Two Colorado sledding fanatics are reintroducing Americans to the joys of zooming downhill with hand-shaped toboggans, flyers and kicksleds
By Jen Murphy | Photography by Andrew Maguire
Sledding shouldn’t be a pastime relegated to childhood memories. And thanks to a duo of grown men, the art of the sled is re-emerging as a winter activity for all ages.
“Speed. That’s really what sledding is about — barreling downhill, back to the wind, thinking, ‘Faster! Faster!’” says Brice Hoskin, author of The Sled Book and founder of Mountain Boy Sledworks. Growing up in Grand Junction, Colorado, Hoskin skied Powderhorn Mountain every weekend, but says he’d quit early to go sledding on his “much-repaired” Flexible Flyer. “You get speed on skis, for sure,” he says. “But it’s different when you’re flying down the mountain on a sled head first.”
When Hoskin moved to Silverton, Colorado, in 2002, his wife, Karen, asked him to build them sleds. In the process, Hoskin started thinking about the different types of sleds he could create and how each could coast differently based on design and materials. “I have a bad habit of turning hobbies into businesses,” he jokes.
That year, Mountain Boy Sledworks was born, and Hoskin found himself testing various prototypes. He even traveled to Grindelwald, Switzerland, a sledding mecca, to test his sleds on the longest toboggan run in the world, which spans just over nine miles. “Europe has a real sled culture that I hope America embraces,” he says.
Hoskin eventually settled on three designs. Kicksleds, a Scandinavian invention, are essentially a chair on runners. “I reworked them for Colorado, making them taller with a longer seat so they could fit a few kids,” says Hoskin. “They’re perfect for getting around mountain towns.” His classic toboggan comes in three sizes and the 8-foot fits six adults comfortably. “It’s a rocket,” says Hoskin. “You don’t steer — you just go down.” The Ultimate Flyer, an improved version of the classic Flexible Flyer, is made with birch planks, custom-molded plastic, and handcarved willow hand rails, and glides and turns like a Ferrari. “It took many tries to get to the point where this sled floats through powder and carves on ice,” he says.
While many customers praised Hoskin’s designs, Rick Hitzemann was so infatuated with his Mountain Boy sled that he wanted to carry on the handmade sled legacy. “I immediately fell in love with the handmade beauty and excellent functionality,” says Hitzemann, who along with his wife, Jen, took over Mountain Boy in 2012. Hitzemann enjoyed sledding as a young boy, riding a 6-foot toboggan with siblings at his grandparents’ farm in Wisconsin. “Being the youngest, I got to ride in front, the most exciting position,” he recalls. “I took over Mountain Boy hoping that more families get outside and enjoy something that doesn’t require a screen, batteries or a power cord.”