Originally published: 12/11/2002; 4:14:03 PM

We headed up to Colorado for Thanksgiving this year. It was the first big road trip in the Odyssey. When we got to Denver there was snow on the ground but not on the roads–the perfect scenario if you ask me.

After we got a good night’s rest, we took the kids over to Target in search of a cheap sled. Now, there are many differences between living in north Texas, a mostly flat area with virtually no hope of snow accumulation each year, and Colorado, a winter wonderland. Here’s one: Target has an ENTIRE ISLE dedicated to sleds. I’d never seen such a variety. They even had sleds with steering wheels, brakes, and one specifically designed for babies with a wide stance and seatbelts. (A bit of foreshadowing for you: Any or all of these would have been better choices than the standard $7.95 toboggan we went with).

The checker at Target wondered why I needed a sled. “Is something happening with the weather I don’t know about?”

“Are you nuts?” I thought, “There’s snow on the ground. How can you stand there and scan groceries while there’s even the remotest possibility of making a snowball outside?” I guess native Colorado types don’t get too excited about half-an-inch of leftover snow on the ground while us Texans jump at the chance to build muddy snowmen.

My mother-in-law lives in the foothills. From a distance, the hills looked like a sledder’s paradise but as we searched for a good spot we realized they weren’t going to work. My four-year old son said, “Maybe we can find a hill that isn’t so steep.” Wise beyond his years, as it turns out.

So, we settled on the neighborhood soccer field. The field and the accompanying school are built on the side of a hill so the terraced effect provided a small, accessible slope perfect for the kiddos’ first foray into the world of sledding.

The boys went first. He loved it. I was glad. A previous sled-like experience (potato sack on a “super slide” at a car show) resulted in a freaked out perma-grin on my son’s face that reminded us of the looks on Dan Akroyd’s and Chevy Chase’s faces when they got off the centrifuge in Spies Like Us.

The girls went next. Both squeeled with delight. No surprise here. My 17-month old is a bit of a daredevil. We switched off with each of the kids individually and went down with both kids together. Everyone was having fun. $7.95 well spent.

Now here’s where we displayed an incredible lack of parental judgement. We decided the kids could go down the hill by themselves. We put my son in back so he could hold on to his sister. I was at the top while my wife waited at the bottom of the slope. I gave them a push and off they went. They loved it. Go again? Sure. Back to the top we went. “Hold on to your sister. Ready, set go!” I gave them a little extra push. They seemed to dig the speed so why not? Of course it only took a second to see what was going to happen. Two kids with no clue how to steer, stop, or bail off, were benefiting from the packed snow created by the previous run and were heading straight for the chain link fence that surrounded the soccer field.

Panicked, one of us yelled, “Use your feet!” Of course this useless advice, unintelligible by neither a four-year old nor his 17-month old sister, went unheeded. The front of the toboggan hit the fence stopping the sled in its tracks. Big brother used his solidly-built and overly-bundled sister as a human airbag. She used the fence.

Some parents freak out in these situations. Not us. We had that “inappropriate laughter” thing going. It reminded me of the time one of my cousins tried to jump off of a hotel bed without realizing how low the ceiling was. As he lay in a dazed-and-confused heap on the floor with a sheetrock “watermark” band around his head, left there as a temporary reminder of how deep he buried his melon into the celing, my sister and the rest of us laughed uncontrollably.

After all, from a distance, it didn’t look that bad. The sled wasn’t moving that fast and we’ve all wiped out worse than that many times over the course of our lives doing things much less exciting than making a toboggan run. I thought they were more scared than hurt.

We pulled ourselves together and tried to be comforting while checking for obvious injuries. Both looked unscathed so we encouraged the kids to shake it off and go again. My son made a couple more runs but my daughter had had enough. I did a couple of successful runs standing on the toboggan and one unsuccessful run standing and then flying off of the toboggan, much to the entertainment of the rest of the clan. Eventually, the kids got cranky and we headed in.

My wife took my daughter in to the house while my son and I unloaded the van. Then, my wife poked her head out of the door saying, “Jeff, she can’t walk!”

Sure enough. When I got inside and we tried to stand her up, she went right to the ground. We loaded back into the van and headed over to the ER. Luckily, the x-ray showed no fracture. The doc said it was probably just a deep bruise. Sure enough, after a couple of days of Motrin, she was back to running around.

Later that day we headed back to the hill and made several more runs without incident.

Next time, no kiddos on their own…and maybe helmets would be a good idea…and a sled with a steering wheel and brakes might be worth the extra $70…and an old mattress lashed to any imposing hazards like fences, fireplugs, trees, and fenceposts wouldn’t be too much trouble. Next time we’ll be ready. Maybe we’ll tackle the big slopes. The kids will love it. If there’s no snow there’s always land luge. Kids can do that, right?