Kicksledding and the kicksled first caught my attention a few years ago. I was intrigued. Here was an environmentally-friendly winter invention, available for both competitive sports and recreational activity perfectly suited for Canadian and American winters–and yet it was virtually unknown in North America.
The Swedes invented the kicksled over 150 years ago to transport fish, wood, and people along frozen rivers and lakes. At one time, kicksledding was one of the top three winter sports in Scandinavia, right alongside skiing and skating. Since the 1980s, kicksledding has been enjoying a world-wide renaissance.
At first glance, the kicksled looks somewhat like a dog sled, or a child’s stroller on runners. Two parallel runners are bolted to an upright tube metal frame that has wooden handlebars and wooden chair seat attached to the front. Assembly and takedown is done quickly by just twisting a few nuts and bolts.
Versatility is the genius of the kicksled. Use it as a children’s snow stroller or a snow walker for seniors or people with limited mobility (they can get winter exercise without the fear of falling). Or haul items along a winter trail. For ice-fishing, it’s great as a tackle or gear box on skis. And dog owners can harness their dog to the handlebars for a low stress canine workout.
As a winter exercise, kicksledding utilizes all the muscle groups, provides excellent cardiovascular benefits, and is second to nordic skiing for overall body development. It is a low impact sport, excellent for cross-training. And when you get tired, just stop, sit on the kicksled’s seat, and relax. The perfect winter lawn chair!
You can kicksled anywhere you can hike, cross-country ski, or snowmobile. Thrill seekers can gain impressive speeds on bare ice or icy cross-country skiing paths.
Just ask Ruth Chapman, of Thunder Bay’s Nor’West Outdoor Centre (one of the first in Canada to add kicksleds to their winter programs). “My husband Doug and I were winter camping at Quetico Park, having hauled everything in our kicksleds. We thought we’d try kicksledding on the lake. Well, we were absolutely flying across that ice with little effort! It was awesome.”
So how do you actually kicksled? It is simple, like using an old-fashioned scooter – kick and glide. You stand behind the seat, holding onto the handlebar. Put one foot on the runner, and with the other foot, push the forward with a kicking motion (hence the term, kicksledding). Steering is done by gently twisting the handlebars. The kicksledder is responsible for 90 percent of the speed, with the vehicle the remaining 10 percent. To maximize the workout and minimize strain, do an average of about five kicks with one foot before switching to the other foot.
A few winters ago, I tried kicksledding for the first time and was pleasantly surprised at the sense of untethered freedom. There were no engines to start, no skis to wax, no special clothing or boots to wear, no fees to pay, no other equipment to bring. Just the kicksled and I weaving smoothly through the quiet winter wilderness.
The kick sled has arrived in the Northern Wilds. In Grand Marais recently, the North House Folk School put on a class “Kick Sled – Build Your Own”, and Sawtooth Mountain Sleds builds kicksleds for dogs. And on the Gunflint Trail, the Tuscarora Lodge & Outfitters offer guests a winter package with complimentary kicksled rental.
In Thunder Bay, you can try out kicksleds at Nor-West Outdoor Centre or rent one from Chaltrek & Ostrom Outdoors.
But I can’t help but wonder – why did it take so long for kicksledding to come to wintery North America?