Winter sport similar to lugeing in which a small sled is ridden downhill in a headfirst, prone position. The sport of skeleton sledding developed in the 1880s on the famed Cresta Run at Saint Moritz, Switz. The “bony” look of the early sleds gave the sport its name. Riders attain speeds of more than 80 miles (129 km) per hour. It was first contested at the Olympic games in 1928.
Learn more about skeleton sledding with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Sledding is a common activity in wintry areas, similar to sliding, but in a prone or seated position requiring a device or vehicle generically known as a "sled". More formally it is one of three olympic sports— the Luge, Skeleton, or bobsledding, all of which are based on sled principles and developed in the same time (1870s) and place (St. Moritz) by much the same circle of people, mainly English tourists with an interested assist from the worthy craftsmen of that Swiss village.
News coverage of the rich and famous inspired the invention of the flexible flyer covered hereafter, which along with toboggan's were the prosaic substitute to the nascent competitive sports aborning among the beautiful people of wealth and leisure. Unlike purpose built courses, such sleds were available to the common man and usable on any suitably snow covered nearby slope.
The first ride down a hill on a sled is the most important, but most difficult, as it determines the path of the sled for further runs down the hill. It is essential to steer the sled along the most exciting course, perhaps adding twists and turns (maybe straight into a tree) to make the run down the hill more exciting, or faster. Other techniques to improve the ride include turning around, lying on the stomach, or closing both eyes. Running up to a sled and jumping onto it can create additional momentum and improve ride speed. This technique can be referred to as "Flopping."
With each course down the hill, the sled's path through the snow can become more icy. Sleds with a greater surface area (disks, toboggans and tubes) are able to make the first runs a great deal easier than the variety of sleds with metal runners. Runner sleds are typically faster once the snow has compacted or turned icy. In the 1880s, Samuel Leeds Allen invented the first steerable runner sled, the Flexible Flyer. Since that date, the ability to steer the sled away from obstacles has proven this type of sled to be more appropriate for the safety conscious. In addition, runner sleds force the weight of the rider onto two thin runners where the pressure causes a microscopic film of snow or ice to melt as the sled passes over it. This invisible layer of fluid reduces friction, causing the sled's speed to greatly exceed that of its flat bottomed relatives. Some people who sled sometimes use ramps or jumps to increase the danger or fun factor of sledding. In some cases, the ramp or jump may send the participant over objects such as fences, boxes, plants, benches.
Backcountry sledding is a closer kin to backcountry alpine skiing or snowboarding than to traditional "pile the family in the van and go to the local hill" type of sledding. The terrain for backcountry sledding includes gladed powder-filled steeps, open mountain bowls, cliff-filled ridges, and basically anywhere that one finds the powder, steeps, rocks and trees. Backcountry sleds, with the binding system and padding, may also be used for freestyle moves such as spins and flips off jumps and rail slides. Though similarities exist between backcountry sledding and alpine skiing/snowboarding, important differences separate the disciplines. From a technical perspective, the lack of a metal edge and the lower center of gravity make it more difficult to directionally-control a backcountry sled on icy or packed snow surfaces. From an access perspective, alpine resorts do not allow sledding on the actual mountain, except for the occasional small tubing hill. And in essence, backcountry sledding is a more underground, do-it-yourself activity that will not cost you an arm and a leg to get into.
Mad river rocket sleds are a type of sled used in the back country and for tricks. They revolutionized the relatively new sport Freesledding