When we were kids, "X" wasn't part of our vocabulary. It was just the 24th letter of the alphabet; a letter that, when used to describe a certain kind of movie, made us laugh.
There were no "X Games." Nobody used "X" when they meant "extreme," as in the kinds of things we did with a plastic saucer and a steep, snow-covered hill. We never even considered we were masters of "extreme" sledding: flying downhill, head-first, at rocket speed, veering around trees, fence posts and boulders; jumping and surviving seemingly impossible maneuvers, only to trudge back uphill and go again.
We just knew it was a chance to go fast. Really fast. We were too young to drive, too poor to ski, too small to drive snowmobiles, so we embraced sledding for its freedom, its thrills and its tantalizing potential for danger.
We grew up and bought our dream cars, learned to ski and snowmobile, and we gave up sledding. But then we became parents and we took our kids out on that first snowy day. We got on that plastic saucer and headed downhill and we remembered the freedom, the thrills, the quickened heartbeat. We went fast. Really fast.
We recommend everyone get back on a sled: a plastic saucer, classic Flexible Flyer or toboggan. Don't have a sled? Improvise on a cafeteria tray, a plastic trash bag, a shovel or a flat piece of cardboard. Scamper up those hills and relive that long-lost feeling. Here are our favorite places in the Pikes Peak region to do it, rated from mild to wild:
Gentle: The hill behind the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 W. Dale St. This broad hill has just enough vertical to give you a thrill without much of a risk. It's relatively tree-free and is perfect after a new snowfall. Free. Similar metro hills: near Howbert Elementary School, 1023 N. 31st St., and Trailblazer Elementary School, 2015 Wickes Road.
Thrills with big snow: Mueller State Park, four miles south of Divide off Colorado Highway 67. There are three designated sledding areas here, but our favorite is Preacher's Hollow. It starts in the trees, heads steeply downhill and then dumps you out in a relatively treeless bowl. Enterprising sledders often build impromptu jumps here. Entrance fee: $6 per car. On the way home, stop at Woodland Park's Meadow Wood Park, on Evergreen Heights Drive. The park's south edge has some wide hills that empty onto a soccer field.
Big walk, big payoff: High Drive. This road is closed to cars in the winter, so it makes a perfect sledding hill for those willing to walk a little (and willing to take action right after a snowstorm). Park in the lot at the top of North Cheyenne Cañon Road and hoof it to High Drive from there, or park at the bottom, off 26th Street, and walk up. Free. Similar metro spots: Cottonwood Creek Park, at Dublin Boulevard and Rangewood Drive, and Quail Lake Park, on East Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard.
Steep: The old Pikes Peak Ski Area, just off the Pikes Peak Highway. This ski area, a favorite among locals since it opened in 1939, closed in 1984 and the chairlift was dismantled. But the treeless trails remain, steep, smooth and bordered by dense forest. On a sled that you can maneuver, this can give you a thrilling ride. Pikes Peak Highway tolls apply ($5 per person, to Glen Cove).
Steep and deep: Rampart Range Road in the Pike National Forest. "Forest" is the operative word here. The dense stands of pine, spruce and fir make sledding difficult (there's that kissing-a-tree threat), but four miles from Woodland Park, there's a bowl that's a local favorite. It's steep, and you still have to watch for trees at its edges and the bottom, but its deep snow (plus free admission) draws dedicated sledders and daredevils alike. Take U.S. Highway 24 west to Woodland Park; turn right on Baldwin Street (at McDonald's). At the fork, stay left, on Rampart Range Road. Drive four miles and look for the deep bowl and parking turnouts on your right.