For the year’s first real snowstorm, just after New Year’s, I descended the perilous basement staircase of my parent’s house, moving aside the subfloor’s retired headboards and miscellaneous planks of wood to find the treasure I sought—a genuine Flexible Flyer. Remarkably they have two: one older and larger, the other in better hill-dashing condition. These days, when you visit one of the borough’s steep slopes and knolls, you’ll mostly find kids riding different plastic slidearounds—versions (with varying degrees of fanciness) of the old standby garbage can lid. (The classic sheets-of-cardboard have in my experience largely gone the way of stickball.)
It was a long walk to the park that day through poorly cleared sidewalks, a legitimate snow hike made more cumbersome by the long planks of wood connected to lithe metal runners. But such inconvenience would pay off: what gives the sled its name is a thin crown of detached lumber that bends left and right, making it possible to steer with your hands or feet—a valuable tool on the crowded mounds of Brooklyn, where unschooled children perilously climb up post-descent straight into the lines of people coming down.
As I stood atop Dead Man’s Hill in Owl’s Head Park, multiple middle-aged men chaperoning schoolchildren stopped dead to stare and ask, “Where did you get that?,” hoping it was around the corner so they could toss aside the plastic whatsits of which they were now ashamed. They were all reminded of their own childhoods, when they piloted their own Flexible Flyers down their own Dead Man’s Hills. It’s the perfect hipster sledding accessory: old-fashioned and nostalgia-inducing. But its appeal extends beyond that youthful niche: they’re sturdy sleds, the Platonic ideal, wood and metal and speedsome and non-disposable, the sort of thing your grandchildren will ride as long as you have a basement in which to store it during warm weather.
Not that it’s perfect: that January 3, the snow was powder, blowing through cracks in doorways to infiltrate houses. On an unridden patch, it sank into the grass and refused to budge. On slicker sections, iced down from use, it needed a push: I ran behind, then wrapped my arms around my girlfriend, let my feet go slack, and used the downward momentum to propel us both, my boots dragging behind, to the bottom of the hill. It was surprisingly effective, not to mention fun, a ridiculous maneuver we repeated thrice. Such is the reality of a well-crafted mechanism: even when it doesn’t function according to design, you can manipulate it to work well in some other way.
Our most recent snowfall is now almost 48 hours old, but the borough’s best sledding hills—Bay Ridge’s Dead Man’s, Fort Greene Park’s, Prospect Park’s Long Meadow bumps—should still be snowy enough to ride. And if you can’t get out right away, well, find a Flexible Flyer now and wait patiently for the next Polar Vortex to blanket us with flakes of crystalline frozen water. And do your sledding right.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart