This may sound ironic coming from someone who regularly writes about expensive outdoor gear, but you do not need to spend thousands of dollars to enjoy the simple pleasures that gravity and snow can deliver. Before I became Outside's Gear Guy, with fancy carbon skis and a lightweight Gore-Tex shell, I had plastic sleds and a pair of Kmart Moonboots and had just as much fun. Here's a breakdown of the four basic sleds you can get your hands on for under $40.
Cafeteria Lunch Tray ($0)
Best For: Closing down the bar.
Cons: The complete lack of a curved bottom bogs the front down in soft snow. No handles means you're left gripping the corners, which can lead to serious finger injuries. Maneuvering it requires great skill and body control.
Tips: Start with liquid courage and plan to go straight-ish. If you are on anything but hardpack or ice, lean back. If available, lubricate the bottom with Pam Cooking Spray. Return the lunch tray after use for a cleaner conscience.
Car Tire Inner Tube (From $6 to $30)
Best For: Sending it.
Pros: While it lacks handles and is more unwieldy than its slimmer, snow-specific cousin (the saucer), the inner tube has one big thing going for it: a few inches of cush separating your tailbone from the hard, frozen ground. The bottom is slightly rockered, making it the best craft on this list for powder. And it deflates and packs down well for easy off-season storage.
Cons: The lack of straight surfaces makes tracking in a straight line difficult. The absence of handles makes it nearly impossible to stay connected to your tube when airborne.
Tips: If you are planning to send it in an inner tube, make sure to position yourself with as much padding as possible. Don’t plan to travel in a straight line.
Saucer (From $10 to $30)
Best For: Controlled chaos.
Pros: Shane McConkey venerated the saucer for good reason: it delivers the perfect mix of body control with lack of directional control, leading to wild, Kodak-moment-filled rides.
Cons: The lack of straight, tracking edges makes it impossible to hold a line in the snow. The sunken middle of the saucer provides no coccyx protection.
Tips: Look for pre-set tracks in snow if you want to maintain a straight line. Start out riding switch—or actively rotating—for style points and a better ride.
Plastic Toboggan (From $10 to $40)
Best For: Channeling your inner Olympian.
Pros: The most capable sled on our list, the toboggan's upturned nose allows it to navigate through deep snow, while the edges along the bottom help it hold a line. Handles help you maneuver around obstacles.
Cons: On hardpack or ice, these sleds can get going extremely fast. They don’t have any type of built-in brake.
Tips: Have a braking plan and check your trajectory for obstacles. I melted both the heels off my favorite pair of boots in high school trying to regain control of my sled after going way too fast on an icy, 150-yard run. I stopped mere feet from the bumper of a truck that would have re-structured my face had I not sacrificed those sweet, sweet boots.
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