The best toboggans ever, ranked

Sleigh

It’s January, and the fun craziness of the holiday season is over. Life is returning to its usual humdrum routine—so what better way to conquer the impending winter blahs than by throwing yourself headlong down a snowy hill? Here is our (highly unscientific) ranking of the best ways to get from the top of the hill to the bottom.

7. Piece of cardboard

Hey—if you’re desperate to go tobogganing, anything will do in a pinch. Cardboard is slow (too much friction) and not exactly built to last (it’s paper, after all) but it should stand up to a couple of runs. Bonus points if you can get a box big enough to seat more than one person, and thick enough that it won’t fall apart after one round down the hill. Moving or appliance boxes are probably your best bet. Plus, you can feel morally superior that your conveyance is probably the greenest option on the hill—and the fact that it weighs almost nothing will become important as you lug it back up the hill. Cardboard works best on a hill without a thick snow cover.

6. Inner tube

What inner tubes have in speed and capacity they lack in controllability. Often capable of seating two or more people, inner tubes are fast, spinny and utterly un-steerable—which is fine if you’re at a snow tubing park, with dedicated lanes and straw bales to stop the worst of the careening. It’s not so great if you’re at the local toboggan hill and end up wiping out three innocent families on your way to crashing into the trees at the bottom. They’re lightweight, which is a nice element, but, depending on the size, can be awkward to maneuver up a slippery hill. And, since sharp ice can slice open your tube like last month’s turkey dinner, stay aware of the conditions on the hill. Old-fashioned rubber inner tubes are more poke-proof than the plastic models widely available at hardware stores.

5. Snow racers

Snow racers are for the thrill-seeking tobogganers among us. More expensive than most other sledding options, snow racers are raised up on runners with a steerable ski runner in front for maneuverability. These can reach truly thrilling speeds—which is both a blessing and a curse. You’re further off the ground on snow racers, so you’ve got farther to fall if you wipe out. Pay careful attention to the snow conditions and your hill’s overall steepness, and always, always wear a helmet.

4. Flexible Flyers (wooden runner sleds)

These are the old-fashioned wooden sleds on runners that are steerable with your feet (or, if you’re not worried about potentially knocking out a couple of teeth, your hands), using a rudder at the front. Like modern snow racers, wooden runner sleds can build up a lot of speed, especially if the hill has been well conditioned. While their retro appeal is unquestionable, they’re also heavy, and can be a real pain to drag back up the hill. If you’re using a sled simply for transporting a little one, wooden runner sleds with curved backs are ideal.

3. Krazy Karpets

Flat pieces of stiff plastic, often with handles, Krazy Karpets (or “turbo carpets” as they’re known generically) are surprisingly durable, fast and, if you use the handles to your advantage, controllable. They’re inexpensive, lightweight and easy to store, although they have a tendency to crack when exposed to temperature shifts. The only real problem? There’s no cushion from ice lumps on the hill, which can make for a sore tailbone by the end of the day. Plus, they won’t work very well in thick snow.

2. Plastic sleds (round and otherwise)

Plastic sleds have a lot going for them—they’re sturdy enough to be dragged across sidewalks on their way to the toboggan hill, the plastic allows you to build up some good speed, they perform well even in thicker snow and they’re cheap. Plus, most are big enough to allow for multiple passengers, which can increase the speed (once you convince someone to give you a good push off). In a real pinch, a cafeteria tray would do—although we don’t actually condone stealing anything from your local high school or all-you-can-eat buffet.

1. Old-fashioned wooden toboggans

Sometimes, the original is best. Once a traditional form of winter transport for indigenous people in Canada’s north, toboggans are now a favourite part of winter for Canadians anywhere there’s a hill. Made of wood, with a curved front, toboggans can seat up to four people who aren’t afraid to cuddle. Because of the extra weight, they can build up impressive speeds—especially if you add a little wax to the bottom to reduce the friction of the wood against the snow. They’re relatively lightweight and easy to pull, and—if you coordinate riders’ movements, like a bobsled team—are reasonably steerable. They’re also ideal for pulling home tired kids after a day spent on the hills.

What’s your favourite way to slide down a hill?