Downhill all the way

It’s the season to begin your own alpine adventure without fleeing the country. Here are some top tobogganing tips for when the snow falls in London… well, hopefully!

This may be southern England, but when the white stuff falls we like to imagine ourselves on the Alpine slopes. And nothing beats the thrill of taking to a snowy trail on a toboggan or slider, especially if it’s for the first time.

“It’s snowing!” You can almost hear the shrieks of delight seconds before they fill the air, as little ones rush to untangle wellington boots, and adults try to remember where the waterproof clothing and winter toys have been mothballed.

While you’re probably tempted to set off straightaway for some outdoor exercise and merriment, experts advise careful preparation, even when hitting the nursery runs, to help guarantee fun for all.

Getting appropriately kitted-up certainly makes sense if you plan to spend more than a few minutes outside with children. And the risk of sledging injuries, particularly head injuries, needs to be taken seriously. David Walker, leisure safety manager at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), says, “We would encourage people to wrap up warm and consider wearing a helmet if they have one (skiing, roller-skating, skate board, bicycle helmets etcetera, would all be okay) when sledging down very steep slopes at high speed. If you are sledging on a gentle slope and not at great speed, a warm hat will do.”

Without the insulation from the elements afforded by a pushchair, small children do get cold very quickly. So, as well as appropriate headgear, layered clothing – ideally wool, topped off with a coat, is recommended. Waterproof gloves provide extra protection and if a scarf is worn, make sure that it’s tied to avoid it getting caught. Should a long winter be forecast, a pair of snow boots and a ski suit could prove sound investments. Seat attachments, such as thermosacks, provide additional warmth and padding, although you’ll need to check first which types of sledge these will fit onto.

When it comes to what skims the slopes best, the choice can be baffling. Do you go for a Bump Skid or a Torpedo; a Snow Fox or a Snow Penguin? While older children might be spotted aboard a sacrificial tea tray or dustbin lid, novices need to be able to stay reasonably dry and have some ability to steer.

Early buying decisions usually pit wood against plastic. The traditional slatted toboggan, aka the Davos-inspired downhill icon, allows adults to easily jump aboard with young children, copes well with less compacted snow and keeps everyone seated well above the surface. Bill Wilson from online retailer reports burgeoning sales and believes this is down to what he calls, “Buying a memory.”

If you’re keen to avoid the back-ache inducing uphill climb however, and want to encourage little ones to carve their own course, the alternative, modern sliders become surprisingly attractive. The Baby Luge is an increasingly popular first purchase. Featuring a three-point safety harness, soft rubber seat and a high back support, it’s designed for use between six months and two years. While, for slightly older children, a bestseller is the so-called Mega Bob that helps to keep feet dry, has handles to hold on to, and seats two comfortably. Push handles on other models can also be helpful in transporting little ones to and from the slopes.

Parent Duane Clark and his four children aged from two up to seven years enjoyed using basic bob style sledges last winter. Not only were these light and easy for everyone to carry, but also robust enough to withstand multiple pilots and plenty of knocks. “At the end of the sessions we’d be seen dragging them along the slushy road in convoy, with the littlest at the back, all pink faces and tired,” he recalls.

While for Chris Burrell’s family, having a sledge that’s both fairly cheap and reasonably quick is important. Sometimes his youngsters ride two-up with dad who, Chris admits, “Does tend to slow the sledge down!”

As RoSPA’s David Walker points out, picking your launch position matters. “Take time to consider your choice of (sledging) location and look out for any dangers such as trees, fences or rocks. The best way to do this is to approach the slope from the bottom, giving you the opportunity to spot hazards as you go, in order to calculate how steep the slope is and crucially whether there is enough stopping distance at the bottom. Deep snow is the best type to go sledging on as there is less risk of hurting yourself.” And as he also observes, it’s important to consider others who might be on the same slope, and to only go sledging in daylight when visibility is much better.

Heading for one of the popular, established sledging sites might be busy at peak times, but you’ll know it’s legal, as trespassing on private property still applies. Some golf clubs do, however, open up snow covered sections for a limited period, which can provide the perfect conditions for unexplored fun.

And if, once the big melt sets in, you long for some more sledge action then a snow dome, a dry ski slope, even a sand dune, is great for gaining confidence ready for next winter. Why wait for the first flakes to fall? ✿

For gated parks, check individual websites for winter opening hours

Starter slopes…
Hilly Fields Park
✱ SE4 1LR
Ignore some of the higher slopes and instead head for the long, gentle runs. Locals in the know seek out this open space so it’s popular with young families. There’s a newly built café and toilets, and Green Flag status means you should find the park well maintained.
✽ Another gentle one for beginners: Duppas Hill CR0 4BG

A little more challenging…
Brockwell Park
✱ SE24 9BJ
A good wide starting base, with a speedy dip on the slopes, accommodates all levels and enjoys views of the City skyline. Brockwell Hall at the top of the hill has a café and the park’s £6 million restoration programme includes improvements to facilities.
✽ Not far away: Blythe Hill Fields SE6

Greenwich Park
✱ SE10 8QY
Launch yourselves from the statue of General Wolfe by the Royal Observatory and there are plenty of routes to follow, including crossing the famous Meridian Line. Don’t allow the views towards the Thames to become too much of a distraction though as you head down the slopes as there are fences at the bottom!
✽ Another classic south London park: Crystal Palace CR20 8DT

Primrose Hill
✱ NW1 4NR
It might be on the outer fringes of The Regent’s Park but this open space feels a million miles away from the manicured lawns. And ever since it opened its long slopes to the public in 1841, Londoners have flocked here so be prepared to crowd dodge. If you enjoy celebrity spotting, a famous face might be parading on the piste.
✽ Less busy: Alexandra Palace (which also has an ice rink) N22 7AY

The red run…
Parliament Hill
✱ NW5 1QR
At 98m (322ft) it’s the city’s highest point, so hang on tight to little ones if you’re tempted by London’s Cresta Run! There’s a café and toilets off the Highgate Road, and being the gateway to Hampstead Heath there are plenty more slopes (some significantly less adrenalin fuelled) just a short slide away.