Mad River Rockets will offer winter fun

The traditional straight-line sledding experience is being taken to another level for the Norwich community this winter. The Mad River Rocket is a type of sled with “no limits,” according to the inventor of the popular sled.

Dave Sellers, a one-time Norwich professor, architect and inventor, came up with the idea of creating the sled after he decided that the price for downhill skiing can be quite expensive after a lift ticket, food and rentals. He began researching another way to experience the fun of skiing at a fraction of the cost.

“The Mad River Rocket is similar to a sled in the fact that you kneel on it. But what is cool is that you are able to use your hands to steer wherever you want to go,” said Sellers about the sled and its capabilities.

“What started out to be an alternative to skiing, turned out to be quite an awesome ride,” Sellers said in regards to the start of his business way back in 1984. “What makes it so cool is it allows you the ability to steer and maneuver between any obstacle with the simplicity of a sled.”

The ability to steer with your hands is by a half circle cutout on the bottom of the sled, also known as a monorail. “As you go down the slope, the sled packs down the snow in that monorail and you ride on that packed snow. In order to turn you just shift your weight,” said Sellers.

“This type of sledding is awesome,” said Neal Anderson, Director of the Shaw Outdoor Center, where the sledding will be facilitated. “I was introduced to these sleds a couple years ago and introduced them to Norwich. I know for a fact that each person that takes out a sled will not come back dissatisfied.”

“My family has been riding the Mad River Rocket every year since we got one. If I were to describe the sled simply it is, exhilarating fun,” said NU student Ryan Hawley, 20, a physical education major from Jericho, Vt.

According to Anderson, a poll was taken by Norwich students two years ago in order to find out what new activities would interest them. “What we found was students took a high interest in sledding versus snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. We then introduced the Mad River Rocket,” he said. “In fact, Paine Mountain is the perfect mountain for the Mad River Rocket,” Anderson said about the topography of the mountain.

“We have been clearing the old ski runs for the Rockets as well as preparing a place for a terrain park behind the Shaw center,” Anderson said about the events taking place on Paine Mountain. “We are also planning on having many events there during the winter carnival, including rail jam.”

Sellers said that Norwich University is very fortunate to have Paine Mountain right at our doorstep. “I don’t think there’s a single college in America that has a Rocket park across the street so easily accessible.”

“As of right now Norwich University has 45 Mad River Rockets ready for students to use. Once the snow hits, the whole mountain will be your playground,” Anderson said.

“If the rockets become more and more popular, then we will invest in more.” Anderson said about the popularity of the sled. “We signed a contract with Sellers and purchased each sled at a discounted price. It was a bargain for the university.”

While students are able to go out and ride on their own, there are liability concerns for the students as well as the school. “Students are fully covered as long as they are on Paine Mountain,” said Anderson about students being covered by insurance. “Everyone will be required to wear a helmet and goggles while riding the sled, along with instruction on how to operate the sled.”

Sellers, however, states that the sleds have proven to be reliably safe. “Over the many years that my friends and I have been riding the rocket we have never had a serious injury.”

“It is easier than skiing or snowboarding because you have a lower center of gravity,” Hawley said referring to the physics of the sled. “There are also knee pads on the bottom to protect your knees.”

The Mad River Rocket offers more than just a fun activity; there is leadership training involved in this as well. Brandon Stubbs, 20, a criminal justice major from Dunstable, Mass., said “although riding the sled is fun and all, I plan on using it as a reward for when my kids do well. Not only that but to conduct a gear accountability exercise while up on the mountain.”

Not all students will treat the Mad River Rockets this way, but “it will be great physical fitness on the way up and a blast on the way down. It will break up the monotony of school,” Hawley said.

According to Anderson, once there is enough snow on the ground, students will be able to shred the mountain in a new way.

“We are looking for students to have a great time with these. I can’t wait to see them in action.”

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