Get your kicks — out on a route in the snow
How do we love snow? Let us count the ways.
In addition to a nice walk on a sunny day, we love to ski, snowshoe, toboggan and skate. These are the ways I always enjoy play and exercise when Ottawa’s white cold stuff is all over the ground. But lo and behold, there’s yet another option, the world of kicksledding.
The kicksled (or spark) is a small sled consisting of a chair-like seat mounted on a pair of flexible metal runners, which extend backward to about twice the chair’s length. There is a handlebar attached to the top of the chair back on which the driver can hang on as he stands using his feet to thrust the sled forward. The forward-facing seat can carry a passenger or gear.
The first definite record of a kicksled was found in a newspaper in northern Sweden around 1870. The kicksleds of that era had stiff wooden runners and were heavy. In 1900, the design changed to include flexible metal runners and the sleds were built in a Swedish factory named Orsasparken. This new style quickly became the standard in Finland, Sweden and Norway. Even today in Scandinavian small towns, the side streets are not sanded or salted to allow residents to use kicksleds to shop and run errands.
Eventually, and inevitably, the locals made it more of a sport and competitive racing began. Regular and lightweight racing kicksleds are mass-produced by companies like ESLA or Norax AS.
Then in 1994, kicksledding was a demonstration sport at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics. Finland even boasts a professional racing circuit.
In Canada, some kicksleds have been modified for dog sports. A bridle is attached to the kicksled, and a gang line to that, to accommodate one to three dogs pulling. These are lighter and smaller than dogsleds. Many groups hold their own races, sometimes at fast speeds comparable to skijorers.
HOW TO USE
Kick-starting a kicksled isn’t rocket science. You begin by gripping the handlebars and placing one foot on the non-slip pad on the rear section of one blade. With your other foot, kick at the surface between the blades to propel you forward. Continue kicking with a repetitive, leg-swinging motion, and once you build up speed, stand with both feet on the blades and coast.
Obviously, on hard, glasslike ice, the sled travels faster than most skaters. Even if the ice on the Rideau Canal is in poor, bumpy shape, you can still go at a pretty good clip. If ice isn’t readily available, most models come with clip-on plastic skis or snow runners to adapt them for compacted-snow surfaces.
To steer the kicksled, twist its handlebars in the direction you want to go. If your leg tires, switch to kicking with the other foot to keep up your forward momentum.
If you’re racing with dogs on some of the courses in places like Larose Forest east of Ottawa, you’ll need to complete faster turns. To do this, drag one foot on the surface, and use your body weight to keep you on the track.
A popular source to purchase a kicksled around Ottawa is Marc Lacelle, the owner of Komatik Outfitters (komout.com) in Vars, who sells kicksleds, dogsled supplies and skijoring equipment.
His kicksleds sell for $275 and are made of an all-wood construction. If you’re after a wood and metal kicksled, check out the Montreal company Go Slide (goslide.ca), which sells them priced between $200-$279.
To find out more about regional kicksledding fun (with and without dogs), visit skidogs.ca to see the events.
You definitely won’t notice the cold after a few minutes of kicksledding. It exercises the big muscles in the body, especially the lower back and back of the thighs. It is also easy to start training, because you choose the tempo, from racing to walking.
You can utilize the various kicking techniques and practices to maximize your experience. Some things to remember include: to use long kicks economically, minimizing all unnecessary movements; don’t press the handles too tightly and do not lean onto your hands; change the supporting leg often, perhaps every five kicks, and when changing legs, stand on both runners briefly; and lastly, let the sled slide.
There’s no maintenance, waxing or sharpening required for kicksleds. Just dress like you would for snowshoeing and you’ll be fine.