Why the Best Snow Sleds, Toboggans, and Dog Sleds are Made of Wood...

The Technology

It is doubtful that the first sleigh makers used a term like “technology,” but they certainly understood its meaning and developed methods and found materials that provided them with the best possible sled performance.

Then and now, wood was the chosen material for sleigh making. Metals and plastics cannot match the flexibility and resilience that are so necessary to proper sled function. These materials do have uses in certain applications, however, and in modern times are incorporated where they are best suited.

To be durable, a proper winter sleigh must be flexible enough to glide smoothly over frozen ground. If the sleds are not flexible enough, the stress of bearing a heavy load at relatively high speeds over hard, uneven terrain will cause even the strongest-seeming materials to break. Metals, for example, will snap if they are bent or repeatedly flexed back and forth as a sled encounters rough going. Plastics are distorted by flexing, as well, and are vulnerable to weakening by UV light. Both metals and plastics become more brittle in cold weather and tend to become even less flexible in the freezing conditions of the sub-Arctic north. Wood is most resilient, as it flexes with the variations of the terrain and is impervious to cold temperatures.

The mechanics of the flex in a wooden toboggan are quite simple. Long, flat boards held together with crosspieces lie flat on the ground. Cargo is placed on top, and the lower surface slides on the snow, flexing up and down as the terrain dictates.

This flexibility leads to incredible strength, durability, and smooth towing. Toboggans made by Northern Toboggan and Sled often accommodate loads of 1000 pounds, and loads twice that size are not uncommonly hauled with toboggan and snow machine. Some hunters and trappers using snow machines pull our toboggans for an average of 15,000 kilometers a season, year after year.

Against a black background: front curl of a downhill toboggan sled

Our freight sleds echo the practicality and durability of our toboggans. The combination of the oak runner, steel bridging, and sled rail attachments on these cargo sleds results in a “hard ski” with very little drag. The ski doesn’t follow the undulations of the terrain; instead it runs along the high points of the surface. This results in a very direct and fast mode of travel with minimal friction. Flexibility is accomplished in the sled deck. On our freight sleds, the crosspieces and the plywood deck actually twist through the middle of the sled as it travels overland, allowing the trussed runners to negotiate the terrain independently of each other. This flexibility allows our wood runner sleds to carry much heavier loads than rigid sleds, and provides a smoother, faster ride.

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