Kicksledding: Where It Comes From, How To Do It, and Why You Should Try It

By: Nick Sacco

February 10, 2020

Category: Recreation

Four years ago, in my first year as a full-time naturalist with Three Rivers Park District, I learned so much about what we have to offer around the parks, especially in the winter. On one winter day, I was asked to sub in at Lowry Nature Center in Carver Park Reserve. Upon arrival, I asked what I would be teaching. Birding? Winter survival? Live animal presentation? Nope, nope and nope. I would be leading kicksledding. 

“Wait, kicksledding? What’s that?” I thought. Elise Bushard, veteran naturalist at Lowry, quickly shared some cultural history about this Scandinavian mode of transportation converted into modern outdoor fun! 

The History of Kicksledding

I learned that in the chronology of human-powered, winter-traversing technology, kicksleds are toddlers. While snowshoes and skis have been around in crude forms for a few thousand years, kicksleds only came about in the late 19th century. 

Elise told me that kicksleds were first used in Scandinavian countries, especially in mountain towns. For example, in Norway there are towns that until recently didn’t have outside access from roads, so to get around they would ride kicksleds. It is still the case in some areas of Scandinavia. 

“Kick” translates to “spark” in Swedish and Norwegian, so they are often referred to as “sparks.” Today, folks use them for everything from going to the grocery store and school to enjoying them recreationally and racing them competitively. 

Finding a New Favorite Sport

Now, nearly five years later, I’m a recreation specialist for Three Rivers and have found kicksledding to be my favorite winter activity. Please don’t tell my fellow ice anglers, as they know how passionate I am about fishing on the hard water, but kicksledding is just so versatile. 

Early in the season with a little snowpack or icy trail conditions, kicksledding is a great way to explore the first snowfall. With snow runners attached, some people use them on low incline hills for a glide similar to sledding but from a standing position.

What Is A Kicksled and How Does Kicksledding Work?

A man pushes a small boy across a frozen lake on a kicksled.

Picture a dog sled without the dogs and long, flexible steel blades that act as steering mechanisms and places to rest your feet. With one person kicking and gliding, or running behind and then gliding, you can zip along with ease. If you want to share with a friend, let them sit in the seat, and when you get tired, switch spots. 

To steer the kicksled, you can simply shift your weight from side to side. For more advanced spark users, putting outward pressure on the left runner will turn the kicksled to the right, and pressure on the right will turn you to the left. 

For those who need help with balance or support, a kicksled can act as a great trail-walker-turned-extreme-adventure. If there is little snow but good ice conditions (4+ inches of clear ice), take the snow runners off and glide directly on the ice with the blades. 

Snow-packed driveways, trails and sledding hills can all be great spots to try kicksledding! This versatility has been especially helpful with our varied winter conditions in recent years. 

Try It For Yourself!

At Three Rivers, our goal is to give everyone options to try an activity, learn it, love it and live it.  If you’re interested in gliding your winter travels down this path, here are a few ways to do it: 

  • Try It: Rent kicksleds at Richardson and Lowry Nature Centers for $5/hour, plus tax. Call first to check on availability.  
  • Learn It: Sign up for a kicksledding program to learn basic techniques from Three Rivers educators. 
  • Love It: Buy your own kicksled and use any of the multi-use trails in the parks or take it out on a frozen lake adventure.
  • Live it: Take your kicksled to remote places, start a club or get a friend interested! 

About the Author

A man with a beard in a black jacket and hat smiles.

Nick is a recreation program specialist at Three Rivers. He loves spending his time outdoors. His passions include anything on the water involving fish or paddles. These become even better when he gets to share them with his wife, Emma. His one wish would be for everyone to find their place outside, whether that be a sports field or a pristine corner of the world.

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