Now that there is a fresh layer of snow on the ground, here are some tips to get the most out of your sledding experience.
For a fast sled ride, try to “melt” the snow as you zoom by on your sled. Melt the snow? UNO physics professor Frank Hartranft outlined how to do just that while explaining the scientific principles that underlie a speedy ride.
If you want a fast ride, look to ice skaters. An ice skater's graceful glide comes from skating on water, not ice. Yes, water.
Ice skates focus the skater's weight on a slender blade of metal. As the skater moves, the pressure is so great that it increases the ice's temperature, and the blades briefly melt the ice. Skaters can move quickly over that thin layer of water because water has a smoother surface than ice.
So pick a sled with metal runners. The sled works like ice skates by focusing your weight on two narrow runners. (They're also safe — see below.)
Toboggan: Placing more weight (more people) on it increases the speed by increasing the pressure on the snow. Increasing the pressure raises the temperature of the snow underneath, which ... you get the picture.
Saucer styles: To boost speed, increase the amount of weight on the saucer or buy a smaller saucer. Either way, you're putting more weight on a small space, which increases the pressure and turns up the heat on the snow. A new saucer style is constructed of plastic with a foam liner that absorbs shock for the rider or riders.
Take your temperature: An outdoor temperature of 29 to 30 degrees is best. Your sled has a better chance of melting the snow and letting you sail by on that thin film of water.
What a drag: At lower temperatures, the snow tends to be grainy, which creates more friction. Fluffy snow also creates friction.
Flaky but true: The best snow is the large-flake variety that falls when temperatures are about 25 degrees to 28 degrees. It compacts well for sledding.
Gravity rules. The steeper the hill, the more gravity will pull you down.
Used is best. When previous sledders have compacted the snow, the snow creates less friction for your sled. “The first people down aren't going to have much fun,” Hartranft said.
Check slopes for bare spots, holes, trees, posts, fences and other obstructions. Bypass these areas or wait for better conditions.
The sledding run should not cross or end in a street, parking lot, pond or other hazard.
Sled in a forward-facing position with your feet pointing downhill. Steer with feet or a rope tied to the steering handles of the sled. Do not sled in a head-first position.
Parents or adults must supervise children to make sure the sledding path is safe and that sledders can avoid collisions.
Young children should wear a fitted helmet.
Sleds with runners and a steering mechanism are safer than toboggans or snow disks.
Toboggan riders should keep hands, arms and legs inside to avoid limb injuries.
Sources: National Safety Council, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Consumer Product Safety Commission