golf course offers several slopes of varying degrees of difficulty and is popular among college students and locals.
75 Hunt Street, Fairfax
The school's physical education classes and cross-country and other teams often use the long, steep hill behind the school. "If I were going to go sledding — besides in my own backyard — I'd go there," says Michelle Brown, coach of the BFA-Fairfax varsity cheerleading team and a sales executive for Seven Days.
179 Congress Street, St. Albans
In addition to sledding, the nonprofit Hard'ack Recreation Area offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and groomed downhill skiing and snowboarding, with a 700-foot rope tow. No entrance fees or lift tickets are required, but donations are requested.
282 Park Street, Stowe
In the 1970s, Marshall Hill was a ski slope with a 450-foot T-bar. In August 2013, the town of Stowe purchased the land and made it accessible to sledders. The south-facing hillside is broad, long and quite steep, but the open meadow below allows plenty of room to slow down and regroup. Parking is available in the nearby Stowe Elementary School lot.
between Warren and Granville
Warren-based architect Dave Sellers invented the Mad River Rocket, a short, maneuverable sled designed for a kneeling rider. Sellers, who at 75 is still an avid slider, recommends exploring a winding stretch of Route 100 just south of Warren toward Granville. Across the river on the western slope, Sellers and his son, Parker, 32, found a series of gullies created by the many smaller creeks that flow downhill into the river. After a heavy snowfall, Sellers says, the gullies become "natural half-pipes" which are ideal for sledding.
"You just get out of your car with your Rocket, and there must be 20 or 30," Dave Sellers says. His son, who has a 1-year-old of his own, says it's about a half hour hike up to the top of each hill and a five- to 10-minute run down.
Note: This logged but still wooded terrain is recommended only for experienced sliders with maneuverable sleds. Helmets are strongly advised.
Parkway Street, Montpelier
By far the most popular sledding hill in Montpelier, Hubbard Park attracts sliders of all ages. Little ones can ride the smaller, gentler hills located to the right of, and just above, the main sledding hill. The Montpelier Parks Department asks sledders and snowboarders who perform jumps to do so on the sides and top half of the hill only and to be mindful of smaller riders.
Note: A berm at the bottom of the hill is meant to keep sledders off the road, but when conditions are icy, it's easy to ride over it.
When the Lincoln Gap Road, which links the towns of Warren and Lincoln, closes in winter, it opens for sledding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Drive uphill until you see the road-closure sign, then park on the street. From the Warren side, it's about a 30-minute hike up to enjoy a two-mile-long downhill run. This slope is not recommended for little tykes, or inexperienced or weak-kneed sledders. Helmets are strongly recommended for anyone sledding this hill.
1091 Golf Course Road, Warren
This privately owned sledding hill is popular among families in the Mad River Valley, including those with young kids. One local resident recommends hole No. 4 for its excellent short, steep and wide-open slope.
930 Gallison Hill Road, Montpelier
Behind the school is a long, primo slope that empties onto the football field. There are no obstacles or hazards to avoid, so it's good for kids of all ages.
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