Last January, after a winter storm dumped nearly 30 inches of snow on the region, many Baltimoreans were given two great gifts: an extended break from school and work, and some serious sledding hills to explore.
Lutherville resident Dan Taylor and his daughter Ryan, now 9, found their sledding spot close to home, on the "enormous" horseshoe-shaped hill behind Ridgely Middle School.
"It's a great spot, there's such a huge field," said Taylor. "We were there for days. It got packed down and kids were snowboarding on it. It was so good."
While the Baltimore area hasn't seen anything close to "Snowzilla" this winter, there's still plenty of time for winter weather to arrive. If and when snow does fall, be prepared to maximize sledding potential by taking the appropriate safety measures, choosing the right equipment, and — of course — knowing the best hills.
The Baltimore region is full of potential sledding spots. The best have plenty of space for a crowd and at least one hill of impressive size and slope. They're also convenient — when it's snowy outside, nobody wants to travel too far or get stuck trying to find a parking spot.
As a result, snow bunnies like the Taylors often end up seeking out sledding destinations right in their backyards, both literally and figuratively. Schools, like Ridgely and Anne Arundel Community college; golf courses, such as the one at McDaniel College; and local parks, from Federal Hill to Herring Run, are all sledding hot spots. (A word of warning: When possible, check with the owner of the property before setting out to sled. Not every organization perched on a hill welcomes it.)
For Taylor, last year's sledding was fun, but different from the sledding memories he has from childhood.
"I grew up in New Jersey in the '70s, and that was the Wild West compared to what goes on now," he said. "I lived on a street that was steep and hilly. We used to ride the bumpers of cars and my brothers would throw snowballs at us when we went past the house."
Today, on the other hand, kids (and parents) are much more cautious. "Now everybody has helmets on," he said.
It seems like fun and games, but sledding can be a dangerous activity. In December, 35-year-old Adam French died in a Carroll County sledding accident, after being struck by a vehicle when the sled he was riding with his 4-year-old son entered the street.
Identifying safe sledding spots should be a priority, said Teri McCambridge, director of Towson Sports Medicine. "Make sure it's well-lit and don't sled at night, where it's dark and you can't see obstacles," she said, noting that wooded areas, in particular, pose risks.
"Find an area where it flattens out at the bottom before it comes to a street. And ponds or water might look frozen, but, especially in Baltimore, it's never cold long enough to really freeze."
McCambridge also warns against letting multiple kids of different ages and sizes pile on one sled. "It's always the 2-year-old who gets hurt," she said. Also, to minimize risk of head and body injuries, sled-riders should sit on sleds feet-first.
"I see a lot of kids who come in because they stood on the sled because they wanted it to be like a snowboard," she said. "But you shouldn't stand on a sled."
And, of course, proper sledding attire is also important for staying safe. "Make sure kids are wearing gloves and hats and make sure they zip their clothes," said McCambridge. "And wear proper shoes or boots with rubber bottoms, so they're less likely to fall or slip."
Just as sledding safety guidelines have come a long way, so have the sleds themselves.
"In the old days, it was the Flexible Flyer — the wooden sleds with metal rails. They were OK, but sledding is more high-tech now," said Paul Davis, owner of sporting goods store Princeton Sports. "We sell a lot of tubes — basic tubes or tire tubes with vinyl covering them. They hold up for more than one snowstorm."
Lightweight foam sleds that kids can carry on their own, durable hard plastic sleds, and snowboard-like sleds that kids can steer with a string are also popular.
For would-be sledders who don't own — or can't buy or borrow — traditional sleds, makeshift sleds can be fashioned out of everything from duct tape-covered cardboard boxes to trash can lids and plastic storage tub tops. Enterprising sledders have also been known to repurpose baby pools and air mattresses to head down the hill.
Davis warns that whatever the type they choose, sled shoppers should grab one before the next big blizzard.
"We sell a boatload. When there's snow on the ground, we can't keep the stuff in stock," he said. "It's like the grocery store when a blizzard's coming."
Sledding hot spots in the Baltimore area
Baltimore and the surrounding counties are filled with peaks and valleys perfect for tobogganing. This winter, here are some spots where you're likely to find folks sledding.
Ridgely Middle School
121 East Ridgely Road, Lutherville-Timonium
This go-to Baltimore County spot boasts a large hill that wraps in a horseshoe. The hill draws crowds after the snow, but Lutherville resident Dan Taylor says there is usually ample parking available.
Herring Run Park
Between Harford and Argonne roads, near Lake Montebello, Baltimore
Locals love the many options for sledding near Lake Montebello, where hills vary in length and concrete drainage sites create built-in obstacles.
300 Warren Ave., Baltimore
Expect to encounter crowds (including many adults) cruising down this steep hill, where sledding comes with a side benefit: iconic views of the city.
The Dell at Wyman Park
Bordered by North Charles Street, East 29th Street, Art Museum Drive and Wyman Park Drive, Baltimore
This small, city park near the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus and the Baltimore Museum of Art, is home to a steep hill with a bonus safety feature: it is protected from nearby traffic.
27 S. Patterson Park Ave., Baltimore
Patterson Park is frequently crowded, but with lots of options for sledding throughout the park, it's a popular spot for good reasons. Start at the Pagoda and explore from there.
Oregon Ridge State Park
13401 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville
In the snow, Oregon Ridge is a winter wonderland, filled with opportunities to hike, cross-country ski and sled. Years ago, it was home to a ski resort; the hill is still a popular spot for sledding. The Lodge, which is now available for private events, was originally a bona fide ski lodge.
Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville Campus
800 South Rolling Road, Catonsville
Located off Campus Drive near Parking Lot 2, this hill is legendary among generations of Catonsville residents. Steep at first, with some trees to avoid, the hill's slope gets shallower at the end, allowing for a smooth end to the journey. (Warning: The college has posted a "sleigh at your own risk" sign.)
Baltimore County Board of Education, Greenwood Campus
6901 Charles St., Towson
Known simply as "The Hill" to some, this slope is a family-friendly hotspot on cold days. Clearly visible from Charles Street, the steep hill, which ends in a ditch, is often packed with kids of all ages and their parents.
Anne Arundel Community College
101 College Parkway, Arnold
Though the main entrance to AACC is closed when the college is closed for weather, prospective sledders can enter the school via College Drive (near the white farmhouse). From there, they can make their way to parking lots B and C, which make for fun sledding.
McDaniel College Golf Course
207 Pennsylvania Ave., Westminster
This open space, with a steep slope, has been a Westminster-area sledding spot for generations. The college's official position is to neither condone nor prohibit sledding on the hill, which draws tons of students and locals whenever it snows.
Centennial High School
4300 Centennial Lane, Ellicott City
With lots of open space and a large hill that starts steep, has a midpoint drop, then eases to a gradual close, this sledding spot is popular with sledders of all ages – even those who experiment with snowboards.
801 Chase St., Annapolis
The hill behind Maryland Hall in Annapolis is a regular gathering spot for young sledders, where plenty of open space means there's room for a crowd.