Sledding Safety

You can feel the excitement building as the Winter Olympic Games approach. While the Olympic Alpine events are thrilling to watch, speeding down a hill on a ski, a snowboard, a sled – or some other contraption – has its risks. As you may recall, I recently wrote an article on “skiing safety,” and low-and behold – right about the same time – our iconic Olympic skier, Lindsey Vonn, blew out her knee. And many of us remember the Olympic sledder who tragically crashed and died during the last Winter Olympic Games.

On a brighter note, sledding is a great activity. It’s fun, it’s family-oriented, and it’s good exercise! With this being said, Olympic injuries and tragedies remind us that safety comes first when it comes to ourselves and our kids. Even though your sledding speeds won’t approach 90 miles per hour like in the Olympics, some precautions are still in order.

Although we have been bombarded by the weather this winter , it seems that some of our best sledding days may be upon us and our children. Rather than complaining about the snow, I truly believe that we should all have some fun with it! Perhaps we can learn from our kids who seem to find plenty of ways to have fun with the snow. Many of us adults simply drive through it, shovel it, and blow it. It’s no wonder that so many people in Michigan despise the snow and suffer from conditions like seasonal depression. Have we all forgotten about snow ball fights, snow men, snow angels, snow forts, and last but not least – sledding? I guarantee that if you spend some time with your kids out in the yard or on the sled hill, it will lift your spirits, give you a little exercise, and perhaps even give you a more positive view of one of Michigan’s seasonal gifts.

Of course, sledding is supposed to be fun, but it also needs to be safe. Every year, thousands of youths and adults are injured while sledding down hills in city parks, streets and resort areas. Most of these injuries are very preventable. Your kids probably won’t hurt themselves building a snowman or making a snow angel, but it’s worth taking a moment to discuss sledding safety.

Incidence of Injury

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are approximately 75,000 sledding, snow tubing, and tobogganing-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms and doctors’ offices each year. Believe it or not, the total medical, legal, and work loss-related costs exceed $2.3 billion! Luckily most sledding injuries are “bumps and bruises,” but some of the injuries, even on our hills in Michigan, can be serious enough to cause lifelong disability or death.

When a sled hits a fixed object such as a tree, rock or fence, the rider may suffer serious head and neck injuries. The majority of injuries happen to youths age 14 and younger, especially in the run outs at the end of the sledding path. Young children are especially vulnerable, as they have proportionally larger heads and higher centers of gravity than older children and teens. In addition, the coordination of youngsters has not fully developed and they can have difficulty avoiding falls and obstacles.

Essential Precautions

Sledding should be done only in designated and approved areas where there are no trees, posts, fences or other obstacles in the sledding path. The sledding run must not end in a street, drop off, parking lot, pond or other hazard. Do not sled on public streets – the first big snowfall of the winter season often tempts youths to sled down sloping streets where they may be hit by cars and trucks or slam into parked vehicles, curbs, and fences.

Parents or adults must supervise children in sledding areas to make sure the sledding path is safe and there are not too many sledders on the hill or at the end of the run at the same time. A little “sledding organization” can go a long way when it comes to avoiding collisions.

No one should sled headfirst! All participants should sit in a forward-facing position, steering with their feet or a rope tied to the steering handles of the sled. Some youths like to run with their sleds and leap forward in a “belly flop.’ This does not give them control of where they are sliding and can expose them to possible head and neck injuries.

Preferred Precautions

  • Young children should wear a fitted helmet while sledding.
  • The sled should have runners and a steering mechanism – this is safer than toboggans or snow disks.
  • Sledding in the evening should only be done in well-lit areas.
  • Plastic sheets or other materials that can be pierced by objects on the ground should not be used for sledding. In addition, they are difficult to steer.
  • Sledders should wear layers of clothing for protection from injuries and cold.

Bottom line – Let’s take a few simple precautions and have both a fun and safe time sledding this winter! It’s truly one of the great seasonal activities that we Michiganders have the opportunity to enjoy.