Ranking Philly Sledding Spots


Is there any better way to spend a snow day than sledding? The thrills, chills, and spills that a good sledding spot brings have fostered friendships and memories for centuries of children and adults alike. Snow days, however, are a finite resource; therefore, misusing a snow day on a subpar slope is a disheartening waste. In order to ensure only the best winter fun for the Friends Select community, I have written a formula for the ideal sledding slope and tested it on four formidable Philadelphia descents.

The Factors

Possible Routes (PR): Variability in courses and terrain is an ideal factor in securing continual excitement as well as providing appropriate runs for all ages and abilities. A perfect sledding hill should include a few faces with differing degrees of danger. This serves several purposes. Younger children, perhaps tagging along with older siblings, will be funneled to more mild slopes where they can still enjoy the snow while staying out of the way of more experienced sledders. A varied topography also provides sledders with endless ways to experiment. Once you factor in snow conditions and types of sled, circumstances become so variable that one can never become bored of this sport. 

Danger (D): Danger is the part of this equation that is hardest to statistically explain. Other factors are easily ranked on a scale from 1-10. Here, however, there is an ideal value; in other words, a hill with a danger score of 10 is too scary to be fun for most people, so unlike all other criteria, a 10 is not the ideal score. After doing my best to account for my own subjectivity (I will jump down just about anything), I have decided that the ideal score for danger is a 7.5. I have done my best to adjust for this in the equation but anyone with a better understanding of statistics is encouraged to reach out.

Length of run (l): This variable is pretty straightforward, and is weighted low because it is linked with PR. I’ve encountered a few slopes where an otherwise fine run is short enough that it detracts significantly from the overall experience. I’ve yet to encounter a run that’s too long, but will modify accordingly should that day come.

Speed (v): Another self-explanatory variable that overlaps with both PR and D. I’ve decided not to include an ideal value for this criterion for two reasons: a) I have yet to find an established sledding hill that is fast enough to depreciate the overall worth of the run and b) this stuff has already confused me enough and I don’t want to further screw up my formula.

Vista (s): This criterion is not incredibly crucial, but one must recognize that a beautiful view of the city or picturesque, snow-covered woodland surroundings make for a more satisfying sledding experience.

Accessibility from the city (a): My least important and least interesting piece of data. This could easily be removed from the equation if one wanted to discuss sledding locations beyond the Philadelphia area. I live in Rittenhouse so I figure my house is a pretty good reference point for this criterion. Also, it’s my ranking: I get to be self-centered.

Scene (S): While launching oneself down an incline on a piece of plastic is thrilling in and of itself, the unique and fleeting community formed on a sledding slope is what makes this classic snow day pastime truly special. An ideal sledding hill should be constructed in such a way that it encourages the formation of impromptu friendships. As someone who has recently graduated to adult status, a large part of the reason I continue to sled is because I am now the cool older kid that attempts bone-headed stunts and cheers on younger kids. A good sledding community builds both sick ramps and lifelong memories.

Best possible total score: 53

The Final Formula

(PR 1.5) + ( 10 – |7.5 – D|) +  (l * .3) + (v * .45) +  (s * .3) + (a * .25) + (S * 1.5)

The Hills

Belmont Plateau: 1800 Belmont Mansion Drive

Possible Routes: 3

Belmont is wide enough to allow for a little route variation, but once you’ve found the pocket for maximum run length, there is not much else to do. While it was fun the one time I went, there simply wasn’t enough to do to make me feel the need to go back.

Danger: 3

With the incline not being steep enough for ramps and the lack of obstacles of any kind, you’d have to be trying to get hurt at Belmont. It’s just not a hill that gets the blood pumping.

Length of run: 8.5

This is one area where Belmont shines. It’s not very steep or fast but if you hit it in the right pocket, you can get a nice, long coast in.

Speed: 5

Unavoidable flat sections will slow your ride, so even with a long run-up, Belmont is never going to get that fast.

Vista: 8.5

One more area where Belmont shines. The panoramic view of the Philly skyline is a unique element that you won’t find on any other hill in the city.

Accessibility from the city: 8

Belmont is less than 15 minutes away from Center City, making it quick and easy to get to even in a snowstorm.

Scene: 3

This data point might be a little bit skewed since I sledded Belmont at 10:00 on a school day morning, when Belmont was all but deserted. Nevertheless, I’ve yet to talk to someone about this spot, so I feel that I can safely assume that it’s not very popular. Let’s just say it’s not a hidden gem.

Total score: 23.85

Tommy’s Hill: Thomas Mansion, Lincoln Drive and Wissahickon Avenue

Possible Routes: 6.5

There’s only one long slope down Tommy’s Hill. It’s nice and wide, allowing a few different segments to emerge, and possible room for multiple braver sledders at a time.

Danger: 8.5

Tommy’s Hill is not for the faint of heart. Steep, slick with ice, and covered in hard moguls, the best strategy is to launch yourself down and just hope for the best. My assistant totaled his sled on the very first run of our trials here.

Length of run: 8.5

Tommy’s is formed in a sort of “J” shape. The curve at the bottom is a welcome mellow spot. Even so, it often wasn’t enough to slow me down before I barrelled into the woods. That being said, I’m not sure my ribcage could take any more length on this run.

Speed: 9.5

This is an eye-watering, bed-wetting fast hill. My assistants were happy to test run the coward’s way of braking with one’s hand on the way down, but in the name of science, I knew I had to full send it. I have the bruised legs and inflated ego to prove it.

Vista: 6.7

This hill is in the beautiful Wissahickon, but its proximity to a slushy, muddy road takes away a bit from the scenery.

Accessibility from the city: 6.5

Another 15-20 minute drive from Center City. Many Friends Select kids will know this hill as a middle school service day location.

Scene: 8

Admittedly this data point is a little extrapolated, since my visit to Tommy’s Hill was not during a prime sledding time. However, the presence of a few families when I was there, as well as the frequency at which this spot pops up in sledding conversations, leads me to believe that Tommy’s would be hopping on a snow day.

Total score: 41.21

Clark Park Bowl: 43rd Street and Baltimore Avenue

Possible Routes: 7.5

While the slopes are short and the terrain is fairly uniform (one side, mellower than the other, is more dominated by younger kids), the bowl shape is a ton of fun, and something I’ve never seen on a sledding slope before.

Danger: 5.5

There’s nothing too inherently dangerous about Clark Park, although the aforementioned bowl shape could cause some collisions. There’s plenty of room to add ramps and other obstacles to spice it up a bit if that’s your style.

Length of run: 6

The Bowl is about as close to average as it gets in this category. Nothing to take your breath away, nothing hindering about it either.

Speed: 6.5

Again, nothing too notable here. You won’t stall, the job will get done, but this slope is certainly no rocket.

Vista: 7
It’s no woodland wonder, but personally I’m rather partial to the sight of Cedar Park duplexes covering in gently falling snow.

Accessibility from the city: 9

The Bowl is the only hill on this list located right in the heart of a real Philly neighborhood.

Scene: 9

The biggest advantage of The Bowl’s West Philly location is the myriad of characters you can find sledding this spot on a snow day. Overprotective parents, partying college kids, and eight-year-olds with death wishes can all find each other here come a good nor’easter.

Total score: 41.825

Jefferson U (official name pending): Jefferson University campus, around Apalogen and White Schoolhouse

Possible Routes: 9

It would be difficult to run out of things to do on this hill, which essentially consists of two different runs that bottom out at a common point. The main face is wider, more popular, and will usually have a nice ramp or two built. The second face, separated from the first by a cluster of trees (which one should only try to thread if they are absolutely confident in their abilities as a master sledder), is narrower and good for racing.

Danger: 7.5

Exposed manholes, crowded slopes, and stands of trees will provide adrenaline junkies all the thrills they desire. I personally hit a stump side-on with considerable force while racing one of my assistants. If that’s less your speed, though, most of these dangers are totally avoidable.

Length of run: 8

Both routes provide a nice long run with room for a few sledders at a time.

Speed: 8

While it’s no Tommy’s Hill, you can certainly get going pretty fast down this slope.

Vista: 6

Everything is prettier in the snow, of course, but there’s nothing about the Jefferson University campus that makes it stand out.

Accessibility from the city: 7

Jeff U is only about 15 minutes from Center City, and locating the sledding spot itself is relatively easy.

Scene: 9

While my assistants and I were the oldest non-parent sledders at Jeff U during our research outing, watching small children absolutely fly off ramps head over heels proved just as entertaining as the sledding itself. A good community is bound to form here on a nice snowy day.

Total score: 46.55


All in all, each one of these slopes has something to offer. Belmont provides a long mellow ride with gorgeous city views. Tommy’s Hill is the perfect run for a speed-filled adrenaline rush. Clark Park is a uniquely shaped bowl full of community. Jeff U, the winner of this prestigious competition, is the most well-rounded spot, presenting something for everyone. So where should you spend your next snow day? My professional advice would be to try them all.