Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Unusual Sleds Through the Years

by Anita Mae Draper

The winter season is almost over, but I wanted to bring you the 4th and final post on Sleighs and Sleds series. You can find the other parts here:

For this post I wanted to celebrate unusual sleds through the years starting with the oldest sled known.

I found this primitive sled on the website of The British Museum. The bone, ivory and wood sled from Greenland was collected from Inughuit (Polar Inuit) early in the 19th century, c1818. The British Museum descriptions says, "The sled is mostly made from whale, walrus and other bone, and wood, tied with walrus skin. The shoes on the runners are made of strips of narwhal ivory. It was collected by John Ross (1777- 1856) on the first occasion that this isolated group of Inuit came into contact with Europeans."

The sled above is similar to what we now call dog sleds which haven't changed much over the years. I did however, find this matted art print from 1878.

1878 matted art print - Christmas in Manitoba
It's a Manitoba scene which is the prairie province to the east of where I live in Saskatchewan. I'd like you to note the sled behind the dog team, because this is very unusual and more reminiscent of the sleds called carrivales of Quebec. Actually, the sashes a couple of the men are wearing around their waist were worn by the Metis who were descended from the unions of French fur traders and native women.

This is what a common dog sled looks like... more open on the sides and raised off the ground.

c1898 Yukon Dog Sled Team - Fastest in the Klondike

Dog sleds are still used in many provinces and territories. In fact, there's a small community of half a dozen houses within an hour's drive of my farm where they train dog teams to race. When we lived in our old house, we'd often see the team racing parallel to the highway.

A sled similar to the dog sled, but working on people power is the kicksled.  

Kicksled or Orasparken in Sweden. "Kicksled" is a direct translation of the Finnish word, potkukelkka.

This photo is from the blog juliamoved.com where Julia bemoans the fact that the kick sleds or spark are not that popular in Stockholm yet. She said she is going, sparkstötting.
Wikipedia says, the first definite record of a kicksled was in a newspaper in northern Sweden around 1870. The kicksleds of that era had stiff wooden runners and were heavy. In 1900 the design of the modern kicksled with flexible metal runners was introduced by the Swedish factory Orsasparken which quickly became standard in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

While researching this post, I saw so many upgrades and modern twists to the kicksled, I'm thinking of using it for a post by itself next winter.

These next 2 sleighs are from the 1800's like the Inuit sled at the top of the post, but are of European design and are on display at Volkskunstmuseum (Folk Art Museum) in Innsbruck, Austria.

The sleds in the above two photos unique in their shape and creativity. Although I'm not sure, I suspect the shelf at the back is another seat, but it's very small - almost childsize - and decorative. I'd like to thank abberdab for posting the above photos on flickr since it appears the Volkskunstmuseum does not have its collection available for online viewing. Unlike the Royal Sleighs in Part 3 of this series, these sleds bear no heavy gilt nor ornamation other than the creative details and paint.

In the latter part of the 19th century, Russia used sleds similar to the dog sleds, but with horses/mules as the pulling power.

Sledging on Lake Baikal, Russia.
(Copyright) 'Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums'
The gentleman sitting in the back of the sleigh is Mr. Isaac O'Henry who was The Wallsend Slipway's Chief Engineer overseeing the reassembly of the 'Baikal' for four long years!

 Apparently there is the icebreaking steamer 'Baikal' built at Walker in 1896 in the background, but photo was lightened too much to see it.

While surfing for suitable videos for this post, I came across a couple of new snow sports, namely snow canoeing, snow kayaking, and snow cycling. Who knew? These take sledding to new heights - literally. The kayaks in particular are waxed like skis. They shoot off moguls, spin, and keep going... ususually. And after watching the videos, I'll give a thumbs up for them becoming official Olympic winters sports. Trust me... if you like Snowboard Cross, you'll love Snow Kayaking.

Snow Cycling

SnowCross Kayak Style
 This video is recreational snow canoeing and even if you don't watch the whole video, enjoy the music.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkyl1ESLwZI&feature=related

Snow kayaking videos are all over the net for both recreation and competition (with 4 kayakers in each heat). I'm not providing a snow kayaking video here because all the good ones are sponsored by a drink company that I don't wish to promote. But they're on YouTube if you want to go see.

And for those of you who think sledding is for wimps, here's a video to show you what the Swedish Air Force does in their spare time to stay alert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85FxLsHU8us

So what do you think... would you like snow canoeing, snow kayaking or snow cycling to become Olympic sports?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books and Such Literary Agency. You can find Anita Mae at http://www.anitamaedraper.com/  


  1. This is going to be another hot commodity post Anita, despite the cool settingsone thing I noticed was that those were not typical sled dogs!

    What a great series of sleigh and slddkng information thee posts have been.
    I'd love to see those museum sleighs in use.

    And snow kayaking -- I wonder who started that sport? College kids?

  2. Thanks, Anita. Interesting, and as it turns out, even more useful than I expected.

    I didn't think I was going to have any sleighs/sleds in my current wip (even though it's set in the winter). Turns out I do need one. I'm going to have to go through all the sleigh/sled posts and find the right one.

  3. I could totally see the snow kayaking thing becoming "the next big thing."
    Good to know... I wonder if it will cause a ruckus the way snowboarding did.
    Sheesh. I remember the first snowboards. Now I feel old.

  4. with the amount of snow that my fair city got today, we could use one of these sleds!!
    I've never ridden a dog sled but I've watched them race -- fascinating!

  5. Deb, I believe the snow kayaking started as an extreme sport high in the mountains. For several years, I've seen footage of a kayaker being flown by helicopter up to the top or a wide ledge, and then kayaking down. He spins, flies over embankments, twists and turns all the way down, cutting through the virgin snow.

    When you think of it, a kayak is the perfect sled because you don't have to worry about flying out or off. It goes very fast though and some of the footage shows them in races flying off the sides which aren't high enough for my liking. But I guess if they raise the walls, no one will be able to see them.

    Anita Mae.

  6. Hey CJ, the one area of sleds that I didn't cover are the old wooden or wooden/metal runner ones that you see in the Norman Rockwell prints. You know, where they zip down the hill face down with their tummy on the sled. I believe that's where the luge started and I'd like to cover those types next year.

    Anita Mae.

  7. Niki, while I was watching the videos - actually, I spent a couple enjoyable hours watching videos on this - the thing that crossed my mind was when they showed the kayakers being pulled up a ski hill by tow rope. It's a special big hook that comes down and they either hold on or tuck one point into their kayak.

    But it seemed that no one else was on that hill except for the kayaks. I don't know if it's reserved for them, or no one else happened to be there, but I can totally see kayakers wanting their own hill. Yes, they have fantastic control and curve around obstacles, but you never know which way a moving obstacle - like a skier - will turn if they want to get out of the way.

    And it seems the kayakers like to go down in multiples of 4, just like they would in a race heat.

    Anita Mae.

  8. Hey Elaine, that snow you received must've been the stuff Linda Ford over in Alberta was being threatened with a day or so ago.

    We never got it this far south. Instead, a sheet of ice is covering everything... very treacherous coming out to my office today. But it's already starting to melt as the temp is only a couple degrees below freezing.

    Nice to see you. :)

    Anita Mae.

  9. as always, a very informative and nifty post Anita. i think i'm too wimpy to try the snow kayaking - i've barely enough control with regular skis. i love all the sleds though. i think it would be pretty cool to try out the dog sleds.

    thanks for posting such interesting stuff.

    btw, got your email. i do have ideas...

  10. Hey DebH, I've been thinking that kayaking would be easier than skiing. Probably because of my knees. They ached horribly the few times I went skiing, and from what I heard about snowboarding, it's all a matter of balance. Sure, I ride a bike, but with a snowboard strapped to your feet, apparently one small shift can wipe you out.

    But kayaking... it's all in the wiggle and arm movements. I'm fairly competent in a canoe and have hit many a rapids - hit many a rock, too - and although your knees shift as you wiggle your butt, you don't need your knees for support.

    And lets face it... I do better in the sit down sports no matter what they are. LOL

    Yeah, zipping along on a dogsled trail is more my style, too. Just wear a scarf for the windburn.

    Nice seeing you here. Can't wait to hear you ideas. :)

    Anita Mae.

  11. Snow kayaking - I love it! Snow canoeing - way cool. I would really like to try one of these sometime. One thing I've always thought would be cool is to take a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier, and ride with sled dogs down to the bottom. Great post, Anita Mae.

  12. Thank you, Suzie. Except, you might want to re-think that dogsled strategy... Glaciers look soft and smooth, but the surface is sharp, craggy and hard. It'll cut the pads of the dogs' feet. Not only that, but the harness will tighten and loosen between the dogs and the sled resulting in jack knifing and/or dogs getting run over. Not a good scenario.

    Which bring the kicksleds to mind... they are for relatively flat land only. No hills for a kicksled.

    Anita Mae.

  13. This has been such an interesting series. I'm sorry to see it end.

    Thanks, Anita!

  14. Anita, that's horrible. I take it back. I wouldn't want to do anything that would hurt those sweet dogs. But why would they sell tours like this at the expense of their poor little legs and feet?

    I can't wait to see what you do with sled posts next winter. I've really enjoyed these posts, and like CJ, I'm sure I'll be looking back through them at some point in time.

  15. That's good to hear, DeAnna, because it's only over for this year. While researching these, I found so many interesting things that I have enough material for a least 2 more posts, probably three. Maybe even 4 if I can get the photos lined up for something I've had on my mind since I started this.

    However, I won't start those until November. :)

  16. Suzie, after I read your comment, I did a google and YouTube search and found what you were talking about. I was thinking about the extreme sport, but the one on your bucket list is very different.

    Yes, the dogs have booties, and in the video, they're following what looks like a groomed trail with fresh snow. A groomed trial is one that's been confirmed clear of rocks and sharp things beneath the surface and on the edges.

    Also, they're travelling on flat ground unlike the extreme sport where they're going downhill.

    I've been at the toe of the Columbia Icefield in the Rocky Mountains. This glacier has tours where tourists ride out in huge Bombardier snow machines. I was going to go, but chickened out while reading the brochures with warnings about the crusted ice and the crevices. You had to stay on the marked paths in case the snow/ice broke through and lost you in a crevice. But even that glacier was relatively flat compared to the extreme sport.

    So, I need to apologize because I didn't check out what you were talking about before replying. So Sorry. I hadn't heard of this dog sled tour of yours, but now I see how it can be a great adventure if the company you sign with is doing a responsible job.

    You never know, some day I make sell enough books to afford the US $450 and up price tag and join you. :)

    Thanks for showing me another aspect of winter fun.

  17. Anita, no need to apologize. It's just something I read about one time as part of a cruise to Alaska. And obviously you were thinking about things you came across in your research. I'm glad you found some who protect the dogs' paws. I hate to think of having fun at any animal's expense. And if it really costs that much, I'd rather swim with dolphins in Florida. There, I know each dolphin only swims with one human for half an hour each day, so they don't get over exhausted.

  18. Florida? As in warm water other than a tub or a pool? I have yet to experience that. Maybe in California?


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