Smoke from a nearby wood-burning stove wafts through the crisp, clean air as I grab a tall wooden toboggan and climb several flights of stairs to the top of a hill about 20 miles southwest of Cleveland.
It's an idyllic winter day -- except for the snow. A thin layer of lake-effect dandruff that fell a few days back has all but disappeared beneath the clear skies and bright sunshine.
Still, that's not a problem at Mill Stream Run Reservation, home to one of the nation's oldest refrigerated toboggan runs and Ohio's most classic cold-weather attraction.
Mill Stream Run Reservation 16200 Valley Pkwy., Strongsville 440-572-9990 Homepage
"Snow is actually a hindrance to us, and if it's snowing too hard, our guys have to go out and shovel it," said Bob Rotatori, spokesman for the Cleveland Metroparks. "We can actually run with temperatures in the low 50s. A while back there were some kids doing it in their shorts."
During days when bundling up is a must, the park's twin 70-foot-tall runs offer a unique thrill -- a yuletide tradition enriched slightly by modern science.
Edging your toboggan over the initial hump, your mind will conclude, through a furious logic, "There's no effing way I can stay on this thing." Plummeting down the rest of the ride, slats gliding over several inches of ice, offers a giddy, weightless feeling made even more memorable by the wintry conditions and the old-school, rustic charm.
It feels surprisingly fast, delightfully risky. Operators at the top insist riders top out at 50 mph. So far, no one has been lost. Riders must wear gloves and stand at least 42 inches tall.
After taking a few runs, most retire to the cozy, Nordic-style chalet for snacks, hot chocolate and a toe-warming spot in front of two giant fireplaces. Some will wander through nearby wildlife areas or hiking trails before returning to grab another sled.
Climbing 124 stairs in the cold never seemed like a better idea.
Here are a few more pics to get you in the season.
View larger image Toboggans were first used as transport sleds by the native peoples of northern Canada. These follow the traditional design with some modern trimmings: padded seats and plastic rails.
View larger image The only drawback to the adventure is climbing the stairs with a 40-pound sled in hand. Then again, it adds to the charm.
View larger image The view from the top. It doesn't look like much from the bottom, but the descent is steep and you'll really get moving.
View larger image Twin chutes provide ample opportunity to race with friends.
View larger image The Chalet Recreation Area has an actual chalet -- a cozy headquarters with two fireplaces, snack bars and restrooms. After a few runs, you deserve a nice hot chocolate.