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Naomi Nelson, 12, and Gillian Sanders, 13, both of Medford, crash while sledding Saturday at Table Mountain near Hyatt Lake. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

Table-top drop

With her purple helmet dangling sideways off her head and snow on her eyebrows, 9-year-old Isabelle Sanders experienced both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat on a sled ride down Table Mountain. And defingers.


"I was going really fast, and then I went too crazy and crashed and got stuck," says Sanders, of Medford. "Now I need my dad to put my gloves on for me but he kinda disappeared. It was all a little more than I expected."


Expectations can turn as quickly as a slick saucer on Table Mountain, one of Southern Oregon's snowsports destinations for those with the need for speed on their bellies or butts instead of skis or snowboards strapped to their feet.


The free, dedicated sledding hill near Hyatt Lake east of Ashland is the perfect place for young families to find their inner lugers on sunny, snow-laden days, with limited overhead, a modicum of travel and a chance to enjoy a day in the snow without lift tickets.


And when it gets less enjoyable, there's a warming hut complete with a fireplace that's strictly BYOW — Bring Your Own Wood.


"I didn't realize this was BYOW," says Steve Johnson, of Boise, inside the hut while his kids and their cousins raced blow-up inner tubes outside. "But I'm glad these people did. That guy who was cooking hot dogs extended our day by making that fire."


For decades the Bureau of Land Management has maintained the two-pronged sledding hill off Hyatt-Prairie Road between Dead Indian Memorial Road and Highway 66 near the Hyatt Lake Recreation Area.


Carved into the old-growth Douglas fir is a long, wide run on the uphill western side, and a shorter, more kid-friendly shorter run near the parking lot, where a $5 annual sno-park pass is required.


Unlike the Diamond Lake inner-tube hill, there is no conveyor belt. Just places to haul your sled, saucer, inner tube or even snowboards up the side of the hill as far as you want before barreling down the center.


Veteran Table Mountaineers have plenty of tips for rookie parents.


Dress them in waterproof suits or fleece and wool, but not cotton, which doesn't retain body heat when wet. Bring plenty of high-energy snacks and fluids, an extra plastic sled — because someone's destined to break his or hers — and at least one extra hat and pair of gloves for the Isabelle in your party.


As Isabelle dragged her sled, with her snowy gloves on its seat, in search of her father, her 15-year-old brother Nick Sanders says Table Mountain is a family fave.


"There's a lot of space for everybody," says Nick.


And there are regular Clark Griswold moments, when kids of all ages discover gravity can be a sledder's best friend ... until it isn't.


Sanders and his pal were in a hotly contested race down the steel hill, trading plastic until their bumping into each other turned into the inevitable race-ending collision.


"It's fun to wipe out, then you stand up, grab your sled and keep going," Sanders says. "Whether wiping out is better depends upon your point of view."


Tyler McDonald got to test that philosophy.


The 27-year-old Ashland man trudged through 8 inches of powder to the top of the long run, strapped on a snowboard and hurtled down the slope like a surfer catching the perfect white wave. McDonald was feeling it as he sliced through the snow route flattened by sledders, but his Endless Winter quest failed to hit bottom.


He hit virgin snow, caught an edge and biffed bad enough to draw a mix of winces and laughs from the gallery.


"Total wipeout," says McDonald, a Table Mountain rookie. "That was fun."


As wipeouts go, it garnered 3 style points apiece from his friends, but just 2 points from the Russian judge.


McDonald knew there was room for improvement.


"I felt if I could have just somersaulted, I could have bounced back up and kept going."


— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

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