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The joy of sliding on snow: it beats being wrapped in cotton wool

It was about the most exciting day in our young lives. Our little family was on the way to Mount Kosciuszko. In the winter. In a Mini Minor.

We didn’t know you couldn’t actually drive right up to Australia’s highest mountain, though it is not much more than a hill. Even if you could, a Mini Minor – so new to the market at that time and so cute that my mother, who owned it, wouldn’t hear of our father taking his Holden on this driving holiday – wasn’t going to make it through the snow without chains.

No matter. My dad drove into the high country until it was clear he would be poorly advised to continue, and we stopped where fresh snow spread as far as we could see.

Kosciuszko National Park.

Kosciuszko National Park.

The silent white landscape stole away our breath.

We came from the lowlands.

The only time we’d seen snow before was from our farm, when a sprinkling could occasionally be discerned in the distance atop bulky Mount William in the Victorian Grampians.

My brother and I tumbled out of the car and tossed snowballs and floundered about.

A mother and her son try out a toboggan at the Winter Festival in Brisbane.

A mother and her son try out a toboggan at the Winter Festival in Brisbane.

We had a square of plastic and used it as a makeshift toboggan, setting ourselves flying down small slopes.

Every child knows by instinct the marvellous, free power of gravity.

We’d made sleds at home and whizzed down a precipitous grassy pitch in an old quarry, and we’d built billy-carts to conquer hills all around.

But this! Snow seemed friction-free. The snow-covered hillside seemed to be as powerful and enticing as a wave. We hurtled on our little square of plastic.

The mountains and white-clad slopes have exerted a strong tug on my heart ever since.

Still possible: a toboggan ride on Mount Buller.

Still possible: a toboggan ride on Mount Buller.

When our own children were small, before they had taken to skis, I purchased a toboggan and introduced them to the free pleasures of sledding.

We found slopes at resorts and slogged up hills before charging down, wind rushing at our ears and the snow offering so little resistance we seemed airborne.

Oh, there were dangers: the chance of falling off and tumbling, the risk of hitting a bump and jarring your spine, the prospect of getting sideswiped by a runaway sled. There were, indeed, a few split lips and sprained wrists.

These, we figured, were the price of magic.

Life without risks seemed no life at all for children. How could you learn to be safe if you didn’t know what it was to fall? Anyway, there was always vastly more laughter than tears on our tobogganing outings.

At the end of a day’s sledding, as I trudged along towing our children in the toboggan, I knew the great satisfaction of passing along that pleasure learned long ago on a piece of plastic in a strange and marvellous landscape.

What better gift does a parent have than to offer their children the most cheerful and carefree experiences of their own childhood?

Time passed and we left the toboggan one winter at the chalet of friends who had invited us to stay for a weekend. The children grew and found other methods of recreation, and we never managed to retrieve the little instrument of several winters’ pleasure.

And yet, every winter for many years, one of our daughters brooded about her old toboggan and wondered aloud whether it was still hanging in the storage room at the chalet and whether we would ever see it again.

With winter on its way and the ski season about to open next weekend on the Queen’s Birthday holiday, the memory of those sledding adventures was revived this week in a peculiar way.

The popular NSW snow resort Thredbo announced that this year, tobogganing was banned across its entire area.

"Thredbo prohibits the use of toboggans and other miscellaneous snow sliding equipment that is associated with 'Snow Play' within our leasehold area," the resort declared sternly.

The notice on the Thredbo website banning toboggans.

The notice on the Thredbo website banning toboggans.

"Thredbo acknowledges it is a favourite winter pastime, however it can also be very dangerous."

A glance at the website of nearby Perisher – the resort we never reached on the road to Mount Kosciuszko when I was a child enchanted by the snow – reveals this: “Toboggans are prohibited on all Perisher ski slopes. Tobogganing is dangerous and involves inherent risks."

Well, quite. Tobogganing certainly doesn’t mix with skiing, the small areas set aside for sledding had become too crowded, sometimes with fools, and accidents had become inevitable.

There are, however, inherent risks in downhill skiing and snow-boarding, too, and hospitals admit vastly more skiers and boarders than tobogganers.

But if you wish to risk life and limb skiing and boarding, you are most welcome at any resort, because you have no choice but to pay dearly for the privilege of being towed or lifted uphill – around $130 a day for an adult this season, or $75 for a junior aged 5-15.

Tobogganing requires nothing more than the exertion of one’s legs. Ski resorts – on leaseholds within national parks which are supposed to be owned by the people – make nothing out of tobogganing. To make it safe, they might have to spend money providing proper supervision.

So free fun is banned with the lawyerly admonition that it carries “inherent risk”.

Happily, Victoria’s snow resorts have resisted the NSW rush to ban sledding. So far.

May they continue to do so. Risks and all.

You can't slide on cotton wool.

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