Oberlin Blogs

Champagne on Mount Oberlin

January 1, 2024

Sean Norton ’25

It's New Year's Eve and champagne is on my mind! This year I'm holed up in an odd Airbnb with an odd assortment of my relatives, watching The Goonies–which my aunt can recite word for word–and getting ready to try to saber open a bottle of bubbly. Tonight's festivities are reminding me of something that's become a bit of an accidental tradition for me: champagne and sledding on the night of the first big snowfall of the season in Oberlin. You may ask, "where can someone even go sledding in this pancake flat town??"

Mount Oberlin of course!

By some miracle, there are two Mount Oberlins in North America. One is a towering peak in Montana, sitting high in Glacier National Park. Its upper slopes are austerely beautiful, rippling ridges frosted with a remnant glacier whose meltwater feeds one of the tallest waterfalls in the park. Bird Woman Falls clocks in at just under 560 feet tall, and tumbles down dark green slopes into the lushly gorgeous valley below. Named in 1895 in honor of the college by an Oberlin professor who was instrumental in getting the land of the park preserved, i.e., he helped the US government scam Native people with phony deals and drive them out of their homelands in order to create John Muir's vision of 'wilderness'. He sure did pick a nice mountain for us, though.

The other Mount Oberlin, is a wee bit shorter. Sitting pretty at roughly 846 feet above sea level, it's about one tenth the height of its big Montana cousin. At 45 feet tall, it held the title of highest point in Lorain County from its creation in 1930 until it was tragically overtaken by a landfill in 2005. And for its entire history, hill-starved people have been throwing themselves down it! Even right after its loamy birth as a byproduct of excavating the now-defunct Crane pool, former College President Ernest Wilkins remarked that he hoped it could be used for tobogganing, and in what I hope was a joke, ski jumping. Crane Pool has had a very interesting life itself, if you'd like to read more about it, here's a great Oberlin Review article from 2019 on its history. Personally I’d like to see it return to its 90s glory days as a space for art installations!

Me and my friends are merely the latest in a long line of students and locals to attempt the incredibly dangerous, death defying, triple black-diamond....50 foot slopes. Our sleds of choice are usually whatever’s nearby, and I've gone down on cardboard, attempted to ski in two plastic to-go boxes from Stevie, zipped down on a greasy co-op sheet tray, and just gone over on my belly and hoped I was slippery enough. Only once have I ever used an actual sled, a blue plastic saucer borrowed from another group on the hill, and as much as I hate to admit it, it was definitely the best ride I've ever gotten, all two seconds of it.

Without even intending it, for the past three years we've made a habit of donning our snow gear, grabbing a bottle of something bubbly and heading out behind the athletics buildings to traipse, bound, leap, roll, tumble, slide, shimmy, and play in the snow the first time we get a couple inches that stick. This year it happened to coincide with both finals week and the Sunday after I got over an unfortunately timed, last-week-of-classes bout of Covid, so it was extra joyous! This year's sleds of convenience were a set of clear plastic drawers from one of those standing storage shelves, and some nicely waxed cardboard. We carted them out from my friend's basement and up to the peak of Mount Oberlin, popped our bottle, and…remained anchored firmly to the ground when we attempted to cram ourselves into the drawers and go zipping down the hill. Those were a bit of a bust, but thankfully the cardboard worked like a charm!

Sledding down a tiny hill without any sleds and still having a blast is something I'd consider a quintessential Ohio experience, and one I'm glad to have gotten the chance to partake in these past few years. Much to my surprise, it even retains its charm after that first night of snow, and actually gets better once the snow is packable enough to make yourself a jump! (or an army of snowmen to crash into, à la Calvin and Hobbes).

I hope I'll see you out there next year, sled in one hand and something fizzy and joyful in the other. Happy sledding, and an even happier New Year!

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