Sledding ranks high on my list of favorite winter activities for many reasons: it’s affordable to most, it’s relatively safe, there’s little skill involved, and it gets the blood pumping. Best of all, smiles and giggles are all but guaranteed. In Rocky Mountain National Park, the place to slip-slide to your heart’s content is Hidden Valley, a now-defunct ski area that continues to entice powder enthusiasts. The ski area closed for good in the spring of 1992, but a playful atmosphere remains alive and well on this bunny-slope-turned-sledding-hill.
Who: Adults, teenagers, kids; family, friends—bring the whole gang. Just be sure that the youngest member of your group has the ability to steer their sled or tube. A note on the slope: it’s gentle, and therefore might not satisfy the desires of adrenaline junkies.
What: Glide down on your sled or tube, hike back up, and repeat. Find a soft patch of snow out of the way of sled traffic and make your best snow angel. Have a snowball fight. When your nose and toes need a break from the cold, head inside the warming hut (open on weekends, holidays, and weekdays during busy times). The hut—which was constructed using materials from the old ski lodge—is designed for brief warm-ups only. People tend to eat lunch in their vehicles or elsewhere in the park. Flush restrooms are located across from the hut and open daily.
When: Sledding season kicks off after a big snowfall that sticks. The first big pow day could happen in late October or well into November. For the most current conditions, call the park information line: (970) 586-1206. Be mindful that even mid-winter, atypical warm temperatures or high winds could temporarily transform the picture-perfect sledding hill into a grassy, slushy mess. In springtime, the snow could endure until April, or later.
Where: Hidden Valley is located on the east side of Rocky, off of Highway 34/Trail Ridge Road. Get there via the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station or Fall River Entrance Station. Ample parking is available. Hidden Valley is the only place where sleds are allowed in the park.
How: Purchase a one-day pass ($20) or seven-day pass ($30) for the park, or present your annual pass at the entrance. No additional fee is required. Bring your own sliding device and dress in insulating layers: long underwear, snow pants, fleece pullover, waterproof jacket, gloves, hat, socks and snow boots.
Why: Sledding is good old-fashioned fun, that’s why. You’ll whoop and holler, and get pink cheeks and windswept hair as gravity takes you down the hill. You’ll share memorable moments with friends and family, and feel like a kid again. What’s not to love?
Safety: Stay safe on the hill by being aware of the people around you. At the bottom of the sledding area, you’ll likely see backcountry athletes trekking from the parking lot to nearby terrain. People still hike up the old ski runs using climbing skins, then ski or snowboard down. It’s these folks’ responsibility to watch out for you, and your responsibility to watch out for them. On winter weekends, a volunteer crew called the Sled Dogs is stationed at Hidden Valley. These individuals monitor the hill for safety, and can radio protection rangers if needed.