Bumper Ski, the winter sport of the 1970’s in Youngstown, Ohio
A long time ago, (No, this is not a Star Wars Entry) during the winter months in Youngstown, Ohio, we entertained ourselves with a sporting event called bumper skiing. This sport was in no way like bumper bowling where cushions were put in the gutters of the alley’s so you couldn’t toss a gutter ball. Yes, there were gutters involved, but they were street gutters, and there weren’t any cushions.
In a nutshell, bumper skiing is exactly like it sounds. You grab onto the back of a cars bumper and let it pull you down the street as you ski behind it crouching down low to keep your balance.
Equipment needed was a good pair or slippery boots, gloves, preferably thick ones, a car, snow covered streets, and balls of steel. In our gang, we all had the right equipment to compete in this event.
At first, bumper skiing was not an event or competition, but merely a fun exercise to wile away the winter months. We would wait patiently for neighbors to back out of their driveways and then we would latch on to the bumper and let it drag us up the street. When the car slowed down for the stop sign we would let go and glide to a perfect stop. What a rush that was. Sometimes the car would get up to about 20 MPH. Being on a side street and with plenty of snow in the street, the cars never got a chance to get going much faster than that in the winter. This continued for sometime and it seemed like we were satisfied.
Of course, we had to have more. The Daredevils Club blood that coursed through our veins (I will explain the Daredevils Club and their antics in upcoming entries) demanded more action, more daring feats, more dangerous stunts, more risk. The escalation would have to wait however, until we got our drivers license. Then, we could control the course, the length, and the speed of bumper skiing. We now had our recipe for disaster.
To start out, we picked the local cemetery across the street of the main highway, Market Street. There we would have seclusion from other cars, especially police cars, and plenty of snowy pathways to ski on.
Let the games begin. The cemetery had a long straightaway where we could get the car going pretty fast, way faster than the 20 MPH we were accustomed to. We would now approach speeds up to 40 MPH and then when the car started to slow down, we would let go and coast to safety. But we still needed more. The next time, we decided to hang on even when the car slowed down to turn around. So there we were, hanging on, balls to the wall, when the car slowed down, and by the force of gravity, pressed us against the car bumper. Still, we hung on for dear life as the car began to turn right. We instinctively leaned into the turn and navigated it quite well. Hey, we were pretty good at this. The car then straightened out and took off again. We held on. In no time we mastered the cemetery and looked for bigger and better pathways. The local park, Mill Creek Park, would be the answer.
Mill Creek Park was full of miles of winding roads, plenty of hills and dips, and dangerous tight curves. Plus the added thrill of other cars on the road. Not to mention the several park police cruisers patrolling. This was going to be great. We started at the top of Lantermans falls four strong. The car quickly accelerated and a quick left turn brought us to the silver bridge hill where we gathered more speed. A wicked right turn and a quick left and we were over the bridge and gathering speed again. All of us were still hanging on. The road became quite winding from there and it was difficult hanging on. We knew horseshoe curve was coming up. Horseshoe curve was a very tight turn on the way to the short holes golf course. As we approached we tightened our grip. As the car cut hard to the left we tried to hang on but the guy on the far left hit the next guy and we all fell like dominos. We tumbled into the curb gutter but we came out unhurt. This became our Mt. Everest. We kept trying horseshoe curve again and again until we all mastered it.
Bumper skiing was becoming too easy. Until we got a new driver. Alan, the driver, showed no fear or mercy when at the wheel. On one occasion, we were whipping around corners and he floored it making the car fishtail and whip us violently. Amazingly, we held on and were feeling pretty bullet proof. Then the unthinkable happened. Yes, we encountered dry pavement. We hit the dry patch at about 40 MPH and we were torn from the bumper like wooden toy soldiers are tossed in a toy chest. We got banged up pretty good. But we had to go again. And again. No one wanted to let go first so we all took the brunt of the dry pavement. Welcome to the Daredevils Club folks.
Eventually, we got older and bumper skiing fizzled out of our winter sports. But not until we actually took to the main road, a 5 lane highway and went bumper skiing at speeds over 50 MPH with cars right behind us ready to run us over if we slipped and fell. It still shocks me today that none of us were killed during bumper skiing, or the other dangerous stunts and antics we did in our club.
But those are other stories, other legends, for a later time.
LURKING, SHOULD BE AN OLYMPIC EVENT, ON THE GRASSY KNOLL