Matthew Dickerson: The evolution of a Nordic adventure

THE AUTHOR LONG ago learned by trial and error how to pull his first child behind him on a sled while he skied. Eventually he tried pulling his baby in a pulk, and now, 30 years later, it was an easy choice to present his first grandchild with a pulk for his parents  — and grandparents — to pull him in while skiing.

It was almost 30 years ago, during the winter of 1992-1993, that I began the adventure of pulling a child behind through the woods on snow while cross-country skiing. To be clear, I was the one doing the cross-country skiing. The child was just along for the ride. He didn’t even have skis, and was too young to use them even if he did. “He was having all the fun,” as I said at the time, “while I’m doing all the work.” Though, to speak the truth, I was having a good bit of fun too — at least when I wasn’t terrified.

Those who, like me, are parents of multiple kids know that we tend to learn parenting as we go. Which is to say, we make all the mistakes on our first child. Or to be kinder to ourselves, we do all our “experimenting” on our first kids. That was certainly the case when it came to hauling them through the woods on a sled.

The motivation for attempting such an adventure might be obvious. My wife and I, still relatively newly married, needed a way to get exercise, be outdoors, and spend time together in the winter on a limited budget. Cross-country skiing had been a great way to do that, until the helpless little infant suddenly appeared in our lives. What we needed was a way to bring him along on our skiing adventures. And for the first year and a half of his life, a backpack seemed to work OK. It made me a little top heavy, to be sure. But I managed. For a while.  Eventually, however, his growing size and weight made the backpack just too unwieldy — it made me tippy and our situation precarious. Wiping out into the deep snow one day with my son on my back made me decide I needed a new solution.

Thus was my first pulk born — an invention of necessity. I took our red plastic boat sled, added an extra length of rope, tied it to my waist, and we were off. Since at the time we were working within a tight budget not conducive to ski passes, we skied mostly on ungroomed trails around our house or up in the Green Mountain National Forest. I soon replaced the rope harness with an old pair of hockey socks which proved much more forgiving than the rope on my hips. But that solved only one of the issues. The other was more complex: On the ungroomed trails, the sled proved unstable, especially when breaking trail through a foot of fresh snow.

Which is how we got spoiled on the groomed trails. It didn’t take much, actually. After one day of paying for a day pass, and skiing on groomed tracked trails, my wife and I thought, “This is really nice.”  Not only did we enjoy the grooming, but the sled was far more stable on the flat packed snow.

But it brought about a new problem. Instead of plodding along at a slow pace and trying to keep the sled and its occupant from tipping over, we were soon cruising along like actual skiers. The first time I went down a largish hill on a groomed trail and turned a corner, my heart almost failed. Because, as you may guess, the turning of a corner while pulling a trailer does a wonderful job of whipping the trailer around the outside of the corner even faster than the one doing the pulling. After depositing my son in the woods beside the trail, I anxiously ran back to pull him out of the snow, wondering what damage I had caused to his fragile body. He was laughing, and telling me to do it again.

From then on, I learned on the downhills to reach behind me and pull the sled right up between my legs, and to hold on tightly to keep it from whipping around the corner — or just to keep it from passing me. I also starting eyeing the rental pulks with the rigid bars affixed to a comfortable harness, which do a great job of enabling the skier to control the sled behind them.  Soon we were spoiled not just on groomed trails, but on rental pulks. So much for our tight budget. But at least I got my hockey socks back.

Fast forward three decades. Our days of pulling a rental pulk around Rikert, Blueberry Hill Inn, and Trapp Family Lodge ended many years ago after our third and final son grew out of the rental pulks. Until last year, when our first grandson entered the world. And then my wife started doing grandmother care duties one day each week. Thus the conflict hit us all over again. “Want to go skiing today?” I asked her. “Conditions are perfect.”

“I can’t,” she said. “It’s my day to take care of our grandson.”

“Why don’t we just take him cross-country skiing with us,” I suggested. “We can borrow the pulk we gave them for Christmas.”

As though we hadn’t actually thought of that when buying them the present, she replied, “Oh. That’s a good idea.” There was no mention of hockey socks. No suggestion of digging out the old sled from the barn. And not even a hint of forsaking the groomed trails at Rikert.

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