The Mad Sledder
A Rensselaer County college student kicks a favorite winter pastime into high gear
It’s been a long time since Tim Irwin’s mother dressed him in a snow suit, wrapped a scarf snug around his neck, and pecked him on the cheek before he ventured outside to play in the snow.
But after all these years, the 20-year-old Averill Park resident still loves sledding.
Irwin is a pioneer in the up-and-coming sport of extreme sledding (or freesledding, as it’s sometimes called). Using a special sled that’s designed for speed and precision steering, extreme sledders sit up on their knees, strap their legs down, and zoom off jumps — performing the kinds of hair-raising tricks and turns previously reserved for skiiers and snowboarders. Since area ski mountains typically don’t allow extreme sledding on their trails, Irwin creates his own: in Troy’s Frear Park, on the Hartwick College campus (where he’s majoring in art) in Oneonta, and on the logging trail near his house. “I can’t pay for ski gear or lift tickets,” says Irwin, who once preferred skiing. “But I can take my sled anywhere, really. I can go outside, throw it on, jet to the bottom of a hill, and go on my way.”
Although far from a mainstream winter activity — extreme sledding is essentially confined to a small group of devotees in the Northeast — the sport is becoming increasingly popular. Last year, Mad River Rocket, the top extreme sled maker, sold more than 20 times the number of sleds that it did in 2000; media outlets such as ABC World News and the Boston Globe have recently spotlighted the sport. But Irwin didn’t need fancy equipment to get hooked on extreme sledding, a sport he stumbled upon by accident during his freshman year of high school. “I bought a cheap Wal-Mart sled, a pillow, and a couple of bungee cords,” he says. “I didn’t know there was a product out there that was 10,000 times better.” He discovered Mad River Rocket while surfing the Web, saved up the $80 needed to buy a good sled, and has been soaring across the snow (and through the air) ever since.
Irwin is now a Mad River Rocket team member, an honor reserved for the most dedicated sledders in the country. He updates his sledding blog a few times each winter, and posts videos of his best moves on YouTube (you can see his videos by searching “The Sled Baron”). “It’s definitely cool to get in on the ground floor of a sport only a handful of people are doing right now,” he admits. Regardless of whether extreme sledding ever reaches a tipping point in popularity, though, Irwin plans to continue pounding the snow — no matter how old he gets. “I know I’ll be sledding as long as my knees can take it, you know?”