Winter has always been a fun time of the year for kids in Vermont, even though the adults are worrying about the heating bill. As the snow mounts up, kids see it as a great opportunity to make another snow fort, sliding trail, or make a higher ski jump.
When I was a kid growing up in rural Vermont, I remember we had an old logging road that opened up a clear path on the side of the mountain next to my house. We went to great lengths to groom the “sliding tracks” in the middle of it. Kids from all over the valley came together to go there and slide down the hill. There were only a few slight corners on the trail, and depending on how fast you were going, and on what you were riding, the curves were usually fairly easy to negotiate. Even so, there were several times I barely made it to the bottom in one piece!
One winter day, one of the neighbor boys named Joe came over to slide down this particular hill. He brought his toboggan that fit three people. We dragged it up the steep part of the hill to the spot where the pines started to get a little thicker, on the first flat area. It was a long way for a couple of kids, probably between 1/8th and ¼ of a mile. Joe was to be the back passenger and use his feet to help brake and turn the back of the toboggan. I was the front navigator as I kneeled and used my hands to twist the front curve of the contraption.
Joe always seemed to have a wide grin on his face when we were ready to start our “flight” down the hill. I think we were both over anxious. About half way down the trail, there was a railroad crossing with snow banks on either side of the tracks, and you could catch air going over them. Then there was a steep straight away all the way to the dirt road at the bottom, which was flanked by very high snow banks. We would turn sharply before we got to the first snow bank and slide sideways up to the edge of it to stop. (At least that was the plan.)
This particular run started off with a heart stopping push and we quickly got into position as if we were Olympic bob sled contestants. I was kneeling and Joe was holding down the back as we passed quickly through the first clearing and swung into a narrow corner. I could see on the edge of the trail was a low brush pile. I gripped the curl on the toboggan and leaned to the left, and yelled for Joe to put his boot into the snow to slow and help turn the rig. He did as told, and put his foot out, but instead of slowing us down, he caught his leg in the brush heap. Before I knew it, he was pulled right off the toboggan and my ability to slow down was suddenly gone. My heart was racing as I thought of the snow bank at the bottom of the hill. I saw the road quickly approaching, and instead of bailing off the sled, I made the decision to jump over the snow bank and try to hit the other side. I leaned back to get some trajectory and out of the corner of my eye, saw a car coming down the snow covered road. Sailing through the air, I passed right in front of the car, hit the other side and landed the bottom of the toboggan on a barely showing top strand of barbed wire fence. I still remember the dry screeching sound it made as I slid over it. Then, luckily, I hit the powder snow in the pasture and rolled off the toboggan. The driver of the car probably had a heart attack trying to miss me!
In a couple of minutes, Joe showed up at a dead run to see if I was alright. I told him about my extreme sport jump, and we both laughed for quite a while about our experience. We’d have quite a time convincing the other kids that it had actually happened. Well the memory lasted all these years and I still smile in amazement about it every winter.
Rick Wyman ©