There aren’t any professional sledders. But there’s no shortage of pro skaters.
If you want to make like a kid again and master the art of falling forward, you might as well take some advice from an athlete very familiar with falling. We spoke with pro skateboarder and owner of Fair Game Skateboards, the great Ian Graham, about the similarities between taking a dive on concrete and gliding down hills.
Below, his tips on how to fall, what to wear and what music to play. (Plus, what music not to play.)
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How to Fall
“There are absolutely less painful ways to fall,” Graham says. “It’s mostly about using forward momentum to counteract downward momentum. In other words, be able to do some basic tumbling: being able to do a forward tuck-and-roll will save you a lot of pain and suffering.
“Sledding is nice because you’re already basically on the ground, and snow is more forgiving than most surfaces. But remember to tuck your arms and legs in, and protect your head. Most serious injuries come from people trying to catch themselves or break their own fall. Tuck and roll.”
What to Wear Up Top
“Wear a helmet,” Graham advises. “You’re contending with Mother Nature, so there can be trees, sticks and rocks and all sorts of nasty stuff you might run into in the snow. And if you need advice on how to fall, the best advice is wear a helmet. Knee and elbow pads aren’t going to stop a broken arm or leg, but a helmet will save your skull.
“I’ve always worn Pro-Tec helmets, and they make some great snow, cold-weather helmets. But most importantly you want to be sure the helmet fits and is worn properly. If the helmet doesn’t stay in place, it won’t protect your head correctly and could cause additional injury. The most common mistakes I’ve seen are bike helmets worn backwards. I get it, that’s probably the least comfortable part of the helmet, but it’s also the part that saves your skull. Additionally, with that much slack in the ‘system’ of head and helmet, the straps become a strangulation hazard if the helmet is caught. Most have breakaway mechanisms, but why test it the hard way?
“Bottom line, make sure the helmet fits snugly on the head and the strap is comfortably but snugly fastened under the chin, to make sure the helmet protects your head.”
What to Wear Down Below
According to Graham, “Pants are big in skating right now. Not just in the ‘We talk about pants a lot’ sense (though we do), but in the literal sense, too. As someone whose teen years are being 20-year-revival’d right now, it’s very, very funny, and I refuse to participate. When I skate, it’s pretty basic: straight cut Levi’s, maybe Dickies or some other chinos. My fashion at the moment can be described as ‘NPC’ — jeans and a t-shirt.
“For the snow though, first things first: no denim. You will not have a good time when your jeans are soaked and frozen.
“Regular snow brand snow pants are fine, but you can get some great wool pants at surplus stores that will be a bit more padded, and probably warmer. If you’re trying to drop big money, look for snowboard or ski pants — there are styles meant for freestyle or park riding that will be more flexible, possibly padded, and definitely more durable than the little puffy overalls you think of when I say ‘snow pants.’
“Dress in layers. You’ll stay warmer, drier, and you’ll have more padding on your butt.”
How to Get Comfortable on the Sled
“Keep your weight focused downward and spread out,” Graham advises. “The guys in San Francisco who skate insane hills every day say it should feel like you’re trying to push your board into the ground. If your weight is too far back, you’ll get squirrely and you might slip out.
The dirty secret behind ‘go big or go home’ is that all those dudes practice all the time. They know their equipment and their bodies, they stretch and warm up, and they hide cans of plain water under Monster and Red Bull stickers for the ad incentive. So prepare yourself to get beat up a little bit, and don’t go in blind.
If your sled has a turning apparatus of some sort, figure it out slowly before you go full speed. There’s no translation for a full-speed situation, but to whatever degree you can control your sled, learn how before you’re bombing down the big hill.”
Sledding and Shredding in Montana
“Sledding was always around [in Montana] and the local sled spot [the Gully] was definitely a meet-up spot for a few months of the year,” Graham says. “But I was in high school during the era of CKY and Jackass, so ‘going skating’ was as likely to involve skateboards as a shopping cart, a snowboard, a trash can, the massive piles of snow the size of a house that would accumulate all around by January, some costumes, a tow rope, a sled… anything we could use for a little bored teenage mayhem after we got chased away from enough skate spots.”
Finding the Best Hills
“To paraphrase a great philosopher: ‘All I need is a cool buzz, some tasty slopes, and I’m fine.’ The same way skateboarding can break your brain so that every time you see a parking block or a slanted surface you think of the trick you’d try on it, the most avid sledders see potential spots everywhere,” Graham says. “What you see as a Pizza Hut, I see a kinked slope to a drop-off. If you’re lucky, the snowplow will leave a pile close enough to the roof that you don’t have to do much work to build a landing.”
On Bringing a Boombox…
“Boombox Guy is a risky guy to be,” Graham notes. “If you’ve got good taste, the right music can get people stoked and everybody will love it. But if you get it wrong, you’re that guy with the wack music who bummed everybody out. If you stick with the certified classics, and read the room with regard to genre/style, you’ll be fine. Sometimes you get lucky and there’s already a boombox and a stack of tapes at the ramp — nobody can get mad at you if you picked from the house tapes!
“For sledding, you could take it in a few different directions. Are you building a jump to see if you can grind a picnic table you’ve half-buried? Maybe you’ll want something fast and thrashy to get your adrenaline pumping, like End It or Slayer, the kind of music where the toughest guys have the best falsetto.
“Did you and your partner take edibles, and you want to feel like you’re floating through a winter wonderland? Maybe you’ll want something like Slowdive, Spiritualized or Candy Claws. Something spacey to help capture the ethereal winter vibe, that feeling when you inhale really cold air and there are no clouds so the snow almost illuminates the world from the ground up.
“If you’re about to face off against all of the members of a rival crew in one-on-one rap battles, culminating in you ‘breaking out’ both in the sense that your musical career is about to get launched and that you’re escaping the stifling confines of your parents’ house and their small town lifestyle…you’ll want “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, or maybe Mobb Deep.”