Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Elliott's Twisted Tale: Heavy Snow Led Kids to Go Downhill Fast

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Elliott's Twisted Tale: Heavy Snow Led Kids to Go Downhill Fast

Article excerpt

Seattle recently received the unexpected gift of snow, a rare benefit for that city from this winter's La Nina weather pattern.

I was watching the televised reports of so many inexperienced drivers attempting to navigate the snow-covered hills. The police were closing steep streets to keep the most daring drivers from using their cars as sleds.

What brought back memories was watching the fun-seekers skiing and riding sleds down those steep Seattle city streets closed to traffic.

Over 50 years ago I was a young boy living on Lakewood Street in the Elliott section of Pittsburgh, where all of the local children prayed for snowfall. We all knew that at the lower end of Lakewood, we had the best sled-riding track anywhere.

It wasn't just a snow-covered street but was transformed into an actual track after a few residents drove cars over the fresh snow, compacting it to a hard base of three or so inches. It had all of the twists and turns, embankments and excitement of an Olympic bobsled course.

It began at the intersection of Lakewood, Milford and Stem streets, where we were sure that any vehicle traffic would be going only downhill, because no one would attempt to drive uphill on such a slippery roadway.

Only a runner sled could negotiate all the turns encountered along the half-mile run. There were always more riders than available sleds, so we would sometimes have to double up. We would pile two or three onto a sled and start downhill with the pilot trying to steer with his feet on the wooden T bar and with knees pressed tight to his chest.

We would be lucky to make it to the first turn before the sled would tip over and spill the riders all over the track. Of course, the pilot was blamed for the crash, but in reality the additional riders caused the sled to be top-heavy.

This was great fun, but the real challenge was to make a complete run from top to bottom without stopping. This could only be accomplished by a single rider on a Flexible Flyer.

The street was only about 15 feet wide, and it started out as a gradual slope with a gentle curve to the right. The proper technique was to stand at the top of the hill with the sled held vertically. …

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