It looks like a dogsled but it’s not. It’s smaller, sleeker, and doesn’t need a dog to make it go.
It’s a kicksled.
Kicksleds come from Scandinavia where they are a traditional method of winter travel.
Andy Lera of Solitude Designs has brought the concept to Canada and adapted it to the needs of Yukoners.
From his workshop in the Hamlet of Mount Lorne, Lera is making kicksleds to supply the Yukon. Next year he plans to export across Canada.
Lera has two styles that came on the market last month. The first is a traditional model with a passenger seat.
The second is a merging of the kicksled with the dogsled, which Lera has designed with suggestions from local dog mushers.
A traditional Scandinavian kicksled consists of two runners, a handlebar and a seat.
It is an everyday vehicle designed for getting around on packed snow or ice.
It is commonly used by adults as a commuting vehicle, and by elderly people, school children and ice fishermen.
The driver stands on the runners and kicks back with the bottom of one foot between the runners with a gentle pendulum-type swing.
If you’ve ever been on a child’s scooter then you know how to kick a kicksled — and it’s easier as you have two runners to balance on.
The thin steel runners flex as the handlebars are twisted, thus allowing the sled to turn easier.
The metal runners offer optimal glide on ice surfaces and reasonable glide on snow-packed roadways.
Under most surface conditions drivers attach the 35-millimetres-wide plastic snow floats, which clip onto the bottom of the runners, thus offering greater surface area and float on semi-soft snow.
Lera’s sleds are made with Alaskan Yellow Birch from Haines. He hand-turns all the handlebars and stanchions on his lathe — the part of his craft he loves the most.
Though kicksleds have been around since at least 1882 when one was first reported in a Stockholm, Sweden, newspaper, the basic design has not changed much over the last century.
The earlier sleds were just stiffer and heavier.
One of the modifications that Lera has made to the traditional Scandinavian design is to install two pins, that when pulled, enable the entire sled to fold flat.
“This is a much faster and easier way for people to put the kicksled in the back of the truck, strap it on top of a car, or put it in a storage area,” says Lera.
The biggest modification that he has made is to literally cross the kicksled with the dogsled. This new generation has a lower and longer platform offering greater cargo capacity.
In addition, he has installed a brush bow to push away willows and a foot brake to slow down.
“A local musher saw the kicksled prototype I had built (last winter) and saw the potential for using this type of sled with his own sled dogs,” said Lera.
Because of the kicksled’s low weight, the musher describes running the dogsled model of kicksled as the same as having an extra two dogs in the team pulling his old dogsled.
The musher and Lera are currently working on a new kicksled/dogsled cross that will be closer to a dogsled style and more suited to being pulled by a team of two to five dogs, whereas the present model is best suited for one to three dogs.
Back in 1906, kicksledding was considered one of the three most significant winter sports in Finland, next to cross-country skiing and skating.
After many decades of stagnation, race kicking started again in the 1980s. There are races on roads and on ice.
The distances vary from a 200-metre sprint to a 100-kilometre ice race, which sees some competitors finishing in less than four hours.
Lera’s Finnish blood may have something to do with it, but he’s bringing the sport to the Yukon.
He won the five-kilometre Copper Haul Twister Non-Sled Dog Race on January 20 and he’s introducing a kicksled component to the Carbon Hill Sled Dog Race at Mount Lorne on March 11.
At the Copper Haul he competed against a bunch of skijorers.
“When I looked around at the starting line, all the sled dogs were pulling at their chains in their excitement to run the race, whereas my lab-cross was quietly sitting next to the sled showing no interest in the race to come,” said Lera.
This didn’t seem to matter as he and his lab finished first in good time.
At the Carbon Hill he will have extra kicksleds for anyone who wants to try one out and perhaps even borrow for the 10-kilometre race.
“Anyone of any ability can use a kicksled,” says Lera. You can pretty much start driving one of these things after a two-minute introduction.
“One can kick as gently or as hard as one likes depending on the type of workout one wants to have and how fast one wants to go,” says Lera.
Kicking is a more diverse and softer physical activity than running, but equally effective training.
Kicksledding employs all big muscle groups in your body. Besides aerobic capacity, kicksledding improves elasticity, so you can use it as supplementary training in many sports while recovering from injuries, reports one kicksleding website, www.potku.fi.
Lera’s son, Ensio, has spent many hours not only riding kicksleds, but driving one himself.
He gets the last word, “Food doesn’t give me energy; kicksledding gives me energy.”
Lera says that in Whitehorse there are already people using kicksleds to commute to work, to do grocery shopping, and even to deliver newspapers.
The side streets, ski trails, snowmobile tracks, and the Millennium Trail all offer excellent routes.
A canoe builder and refinisher by trade, Lera expects that with the addition of the kicksled business he will keep busy year-round.
Right now, the Yukon market is the right size for what he is able to produce. Next year he is confident in expanding outside the Yukon, because as far as he knows, he is the only woodworker in Canada presently producing kicksleds.
Stephen Badhwar is a writer living in Atlin, BC.