January 13, 2013

Fun in the snow

Toys ranging from old-fashioned wooden sleds to plastic blocks for building snow forts lure children outdoors for winter activities.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Julie Mulkern and the other folks over at WinterKids couldn't be more thrilled with the snowy start to this winter, especially after the dramatically snowless season Maine had last year.

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Winter Lightning sleds are the biggest seller for Paricon.

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L.L. Bean’s Classic Dash Sled.

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Winter is Maine's longest and most sedentary season, which only helps fuel the state's still-rising rates of childhood obesity. Getting children outside to play in the snow can help combat the winter blahs and tear them away from their video games, computer screens and social media for a while.

"There's about 30 percent of kids in Maine alone who are already obese when they enter kindergarten," said Mulkern, executive director of WinterKids, an organization that promotes the development of healthy habits through outdoor winter activities. "It's a huge problem, and one that many different groups, including WinterKids, are trying to tackle."

Snow toys, from old-fashioned wooden sleds to plastic blocks for building snow forts, can be vehicles for luring children outside for some exercise and fun. Here's a look at some of the hottest toys available this winter. 


L.L. Bean, $89

Scot Balentine, L.L. Bean's senior developer for outdoor gear, says his team got the idea for this sled while watching how children play on sledding hills.

"One of the things you see kids trying to do is tie the sleds together, whether they're snow tubes or inflatables or foam sleds," he said.

The sleds link together using a durable rubber strap. Just how many sleds can be linked together and still go fast depends on the slope and snow pack, but Balentine says a typical chain could include at least four or five sleds.

The product has a molded seat and foot wells to make your ride on the sled train as comfortable as possible. Woo woo! 


Kohl's, $39.99

This feet-first sled has won a slew of "best of" awards from retailers, parents' groups and media. It comes in eight colors, and is designed for children ages 5 and up. The sled has a center control handle that looks something like a joystick, and you steer by leaning into turns.

It's lightweight, which makes carrying it back up the hill for another run easy. You can watch a video of how it works at zipfy.com


Paricon, $10-$15

Paricon in South Paris makes a lot more than the sled it is best known for, the famous Flexible Flyer. The company still makes old-fashioned wooden sleds with runners, but also manufactures plastic, foam and inflatable sleds.

Tom Morton, whose family founded the company, says that today the biggest seller is "Winter Lightning," a simple 48-inch plastic sled that sends you down the hill fast, even on fluffy snow, at an affordable price. 


Kohl's, $34.99

Why not root for your favorite team while flying down the sledding hill? This inflatable air board can be ordered with the New England Patriots logo. Sports logos are also available for the Sno Smash Inflatable Tube ($29.99). 


Paricon, $39.99

Kids love foam sleds because they are lightweight and soft, and work well on packed powder. A foam sled is more expensive than a simple plastic sled, Tom Morton notes, "but it gives you a nice ride, and kids love the graphics."

Paricon is testing some new designs and shapes for its foam sleds and expects to release new models next winter. 


L.L. Bean, $109

(Some styles, including this camouflage pattern, were recently on sale for $89.99.)

Scot Balentine, L.L. Bean's senior developer for outdoor gear, said the company decided some time ago not to make certain plastic and foam snow toys because of their impact on the environment and their lack of durability. The Sonic Snow Tube is more expensive, he said, but it will last longer and will continue to give families a good time over multiple runs.

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Additional Photos

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The Sno Smash Inflatable Air Board with the New England Patriots logo.

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A Rocket Linkable Sled, inspired by how children play on sledding hills.

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The Snow Castle/Snowball Maker Set.

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The Zipfy Mini-Luge Sled.

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The Sonic SnowTube is “probably the fastest sled that we have,” L.L. Bean’s Scot Balentine says.

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“Kids love the graphics” on foam sleds like this one, says Tom Morton of Paricon.

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Tubbs Snowflake Snowshoes even come with stickers.


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