Sledding is a time-honored tradition dating at least 800 years ago with the Kānaka Maoli, who, as reported by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, made use of wooden sleds to “surf” the lava slopes (called kahua hōlua) of their native Hawaiian Islands. Part sport and part religious ritual, this heʻe hōlua or “sled surfing” largely resembled the winter pastime we know and love if it was practiced not on snow but on the scree slopes of the Cloud Peak.
Recreational sledding was first documented in the mid-1600s by the children of Russian aristocrats who, according to the Wall Street Journal, careened down courses built of wood on big blocks of ice.
However, it was Samuel Leeds Allen who brought the world sledding as we think of it. The Star-Ledger details how, in 1889, he began selling “The Flexible Flyer,” a wooden sled with a simple steering mechanism and steel runners, constructed in his Cinnaminson, N.J., farm equipment factory.
Allen’s easy-to-produce design made sledding’s thrill and freedom egalitarian and the Flexible Flyer’s sales soon sky-rocketed as Americans sought economical entertainment during the Great Depression.
On Sunday, February 13, Sheridan Community Land Trust and Trail End State Historic Site are teaming up to bring this time-honored tradition back to the Sheridan WYO Winter Rodeo with Family Sled Day at the Kendrick Mansion.
The hill at Kendrick Mansion has long been the site of winter merry-making for generations of Sheridanites, including the mansion’s namesake family. According to Trail End’s Superintendent Sharie Shada, the grandchildren of John B. Kendrick were known to enjoy skiing and sledding on the hill. An archival photo from 1943 shows John B. Kendrick II and Hugh S.C. Kendrick with gleeful grins on top of sleds that look like the popular Flexible Flyers.
While Shada is unsure if the hill was used by townspeople while the Kendricks lived on site, she said it has been a thread of community life since the Trail End became a public museum in the late 1960s.
“People have said they remember picnicking, climbing trees and sledding here,” she relayed and detailed a long list of ways the Sheridan community continues to use the grounds including weddings, museum events and fundraisers, the Bot Sots horse sale, an outdoor science classroom for students, an open-air aviary for bird-watching groups, family and senior photo sessions, dog agility training, art and yoga classes as well as birthday parties and memorial services.
“We also have picnic tables in the orchard for anyone who wants to use them,” Shada added.
In the winter, the hill is often filled with children and families enjoying wholesome fun on bluebird days. “On weekends, lots of people can be seen on the hill, especially when there’s fresh snow,” Shada shared, noting that the junior high’s gym classes often take to the Trail End hill and even elementary students are bused over on occasion.
That same spirit is on display during Family Sled Day, something that Shada says is made even more merry with the addition of a fire pit and complimentary cocoa, cookies, coffee, and other refreshments.
“It’s so fun to see people gather around it when they’re not sledding – even if they don’t know each other, they do by the time they leave. There’s a real sense of community, and it’s awesome to watch it happening,” Shada concluded.
That’s a sentiment shared by at least one family who routinely enjoy Family Sled Day.
“It was fun, especially the certain spots that were fast,” remarked Kinley Mayer, who uses more modern plastic saucers and long sleds to negotiate the same terrain the Kendrick grandkids sledded nearly a century before. “Sometimes sledding makes me feel nervous and other times happy,” she explained, and that the cocoa and cookies were a tasty respite between runs.
Mayer said her favorite memory from previous Family Sled Days was “when I got a mouth full of straw” – presumably from the hay bales which line the fence when one of Kinley’s fast runs went a little off course.
Her mother, Jody Sanborn, said Family Sled Day was a perfect way to cure cabin fever. “We don’t like to sit still, so it’s great to get outside and enjoy the space with other families. The snacks are a nice bonus, and we don’t have to travel far. Plus, we get to spend time at a historical site with our friends at Trail End and SCLT.”
According to Shawn Parker, Executive Director at Sheridan County Travel & Tourism, that’s why Family Sled Day is a perfect addition to the WYO Winter Rodeo.
“I never want to lose sight of who we created the Winter Rodeo for in the first place, the people of Sheridan County. To that, it has always been important to me that we offer family-friendly events and activities as we grow and expand this event,” he reasoned. “Family Sled Day isn’t a big driver of economic impact or a massive draw to visitors who might spend thousands of dollars in the community – it is an event where folks from the community can come out to have fun for a few hours at one of the most beautiful locations in Sheridan County. Just the sort of thing we all need in the middle of the winter.”
This year’s Family Sled Day is scheduled for Sunday, February 13, from 10 am to 12 noon at the Trail End State Historic Site, located at 400 Clarendon Ave in Sheridan. The event is free to attend and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own sleds. Refreshments are provided. Please park on Victoria Street.
Until then, here’s hoping for more snow lest Family Sled Day turn into a luau lava ride on big blocks of ice!
A complete schedule of the 2022 Sheridan WYO Winter Rodeo can be found at https://www.WyoWinterRodeo.org.
Trail End State Historic Site grounds are open from dawn to dusk year-round, and only need to be reserved for private events like weddings and parties. The museum will reopen April 1 with a new exhibit titled “Ranch Life, Mansion Life: The Dual Lives of the Kendrick Family.” For more information, please visit at TrailEnd.org.