News & Politics

Sledding Down Capitol Hill Is Totally Legal

Freedom Fighters. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

Whenever it snows in the Washington area, many DC residents looking to do something outdoors on their sudden day off ask themselves a crucial question: Will I be able to sled down Capitol Hill without fear of imprisonment?

The answer, as of 2016, after 140 years, became “yes.” The notorious Capitol Hill sledding ban—which dated back to 1876 but was only regularly enforced after 9/11—was eliminated in the $1.15 trillion omnibus spending bill Congress passed law in December 2015 to keep the government running through 2016.

The sledding ban received national scorn in February 2015 when a passel of neighborhood kids were chased away by Capitol Police, reportedly on the orders of either House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers or Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran, though both Republicans denied trying to ruin winter. But an early-March storm brought out a throng of Capitol Hill families who decided to go sledding in open defiance of the ban and spent several hours sliding down the snowy West Front in full view of Capitol Police, who stood down.

The Great Sled Uprising convinced congressional leaders to rewrite the rules governing the Capitol campus, and after several months of deliberations, the final version of the spending bill that President Obama signed into law included language instructing Capitol Police officers to give sledders the appropriate leeway:

Use of Grounds.–The Committee understands the need to
maintain safety and order on the Capitol grounds and commends
the Capitol Police for their efforts. However, given the
family-style neighborhood that the Capitol shares with the
surrounding community the Committee would instruct the Capitol
Police to forebear enforcement of 2 U.S.C. 1963 (“An act to
protect the public property, turf, and grass of the Capitol
Grounds from injury”) and the Traffic Regulations for the
United States Capitol Grounds when encountering snow sledders
on the grounds.

In plainer terms, while Capitol Police may still be on-guard for rabble-rousers, they shouldn’t be chasing off any sledders, tobogganers, or snow-tubers after DC receives its coating, which could exceed one foot of snow.

But while the families who participated in the sled protest are excited for a fresh snowfall, some of the allure of sledding down Capitol Hill has worn off now that the outlaw effect has been taken away. So will they still come out with their sleds?

“Oh, yes,” says Capitol Hill neighborhood gadfly Tim Krepp. “Although it’s not so much fun now that it’s legal.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.