SILVERTON — Snow-covered vehicles sit neglected on a minus-2-degree morning as Becky Joyce glides past gazebo-size downtown snowbanks and parks her sled outside the Avalanche coffee shop. Five more just like it sit nearby.
“This is such a kick, and it’s so efficient. We rarely drive our cars,” the part-time nurse says as she hops off and joins other sled commuters already inside sipping steamy drinks.
While Coloradans elsewhere might curse the inconvenience of snow-slicked roads, here in what could be called Sled Town U.S.A., hardy residents look forward to the Thanksgiving-to-mid-March snowpacked streets.
Folks glide to work, to the grocery store, to school, to the taverns and to the ice rink, turning this remote San
Juan Mountains community into a throwback to a simpler era and a counterpoint to the chic, SUV-clogged resort towns.”It takes longer to scrape your windows than it takes to hop on your sled and go,” said Silverton Town Administrator Elyse Salazar. She moved here seven months ago and bought a sled as soon as the first winter storm buried the town in an auspicious start to its average annual 150 inches of snowfall.
A quarter of Silverton’s 300 or so wintertime residents own what are called kicksleds. The sleds have 6-foot-long flexible steel runners and willow handles over wood-slatted seats good for carrying kids, spouses or groceries. They look like a light and elegant dogsled — minus the dogs. The sledder stands on the runners and kicks as one would on a scooter.
The first kicksleds came to Silverton from Norway 11 years ago when two businessmen agreed to sell some on consignment and promptly forgot them.
Silverton native Paul Beaber got wind of the sleds, bought a couple and started tooling around town. Other residents eyed their winter efficiency and bought or made more.
Six years ago, Silverton’s sled explosion began when Brice Hoskin, a laid-back entrepreneur with a degree in Mandarin Chinese,
moved to town with a wife who saw the sleds and wanted one.”I said, ‘I could make one of those,’ ” Hoskin recalled.
Nearly 20,000 handmade sleds later, Hoskin has put Silverton on the sledding map with his Mountain Boy Sledworks. The business has taken over three Silverton buildings, employs seven residents, has a Chinese factory and 20 sales reps across the country, and sales in more than 300 locations in 49 states, Canada and Japan.
The kicksleds are the best seller in Silverton, where residents get a wholesale discount on the $250 devices and the town avoids plowing the first good snowfall so it can be packed into a long-lasting crust of snow.
Outside of Silverton, where a lack of long-term snowy streets or too much traffic makes the kicksled less practical, Mountain Boy sells an ever-growing catalog of retro sleds designed for bombing down slopes.
“If it’s wood and it moves, it’s a possibility for us,” said Kevin Gagnon, Mountain Boy director of operations.
The kicksleds and the high-end sleds are made in Silverton, but for the past five years, the remainder have been made in China, in a family-operated factory Hoskin visits about five times a year. The sleds are shipped to Silverton, and once a week a truck rumbles out of town with a load bound for some surprising places.
Mountain Boy sleds are sold in such disparate locations as Saks Fifth Avenue, Plough and Hearth catalogs, Carl’s Pharmacy in Aspen, an electric-bike shop in Salt Lake City and a jewelry store in Little Rock, Ark.
In Silverton, some of the company’s best advertising can be found on the town’s tiny Kendall Mountain ski hill — a 200-foot-long run outside the community center.
Blair Clark, a former Silverton resident, visiting for extreme skiing in the steep backcountry avalanche chutes, was all grins and iced face after one run down Kendall on an Ultimate Flyer, a classic wooden sled.
“This is way more speed than you get on skis,” he said. “It’s way more adrenaline.”
Beaber said he has had to advise visitors they shouldn’t try such stunts on kicksleds. They are designed for gliding, not rocketing.
“When friends come, I tell them, ‘Whatever you do, don’t go down Catholic Hill,’ ” he said, referring to a sloped street with St. Patrick’s church at the top. “They do anyway, and they have had some horrible crashes.”
Next month, crashes will happen en masse when Silverton sledders hold their 11th annual kicksled festival on Feb. 9. It’s a loosely organized competition where sledders gather outside the Avalanche in wild costumes and race around cones or crowd together on sleds in odd poses.
The rest of the winter, Silverton settles into something more like a Norman Rockwell scene.
The ice rink and sled hill draw kids during the day. In the evenings, when smoke curls out of nearly every occupied house in town, sleds line up outside the handful of taverns and restaurants open in winter.
Salazar said Silverton has managed, with the help of the mountains ringing it and the snow and sled-loving residents who tough out winters here, to hang on to something special.
“This is how winter in Colorado used to be.”
Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957 or firstname.lastname@example.org