Tyler wiped his fogged glasses and began dragging the large tube back to the top of the snowy hill, his cheeks red from the biting cold.
It was the second day of sledding at the Hayford Park hill in Bangor for Tyler Hiles, 6, of Bangor.
“We just graduated to here a few minutes ago,” said his grandfather Rob Melanson, as he stood at the crest of the steepest section of the hill and watched Tyler jump onto the $150 L.L. Bean tube and zoom down the slope, stopping just before he reached the chain-link fence.
“He just got the snowboard for Christmas,” Melanson said holding up an $18 plastic snowboard. “He loves it. He’s right into it.”
“I’m awesome,” Tyler said, panting. “I’ve been going down the hill fast. I’m very good at sledding. I like going fast because you get stronger.”
“It’s been a big crowd here for the past two or three days,” Melanson said.
The day after the blizzard, he drove by and was surprised by how many people were sledding in the freezing wind. As he brought Tyler sledding, he noticed the difference in sleds used now compared to the sleds he used as a child.
“We used the double rail with the steering in the front,” he said. “We used to have toboggans.”
Sleds, in various forms, have been used throughout history as vehicles for toting luggage over snowy terrain. Native American tribes used toboggans, the prototypical snow sled, made of hardwood boards curved up at the front end using heat.
“You don’t see any toboggans anymore,” Melanson said. “It’s all plastic — cheap plastic, as you can see.”
He pointed to the shards of blue, lime green and black plastic littering the snow at the top of the hill.
Many plastic sleds sport futuristic names such as “Snow Racer,” “Snow Shuttle” and “Dual Action Snow Disk.”
“Sleds have more variety now,” said Mike Betzel of Bangor as he watched his daughter Autumn, 6, sled with her friend Nate, also 6. “They seem to go a little faster nowadays.”
Spinning saucers and foam Boogie Boards joined the army of neon plastic.
Not far behind the hill, the Hayford Park parking lot was packed, and vehicles with four-wheel drive ventured onto the snowbanks. With stomachs full of lunch, children ran to the hill under the small, white sun sinking in the overcast sky.
“It’s so awesome. I’ve been in Bangor my whole life, and when I came here the first time, it was so cool,” said Connor Young, 7, of Bangor. “If you hit a bump, you go high, and once you spin, you’re like, ‘What’s going on?’”
Connor sleds about once a week. One of his favorite spots, Indian Hill Trail Park in Brewer, is steeper, and the terrain can get pretty bumpy at the end.
“He’s having fun. He likes this place because it’s fast enough that he has fun and is comfortable, but not so scary he won’t go,” said his grandfather Gil Maxwell, as he stood watching him from the top of the hill.
Tyler wasn’t the only child with a snowboard that day. More and more children are learning how to balance on the inexpensive, plastic boards.
The first commercial snowboard was created by surfer Sherman Poppen in 1964, and people have been modifying the device ever since. By 1985, it was recognized as an official sport and has since been growing in popularity.
The children’s snowboards usually are made for gliding in one direction rather than making cuts back and forth, as is done with an adult-size snowboard.
Wearing goggles, a pink ski jacket and polka-dotted snow pants, Sophie Lauritanos, 5, of Bangor balanced on the pink Burton snowboard she had already been riding for two years. Her mom, Sue, ran ahead of her and let her ride a short distance down the hill before catching her beneath her arms.
“We aren’t mountain-ready yet,” said Sue. “Well, she’s more mountain-ready than I am. She was irritated that I kept catching her.”
“I think it’s great,” Sophie said. “My dad teaches me. I was scared sometimes when I first started.”
“This place seems the safest,” said Sue. “I’ve been over to the Essex Hill [also known as Bangor’s Suicide Hill] and looked at it and said, ‘No way.’”
As families returned to their vehicles in the waning daylight, children still were jumping in their sleds to slide down the snowbanks lining the parking lot.
For a look at how Maine people get creative with cardboard sleds, watch a video of the 2009 Bangor Cardboard Carnival, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_BA2gZUb84.