ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JAN. 11 - In this photo taken on Dec. 28, 2014, Cassidy Saunders, front, and Corey DiRutigliano get to the bottom of the hill covered in snow during a sledding trip to Ester Hill in Fairbanks, Alaska.  Picking the right hill and to a lesser extent the right sled, makes the difference in sledding. (AP Photo/ Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sam Friedman)

ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, JAN. 11 - In this photo taken on Dec. 28, 2014, Cassidy Saunders, front, and Corey DiRutigliano get to the bottom of the hill covered in snow during a sledding trip to Ester Hill in Fairbanks, Alaska. Picking the right hill and to a lesser extent the right sled, makes the difference in sledding. (AP Photo/ Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Sam Friedman)

Cheap thrills: backwoods sledding

FAIRBANKS — A cheap plastic sled, some fresh snow and gravity make for refreshingly simple fun.

Sledding is a classic family-friendly activity, but it was fun too for our group of friends, most of us in our 30s, who recently gathered at a power line trail in the Ester area.

The simplicity is probably the best part. Too many winter sports involve complicated gear or difficult technique. Anyone can tumble down a hill.

That said, picking the right hill and to a lesser extent the right sled, makes a difference. My previous Fairbanks sledding experience was at the ice sheet known as the University of Alaska Fairbanks sledding hill. When I went there last year, a hard landing on an ice lump tore a piece of plastic off my sled.

The Ester hill we used on a recent Sunday sloped just enough to feel blissfully out of control, but was gradual and powdery enough that our party of 13 people and five dogs only broke one plastic sled in few hours on the slope.

It took about three minutes to ride down — less for those who kept in control down the trail. I never managed that and tended to careen off the side into the powder.

My friends Molly Rettig and Josh Kunz get credit for picking the slope. Josh has been scoping out possible hills for a week. The one he picked was perfect enough and quiet enough that he made me promise to not indicate the exact location in this write-up.

I bought a new $20 Fred Meyer sled for the occasion, a single curved sheet of plastic-lined-foam with four rubber handles. It worked OK, although my feet tended to slip off the front as I picked up speed. The deeper plastic toboggan-style sleds worked best among the people in our party.

After three or four runs, we ended the day by gliding down a snowmachine trail to Ester’s Golden Eagle Saloon. It was a mix of walking and sledding because the path wasn’t as fast as the power line trail, but it felt fun to use a plastic toy to get from point A to point B and to park our sleds next to the snowmachines at the bar.

Over beers and burgers, we planned our next trip. Rumor has it Ester Dome is a good sled ride.

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