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Lack of slopes doesn't stymie Fargo-Moorhead sledders

As a boy, Matt Gatzke wanted to be like the snowboarders. He wanted to imitate them and the way they slid off rooftops.

He and a friend lived on 13th Avenue and would walk around Fargo. They climbed onto snowbanks packed against apartment complex garage tops and stood on their sleds and, like snowboarders who did the same, flew into the air.

Or they would watch their heroes make a path down the steps at the Jerry Scherling Court Complex at Island Park. Tall, giant, concrete steps built in the Depression, and you were a man if you went down that.

"We wanted to go down and go crazy with things," says Gatzke of his days as a 10- and 11-year-old. He's 23 and is now more into skateboarding.

But his days as a sledder reflect the actions of area children in winter. Gatzke would sled at Dike West then as people still do, but the imaginations and machinations of kids lead to makeshift sledding slopes in a city without hills.

Snowplows go all winter and especially last month, when December set the snowfall record. The plows form mounds of snow in parking lots, against roadways and in yards. The mounds are like mountains to kids.

"I also like to sled on the snow, on the piles of snow they scooped up in the parking lot," says Katie Hills, who lives near Fargo South High School. Plowing leaves a snow heap and the 10-year-old sleds there.

All along the Red River, where the land slants unlike anywhere in Fargo-Moorhead, the sledding grounds are slick. Much of the riverfront is residential, but even then there are places.

"There's some kids in town that have got some little places along the river," says Craig Benson, owner of Paramount Sports in Fargo. "They have their spots that they go."

Moorhead has no official sledding hills but that stops no one. A frequent sledding stop for residents in the Ridgewood neighborhood is the addition's entrance on 12th Avenue South. There a giant, round, deep ditch is well-tread by toboggans.

Less well-tread but comparably deep is the southeast corner of the Interstate 29 and 32nd Avenue interchange. Between the interstate and the exit ramp, sledders have ridden down the snow. It is unclear where they park and probably dangerous.

"I wouldn't recommend that," says Dave Klundt, assistant director of recreation for the Fargo Park District.

Klundt says sledding on hills anywhere near traffic is unsafe and a driver may not see a low-lying sledder. Klundt was told of Gatzke's seeing snowboarders on the steps at Island Park.

"It almost reminds me of skateboarders," he says. "They're looking for a badge of honor. If they break their arm, to them it's cool; to me it's very unsafe."

But like Gatzke, who built his own sledding ramps, kids do whatever it takes to sled.