About five years ago, I was taking my in-laws on a tour of the Rideau Canal. We watched a pair of skaters zoom by us, pushing some sort of wood contraptions on skis. I was immediately fascinated, and later that evening my father-in-law and I perused various sources with plans to build your own kick sled. Nothing ever came of it, but I never forgot my curiousity, and it was sparked (that’s a pun, by the way) all over again when a friend posted that she had received a kicksled for Christmas and she posted a link to the site in Quebec from which it had been ordered. I had to wait about two weeks for them to come back in stock (coming as they do on a boat from Finland) and another week for my new toy to make its way from the vendor to me.
Last May, I impulsively bought a kayak, slightly worrying that I might try it once or twice and that it would then take up space in the garage forever. It turned out to be my favourite toy ever, and I kayaked happily two and three times a week from May through November. Turns out the same mojo was at play with the kicksled. I was a little concerned buying one without ever having tried it, but from the moment I stepped on to it, I was in love.
So what’s a kick sled, or maybe it’s kicksled, or as they’re called in their native Scandinavian countries, a spark? (See, that’s the pun I made earlier!) It’s the love child of a scooter and cross-country skis, and looks a lot like a dog sled in search of a dog – in fact, you can buy dog harnesses should you wish to skijorn. You stand on one long runner and kick with the other leg a few times, then glide and shift. It’s a terrific workout, and a lot less intimidating than cross-country skis. If the sled is going too fast, or the hill is steep, or you’re worn out and need a break, just step off and walk. What’s interesting is that I have weak knees and complainy ankles and hips, and although I walk at least 30 minutes each day, any more than that and my knees and hips tend to ache. However, I can easily kicksled for 6 or 8 km with nary an issue.
This pandemic winter has been, by sheer chance, a great one to learn to kicksled. The trails are often compacted as soon as the snow stops falling. (Ideal conditions for a kicksled are hard packed to icy snow, or a very fine powder. Deep powder slows it down, as does even the tinest bit of road salt or sand.) I tend to go out very early in the morning to miss the crowds, but the kicksled is easily manoueverable to share the trail. Unfortunately, like kayaks and other personal watercraft were in summer 2020, they’re also very hard to come by. There aren’t a lot of kicksled vendors around – buying online from Quebec seemed to be my only option.
So two or three times a week for the three weeks or so that I’ve had it, I’ve been out exploring the amazing wonderland that is Ottawa’s winter trail network. There’s a dearth of information on kicksledding in Ottawa, so I thought I’d share that as I find it, too. People are fascinated by the spark – I’ve yet to go out that I haven’t been stopped at least once, sometimes three or four times, by curious folk who want to know what it is and where to get one. I’m beginning to think I could fund the college educations of all three kids just by dragging a few extra sparks behind me when I go out and selling them to curious onlookers. At the very least, I should probably be getting a commission from goslide.ca for the number of people I send their way. (Not an affiliate link yet, but if you’re from GoSlide, let’s talk! :D) The brand of kicksled I have is the ESLA, made using traditional methods in Finland for generations.
If you’d like to know more, this site has a great deal of information about kick sled history. Kicksleds are very common in Norway, Finland and Sweden, where they are used like we use bicycles – to run errands, to explore, to get out of the house. They’re creeping into North American pop culture, where the Netflix series Home for Christmas featured a woman zipping about on her kicksled, and the movie Kicksled Choir was recently nominated for an Oscar.
So hey, between posting about my summer kayak adventures and winter kicksled adventures, there may be life in this old blog yet! If there’s enough interest, I was thinking about setting up an Ottawa Kicksled group on Facebook or Reddit to share info, trails, resources, etc. If you’re interested, let me know your preferred platform and I’ll set it up. Edited to add: Winter is coming, and I finally did set up that Ottawa Kicksled group on Facebook. All are welcome!