Sled adventurers storm Raleigh's Dix Hill

jshaffer@newsobserver.comJanuary 29, 2014 

— On a steep and snow-covered side of Dix Hill, Barrett Williams climbed into his makeshift sled and perfected a trick known as the accidental triple front-flip – a move that can only be executed while flying off a plywood ramp in a dish-washing tub.

His friends offered commentary from the top Wednesday, where 200-odd sledders waited to whoosh down on kiddie pools and inflatable beds.

“Ooh,” said Michael Stanley, 23. “You’re going to break my $5 tub.”

But Williams, 27, staggered back to the summit, where a rare 3-inch snowfall had turned the Dorothea Dix campus into a western version of the Sochi Olympic Games. Sledding bodies flew into the air, legs akimbo. Saucers collided. One boy hit a tree face-first and stumbled home, assisted by a trio of friends, wondering what happened.

Freed from work and school, Raleigh shifted into its long-dormant winter mood, pulling skis out of the attic, rubbing candle wax on toboggan runners, building sleds out of anything flat and slippery.

“I told my roommates, ‘We’re not using my laundry basket,’ ” said David Harris, a junior at N.C. State University. “Famous last words.”

With that, he started a wobbly journey to the bottom while standing up in his clothes hamper.

Every street, driveway or yard with the slightest grade in the Triangle got transformed into a sled run Wednesday. Raleigh’s Oakwood Cemetery, which hosts an Easter egg hunt, saw visitors clad in parkas. Seven boys from Sanderson High School built a luge in a cul-de-sac in North Raleigh.

But nothing matched the intensity of Dix Hill, where some enterprising daredevil built a ramp out of pallets and plywood, a feature that promised to vault sledders into the sky. Rumors of this attraction spread across Raleigh from the moment the first flakes fell Tuesday night. On Wednesday, the flocks came to challenge what may be the Oak City’s steepest sledding hill, or at least enjoy a casual interpretation of Raleigh’s open container rules.

The most popular choice among sledders: the Winter Lightning, a deceptively ordinary-looking plastic rectangle that sold into the hundreds at Smith Hardware on Tuesday. It outpaced the more expensive wooden sleds and offered the added benefit of not spinning around backward like the discs.

But often Wednesday, a sledder would catch the nose of his Winter Lightning on the lip of the ramp and complete the jump without the aid of a vehicle. Variations on the accidental triple front-flip tended to follow.

“It doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would,” said Justin Allen, 26, dusting the snow off his face.

Sledders made do with recycling buckets, slabs of cardboard and a 6-foot inflatable killer whale.

By the end of the day, bits of grass and mud started to show through on the sled path, chewed up by repeated laundry basket runs. But their exploits are carved into the Earth, and their bravery is marked by their blood.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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