Free-Sledding Lincoln Gap Road
Adrenaline rushes come easily as you steer a sled down the narrow, snake-like road that descends from the top of Lincoln Gap, a pass in Vermont’s Green Mountains. The rushes escalate if you’re skilled enough to sled through gaps in the trees in the woods that line this road, so narrow that two cars can barely navigate past one another when it’s open in the summer. But in wintertime, this road between Warren and Lincoln isn’t plowed, so it has become a favorite spot for free-sledding.
Part of the thrill of sledding is that compared to skiing or snowboarding, it’s a very intimate experience with the mountain. Rather than standing as you make your way down, with sledding you’re right down on ground level, getting a close-up of every bump and curve. Every weekend, hardcore sledders mix with first-timers and the less-experienced to take on Lincoln Gap Road. Some zip downhill at speeds up to 40 mph (65kmph), navigating the road just like one might see in a rally car race. Others creep along at only 10 mph (16kmph) around the road’s many twists and turns. Many of the more skilled sledders take to the woods alongside the road, grabbing at trees to steer around them.
Sledders can drive their cars only so far up the road, at which point they must park. From there, they must hike up with their sleds to the peak of the road, about 3⁄4 of a mile, before turning around and sliding downhill. Some hikers are fortunate enough to hitch a ride on a passing snowmobile, a bonus thrill on your way to the sledding.
While many Lincoln Gap Road sledders own their own sleds, you can rent them in the local towns nearby. Clearwater Sports (www.clearwatersports.com) in Waitsfield has rental sleds, as does Umiak (www.umiak.com) in Stowe. Clearwater Sports and Umiak offer the Mad River Rocket sled—basically a kneeboard in the snow. It has a negative keel on the bottom that picks in snow and you steer by leaning or directing yourself with your hands on the snow. The Hammerheads, offered at Umiak, have an aluminum frame and are ergonomically shaped, so you can lie on the sled. They have a steering mechanism and skis. (Picture a high-tech version of that sled you played on as a kid.) The Hammerheads are designed to be used on snow-packed areas, or with “powder” skis in snow up to about 6 inches. The Madriver Rocket sleds work wonderfully in deeper snow and unpacked trails, and skilled riders say a ride through the wood dodging trees gives the same thrill as kayaking in rushing water or snowboarding through glades.
If you want to test extreme sledding before buying your own equipment, rent a sled. Clearwater Sports in Waitsfield has a Rocket-Snowshoeing Adventure, which includes snowshoeing up Lincoln Gap and sledding back down. Umiak in Stowe rents sleds and it’s close to Smugglers Notch, another road closed in the winter that’s popular with free-sledders. —LF
Green Mountains National Forest, 231 North Main St., Rutland, VT ( 802/747-6700).
When to Go: Check with locals or the sled companies to see when the snow is good.
Burlington, Vermont (40 miles/64km).