Guide to Kicksledding Snow Conditions: How deep of snow can I kicksled in?
I have to admit, the day I took my first kicksled out, fresh out of the box, it was hard work! It was the first snow of the season–4 inches of fresh snow– with 6 inch snow drift in some areas. I also was hauling 2 kids. Questions such as ‘how deep of snow can you kicksled in?’ and ‘how many inches of snow are needed to kicksled?’ were not on my radar. Deep, fresh snow does not provide ideal kicksledding conditions.
But, a few days later, the temp warmed and cooled and the snow had transformed into an icy kicksled speed highway. I also realized I should seek out trails and not go kicking in an open snow field. Now that I’m much more experienced, monitoring snow conditions is part of the fun!
Read on to learn more about snow conditions for winter kicksledding.
Before we talk about snow, let’s look at the parts of a kicksled to understand the limits to snow depth.
On the front of the kicksled is a black bar called the brushbow. It adds strength to the structure of the kicksled, acts as a footrest when you are sitting on the chair, and also serves as a bumper. It is raised up about 6-7 inches and limits the depth of snow you can travel in. If the snow is too deep, the bar will drag through the snow. This considerably slows down your sled to the point where you will have to push it and walk. Because the sled is pretty light, without a person on it, the kicksled can float on top of deep snow as you push it along. But of course, you will still sink down as you walk through the snow pushing the floating kicksled.
If you have dogs helping to pull your kicksled, you will still be limited by the height of the brush bow. If you have enough dog power, snow about 2 inches below the brush bow will suffice; although you will go much faster and it will be less work for the dogs on a groomed or packed trail.
The kicksled has metal, spring steel runners that run the length of the sled. The metal runners alone slide really well on ice and very hard packed snow which has basically turned into ice. If there is an inch or two of loose, light snow on top of ice, or hard packed snow/ice, the metal runners will be able to push through the snow and glide on the ice below. If the snow on top of the ice has not been packed down, but is fresh snow that has turned hard and crusty, the steel runners will sink down and it could be pretty hard to move.
Since pure ice on a frozen lake doesn’t stick around very long in snowy states like Minnesota, the use of a kicksled can be quite limited if you ONLY have steel runners. Luckily, Brave The Snow kicksleds come with ESLA Snow Runners as well which will give you many more options for snow travel on a kicksled.
ESLA makes plastic “Snow Runners” that clip on top of the steel runners. They are held on by pressure and a zip tie. They are made of plastic and can be replaced over the years as they accumulate scratches. They come in two different widths– regular and wide. Both the Regular Snow Runners and the Wide Powder Snow Runners allow the kicksled to sort of float on top of snow. The snow runners also push the snow down as you glide; they curve up towards the front of the sled (like skis) and this helps push down the snow. In general, the deeper the snow, the more resistance there will be and the more effort you will need to exert to get your kicksled to cruise, especially if snow is deeper than the curve of the Snow Runner. If you want to learn more about snow runners, check out this article.
Just a Little Snow
Typically the problem these days is NOT enough snow. Many places that are used to good snow winters have seen a decline in snow over the decades– Southern Wisconsin, parts of Michigan, Northeastern seaboard states, and some years, even Minnesota. I am going to make a bold statement and say that kicksledding is better suited to low snow conditions, than some other winter sports. While it's nice to have a snow “base”, it's not necessary for kicksledding.
Some of the most fun kicksledding is on a street or sidewalk with a ½ inch of snow. Think of a layer of butter on toast. Kicksledding just needs that layer of butter. The runners do get more scratches in these conditions, but that’s not a big deal. Runners are cheap and easily replaceable. It won’t make you cringe as bad as scratching up an expensive pair of Nordic skis.
Very deep snow– off trail where you might snowshoe or in the backcountry– is not ideal. Four inches is about the recommended limit. I have taken the kicksled, loaded with gear, into the Boundary Waters, and on some pretty deep ungroomed trails. That resulted in some testing moments. I pushed my loaded sled for many miles but these were still some of the most fun kicksledding expeditions!
If general, if the snow is higher than the curve of the front of the plastic Snow Runners, they won’t be able to push down the snow effectively. Snow runners can only do so much. A persons’ weight is going to push down the sled and sink it down in deep snow. Also, remember you are kicking to move, so your foot also has to go through that deep snow and find traction to kick off. To sum it up, after a big storm, the snow can be too deep for enjoyable kicksledding on ungroomed trails.
If you live in an area with medium trail traffic (like around the Twin Cities or other urban areas) the deep snow gets packed down quickly by hikers and snow shoes. This creates the perfect trail for kicksledding. Also, freeze thaw conditions can ice up the trails, also creating favorable conditions. If trails are too snow covered, check out a groomed snow trail instead.
The great thing about Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota (and other states, can’t name them all) is that there are so many publicly maintained snow trails. Multi-use groomed trails are a great option for kicksledding.
Also, the streets after a plow create a nice surface for kicksledding. Think backroads and long driveways. Lakes that get a lot of traffic from ice fishers and other winter sports can also pack down snow and create great opportunities for speedy kicksledding. If you want to learn more about which trails allow kicksledding, read this article.
The varying conditions throughout winter is part of the fun of kicksledding. In general, packed down snow and icy conditions are going to give you a faster, more effortless ride. But, any conditions under 4 inches are going to be fun. When the trails are super fast, that is motivation to get out there while you can. And, when trails are super icy, you will have the trail to yourself (just bring your crampons!) as the trails are too slippery for people to walk. When the snow is fresh and maybe a little deeper than ideal, it’s a great time to get out there, get a workout, and experience the joy in breaking the trail.
Some of my favorite conditions are in the street after the plows come through, assuming they don’t put down salt and sand. Nothing like heading out the front door and going to the post office on your kicksled or taking a quick ride around the block.
Check out some of our other articles to learn more: