History of the Mad River Rocket
A message from Dave Sellers, Inventor
In the mid 1980’s a hand full of restless adventurers in Warren, Vermont sought a way to set free the snowy hills of Vermont. The excitement of sliding down the hills, safely zigzagging between trees jumping over snowy cliffs and sliding down to the valley floors drove us to search for a new design which satisfied these dreams.
We first tried to make a steerable toboggan by hinging the front to the back. It was an enormous improvement, but too heavy and with no way to stop. We tried every sled on the market - every thing we saw or could think of. They all failed to offer the control necessary for safety, for joy in the hills. THEN, bingo…we realized the body should be attached to the sled similar to skates to the feet, skis to the ankles, a kayak to the torso. We strapped the body to the sled, kneeling on the sled with the arms free to reach out to pivot around turns. The bottom of the sled needed an idea that would assist the control of turning and stopping. After two seasons, we figured it out. We put a negative keel under the sled that would pack a monorail in the snow that would allow the sledder to traverse across a hillside without slipping, but weak enough to break when the sledder snapped his hips to make a quick turn. Now we had the whole thing worked out in design but not how to make it. This took another several years of experimenting with vacuum molding at the Mad River Canoe Company in Waitsfield, VT. We added foam pads to protect the knees for rough riding, an easy on-off strap over the knees and adjusted the overall size for average weight adults. We never thought of the rocket as a kid’s toy, but rather an entire new winter sport, backcountry sledding.
We patented the sled in 1987, receiving the strongest patent possible and made 300 or so sleds in our Design offices in Warren for friends.
A cult was born.
Production and Marketing
By the mid 90’s we had made several thousand sleds in our shops and felt it was time to take it to the masses.
Two roadblocks emerged. One was the cost of production that made the sled expensive. And the other was the need to change the minds of the outdoor enthusiast to give it a try. Sledding seemed to many to be a toy for kids that should cost $20. Even though the sled has been the main stay under the Christmas tree for ages with the flexible flyer, the rocket needed another avenue to realize a market.
The operation had been housed as an incubator venture in the architecture offices and our shop since 1987 while product became refined and the market developed. Currently, we are on our 5th mold, 6th to Vermont Life. We are on our third manufacturing method. Vacuum molding is too slow and expensive, Injection molding is too limiting for design changes and excessive mold costs, roto-molding seemed promising but the costs were too high. Whitney Phillips and some of our consultants in Illinois directed us to “compression molding”, with plants in Ohio, and rapid manufacturing (2500 sleds a week with a 5 day lead time).
Today the sled is the best version that it has ever been and we are excited to offer it to not only our loyal fan base, but to new sledders who haven't yet discovered the endless amounts of fun to be had.